Sides in tune on royalties

Music biz, AFTRA reach deal

The American Federation of Television & Radio Artists and the recording industry have reached a compromise on proposed California legislation requiring record companies to accurately account for performer royalties.

The performers union persuaded the Recording Industry Assn. of America to drop its opposition to Senate Bill 1034 by agreeing to an amended bill that no longer includes specific penalties for non-compliance by record labels, such as triple damages and the right for artists to rescind the contract if the audit shows more than 20% due to the artist in royalties was not paid.

The amended legislation will give artists the right to conduct audits of royalty payments and hire auditors on a contingency basis.

“This legislation represents a necessary and fundamental first step in addressing the longstanding conflict between record companies and recording artists regarding accounting practices,” said AFTRA president John Connolly. “Assuming passage, AFTRA intends to build on this initial success by implementing systems to assist artists in accessing this new statutory right and finding and claiming every penny that is due to them.”

AFTRA national exec director Greg Hessinger said RIAA’s agreement to accept a legislative remedy is an acknowledgement of deficiencies in the status quo. “Legislation is an inexact art, and compromise is inevitable, but this represents a tremendous advance,” he added.

The performers union made the announcement Friday, three days after a hearing on Senate Bill 1034 with testimony from Connolly, Jennifer Warnes, Kim Weston, former CBS Records chief Walter Yetnikoff and RIAA chief Mitch Bainwol.

State Sen. Kevin Murray, a Los Angeles Democrat and former talent agent, introduced SB 1034 last year. The earlier version of the bill was approved by the State Senate in May 2003; the amended bill is scheduled to be voted on Tuesday by the Assembly Arts, Entertainment, Sports, Tourism and Internet Media Committee, then go to the Judiciary Committee before moving to the full Assembly.

Last month, major recording companies agreed to return nearly $50 million in unclaimed royalties to musicians under a settlement. New York state Attorney General Eliot Spitzer’s office found many artists were not being paid royalties because record companies lost contact with the performers and had stopped making required payments.

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