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Lighting legal fire

Sony Music chief seeks consensus on piracy

Concerned by the lack of unanimity among the legal community regarding music piracy, Sony Music chairman-CEO Andrew Lack plans to light a fire under lawyers in his first public address since taking the Sony reins a year ago.

“It has surprised me that lawyers in our business seem somewhat detached from this issue, almost ambivalent to the digital revolution,” Lack told Daily Variety.

“This is an issue that is being framed as illegal and legal. Lawyers have been quiet as a group, and I want to try to stimulate them. Smart lawyers haven’t stood up, and I think the reason is they’re confused. I hope we can have more positive progress.”

Lack will deliver the keynote address at the sixth annual Entertainment Law Initiative luncheon Friday at the Regent Beverly Wilshire.

The Entertainment Law Initiative was created by the Recording Academy in 1998 to recognize and develop the connection between the legal profession and the recording community, and to host a writing contest for law students.

No real news or explosive comments are expected to come out of Lack’s speech, and he’s likely to steer clear of any comments regarding the pending merger of Sony Music and BMG, which Lack initiated. The former prexy and chief operating officer of NBC did, however, connect the dots between piracy and the pending merger.

“Physical piracy means we can’t do (significant) business in China, in Latin America or Spain,” he said. “The resources we need (to fight piracy) are considerable, and one way to get those is to come together (with BMG).”

Should the merger be approved, “we’ll be able to reinvest in new artist development and local repertoires in a way neither company has the resources to do (now).”

One of Lack’s key concerns in the last year has been the creation of a digital platform for the artists and catalogs of Sony’s Columbia and Epic labels.

“To distribute online will be a lot less expensive in the future, but the transition is not without cost,” Lack said. “We need to make music available everywhere …. not just online at Wal-Mart but in telephones, wireless, kiosks, gas stations, grocery stores. We’ve got to work much more to make it widely available.

“We’ve done a pretty good job in the last year to come up with a structure. But there’s no model or business plan in place that shows real growth by any standard structure the Harvard Business School would accept.”

At the luncheon, a scholarship of $5,000 will be awarded to the author of the best 3,000-word essay on a legal topic facing the music industry; $1,500 will be awarded to each of four runners-up. The five winning law students will receive airfare and a ticket to the Grammy Awards.

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