News Flash: Maryland Rejects 'Offensive Lyrics' Measure

The recording industry was handed a surprising victory this week when the Maryland State Retirement & Pensions System voted unanimously not to forbid state investments in record companies producing lyrics deemed as offensive.

The vote, which had not been expected to take place until October, comes

after Texas passed into law a similar measure banning such investments by

its state in June.

"The trend that we're seeing is that pension boards and politicians are

saying no to divestiture of entertainment stocks," said Tim Sites, senior

vice president of communications for the Recording Industry Association of

America. "Divestiture does little to the offending companies, while only

hurting the financial integrity of the pension board."

In April, a committee in the Maryland state legislature voted down a

measure that would have mandated divestiture, citing the legislation's

broad criteria for "objectionable" and the costs tied to divesting and

monitoring future investments. The committee did, however, charge the

pension system with initiating hearings with record company officials about

policies toward rap lyrics in particular. Testimony was given in August by

representatives from Seagram Co. (owner of Universal Music Group, and by

extension Interscope Records), Warner Music Group and EMI Group.

The new law in Texas, which the Maryland pension board did examine, lays

out strict guidelines for what is considered offensive, including lyrics

that explicitly describe criminal violence, robbery, murder, illegal drug

use or degradation of women.

While politicians there said the measure was aimed at artists such as Snoop Doggy Dogg, the late Tupac Shakur, Nine Inch Nails and Marilyn Manson, they acknowledged that it also affected broad groups of musicians, from Willie Nelson and Bruce Springsteen to Bob Marley and Alanis Morissette.

Sites called the vote in Maryland evidence of a course charted by state

governments to reject the divestiture bills that have begun to turn up with

increasing frequency in state houses during the past year. "Once

politicians and pension boards are educated about the responsibility of the

recording industry, there is a clear trend not to divest," he said.

"The Maryland legislature said no to divestiture and their pension board said no

to divestiture. Pennsylvania's pension board rejected the state treasure's

similar proposal. In Texas, the freestanding divestiture bill was defeated,

but it was only through a controversial rider, which the governor couldn't

veto, that divestment continued. And we're going to challenge that." -- Chris Nelson [Fri., Sept. 19, 1997, 11 a.m. PST]