Michigan Holds Hearing On Concert-Labeling Bill

Representatives of industry and civic groups speak out on bill that would add parental warnings to some tickets and ads.

About 50 representatives of the music industry and various civic groups spoke Monday at a hearing in Kalamazoo, Mich., on a proposed state law to include parental-warning labels on some concert tickets and advertisements, according to a spokesperson for the bill's sponsor.

A state Senate committee could vote on the measure within the next month.

Mark Lemoine, spokesperson for Republican state Sen. Dale Shugars, said after the hearing that Shugars' bill was inspired in part by musicians such as shock-rocker Marilyn Manson, who is scheduled to perform in Auburn Hills, Mich., next month.

"Communities are tired of this," Lemoine said. "They want to be able to have some say in enforcing what are believed to be their social norms."

A representative of the Recording Industry Association of America, however, called the bill a form of prior restraint, implying that if the bill passed, some labels might stop putting parental-warning stickers on albums with explicit lyrics. The industry has used the warning stickers voluntarily since 1985.

The bill, SB 239, would require concert tickets and advertising to bear a parental warning if the artist in question had released an album bearing the industry's warning label within the previous five years.

"Why would a record company, artist, producer, and retailer put an advisory on an album, only to risk criminal conviction of promoters and venue owners, perhaps bookstore owners and college kids, simply for presenting music?" said Joel Flatow, the RIAA's vice president for government affairs and artist relations, in testimony before the committee.

The bill would impose a penalty of up to 90 days in jail and a $5,000 fine on concert promoters, venue owners and operators who fail to comply.

Among the groups supporting the measure during the two-and-a-half-hour hearing at Western Michigan University were the Kalamazoo Coalition for the Protection of Children and Families (which in 1997 amassed 10,000 signatures on a petition opposing a Manson show), the American Family Association of Michigan and the Michigan Decency Action Council.

Opposing the bill, along with the RIAA, were the American Civil Liberties Union, Ticketmaster and others.

Lemoine said songs such as Manson's "Irresponsible Hate Anthem" (RealAudio excerpt) are offensive to local sensibilities.

"If any common citizen was to take some of these lyrics and stand on a street corner and start shouting them, they would be picked up for violation of local decency ordinances," he said. "But in a music venue we wrap the artist in the banner of the First Amendment and we give them a captive audience for two hours, and allow them to do just what we wouldn't allow them to do on the public street."

Flatow said the bill would be a dangerous governmental intrusion on the arts.

"Before a show has even taken place, before a venue is weighing whether to book an act, before an artist has chosen their set, they now know that if this bill were passed there would be criminal penalties attached to those choices," he said.

Before the full Senate can take up SB 239, the bill must first pass the Committee on Local, Urban and State Affairs. Shugars will consider testimony from the hearing and possibly revise the bill before scheduling it for a committee vote, possibly in the next four weeks, Lemoine said.