RIAA at odds with online music proposal

NEW YORK — A group of entertainment and online orgs, including the National Assn. of Recording Merchandisers, fired off a letter to Congress Tuesday, urging support of recent legislation aimed at speeding the development of music distribution on the Net.

The letter, also co-signed by groups including the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the Video Software Dealers Assn., asked lawmakers to get behind the Music Online Competition Act, introduced late last summer by Reps. Rich Boucher (D-Va.) and Chris Cannon (R-Utah).

Bill advocates, among other proposals, that the big five record labels be required to grant online distribution licenses to independent music netcos on the same terms that they give for the digital distribution services they themselves own.

“We urge you not to let this diverse marketplace be suppressed so that a mere handful of companies are allowed to control the availability, pricing and presentation of America’s culture and cultural resources,” the letter said.

Compelled to write

The groups said they were compelled to contact legislators after hearing of other letters sent by opponents of the bill. Among the bill’s most vehement detractors are the labels themselves, as repped by their own lobbying org, the Recording Industry Assn. of America. The RIAA has maintained that the terms of online licensing for music distribution are best sorted out in the marketplace, not the legislature.

“The Cannon/Boucher bill … will divert time, energy and resources from achieving that goal. It is essentially a solution — a very bad solution — in search of a problem,” said RIAA topper Hilary Rosen just after the bill was introduced.

Washington insiders have given the bill long odds on passage, in part because of vigorous efforts on the part of the labels themselves.

Two label-backed services are set to bow by the end of the year. MusicNet has the support of EMI, Bertelsmann, AOL Time Warner and RealNetworks, while Pressplay is owned by Sony and Vivendi Universal, and licenses content from EMI.

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