Record Industry Scrutinized By California, Federal Officials

Recording contracts to be subject of hearings.

Courtney Love and Don Henley may soon have governmental help in their crusade to change the record industry, as California and federal officials plan to examine the fairness of recording contracts.

California state Senator Kevin Murray (D-Culver City) said he will chair a series of hearings into contractual rights and music-industry practices in the coming weeks, to help him decide whether to pursue legislation to free artists from long-term contracts.

California lawmakers aren't the only officials with raised eyebrows. U.S. Rep. Mark Foley (R-Florida), chair of the House's Entertainment Industry task force, told the Los Angeles Times that Congress will hold hearings to address recording contracts. He told the newspaper that labels must stop the "indentured servitude" of their artists.

"I think this issue would get a broad level of support [among public officials]," Murray said Wednesday (August 8). "Clearly, the artists are on one side and record companies are on the other side. My suspicion is that there's probably something in between that is fair. There has to be some real substantial discussion to see what's best for everybody, because we all benefit from a healthy music business."

California Labor Code Section 2855, written 56 years ago, states that anyone working under a personal-service contract cannot be held to that contract for more than seven years. But record companies secured an amendment in 1987 that made artists liable for albums still owed to labels after seven years.

"There is an exemption to this statute that only affects recording artists, so we have to understand why that is," Murray said. "I'm not sure that this exemption is even good for record companies. It's ambiguous in many ways. This needs to be looked at for both sides."

Murray, a former music agent at the William Morris Agency, said the hearings will consider other issues involving the music industry, including accounting methods, pension plans, piracy and violence and sex in music.

The first hearing is scheduled for September 5, but may be moved back or forward a week, the senator said.

Love is in a legal battle with Universal Music Group, which sued her in January 2000 for backing out of her contract. The Hole singer counter-sued in February, claiming that major labels, acting together as an illegal trust, force artists to sign unfair contracts (see "Courtney Love Hits Speed Bump In Label Fight").

Last year, Henley co-founded the Recording Artists Coalition to lobby for artists' rights (see "Henley, Petty, Love Urge Artists To Fight The Labels' Power"). Its members include Sheryl Crow, Alanis Morissette, Billy Joel, Eric Clapton and Bruce Springsteen.