WASHINGTON — The House on Wednesday approved a controversial and, some say, racially charged provision that will make it more difficult for bankrupt musicians to exit their record contracts.
The amendment, which was pushed through the House by the Recording Industry Assn. of America, comes in the wake of bankruptcy filings by two Arista acts: Tony Braxton and the r&b trio TLC. The artists sought to end their recording contracts as a condition of their bankruptcies.
Opponents of the RIAA’s amendment have charged that it will have a disproportionate impact on African-American artists such as Braxton and TLC. Speaking on the House floor, Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) said the provision was directed at “minority artists and entertainers.”
During debate on the House floor, Conyers accused the RIAA of going around him and “sneaking” the provision into the 177-page bankruptcy reform bill, adding that he was shocked that “my friends in the entertainment industry would pull this on me.”
On a voice vote, the House decided Wednesday against an amendment that would have struck the provision from the larger bankruptcy reform package. The bill was then approved.
The RIAA says the amendment is narrowly tailored so that it will apply only to those artists who file for bankruptcy “simply to breach his or her contractual obligations.”
Opponents of the RIAA language, including the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, say it should be rejected because it specifically targets recording artists. “AFTRA is deeply troubled because the provision singles out performers for harsh and unfair treatment under the bankruptcy code,” said AFTRA lobbyist Margaret Cone, who added that the RIAA failed to demonstrate that the provision was needed.
The RIAA says the provision is necessary to close a loophole that is being exploited by “increasing numbers of agents and lawyers for popular recording artists (who) have been misusing the bankruptcy process to get out of long-term contracts in order to sign alternative, more lucrative contracts.”
An RIAA spokesman declined to identify specific artists who had abused the so-called loophole.
RIAA CEO Hilary Rosen said claims that the provision are racially motivated are a “smokescreen” used by opponents who oppose the entire bankruptcy reform bill.
Rosen was careful to say that she has no position on the larger reform package — only the isolated provision that her group pushed for. Asked about alienating her longtime ally Conyers, Rosen said, “I feel badly.”