Knock, Knock ... Who's There? Courtney Love And A Dixie Chick

Artists going door to door, drumming up support for bill that would free artists from long-term contracts.

A California state senator expects Courtney Love, Sheryl Crow, Don Henley, LeAnn Rimes and the Dixie Chicks will be literally knocking on lawmakers' doors as he introduces legislation to try to free them and other artists from long-term recording contracts.

"One of the major strategies is for artists to directly be involved in advocating for this," the bill's sponsor, Democrat Kevin Murray of Los Angeles, said Friday. "Artists, particularly lately, have been involved in all kinds of wonderful causes, but they rarely have used their star power for their own self-interest.

"With Don Henley and Sheryl Crow's leadership," Murray continued, "they've created a coalition of people who are prepared to go to Sacramento and talk to lawmakers directly, call them and show up at their offices, and explain from the artist's perspective what this issue is about."

Murray said he will introduce the bill — which artists have sought with increasing vigor recently — in January, with the hope that it would go into effect a year later. "We think we've got a good chance to make this happen," he said.

Under California law, entertainers cannot be held to a service contract for longer than seven years. But recording artists lost that protection in 1987 when an amendment was passed making them liable for undelivered albums even after seven years.

Love and the Dixie Chicks have sued their labels, arguing that standard recording contracts are "unconscionable." Love, Henley, Rimes and others testified at a senate hearing chaired by Murray last month on the so-called seven-year statute (see "Courtney Love, Don Henley, LeAnn Rimes Testify On Artists' Rights"). That hearing persuaded Murray to pursue legislation, he said.

His proposal, he said, would level the playing field between artists and labels by allowing artists to function as free agents and test their value in the marketplace.

But music industry veteran Miles Copeland said revoking the amendment would hurt not only the industry but the majority of artists, particularly fresh faces.

"It's a preposterous scam, and I'm absolutely opposed to it, and I am an artist person," said Copeland, who helped launch the careers of such artists as the Police and the Go-Go's and who now runs the indie label Ark 21. "I have been a manager all my life, and I fight for artists, and I think this is detrimental to artists."

Copeland said record companies have to take huge financial risks with their acts and are left with the losses when it doesn't work. Labels will be unlikely, or unable, to take risks on new artists if they can't hold on to their profitable acts, he said. "I've always felt if you don't give a lot of shots, you might miss something great. There is no doubt in mind that if [this bill] succeeds, there will be fewer artists [on labels], there will be fewer records, and it will have an impact down the line on every aspect of the business."

According to Murray, labor organizations including the American Federation of Musicians, the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, and the California Federation of Labor support his legislation.