RIAA wins piracy suit

On March 26, the Southern California disc replicator agreed to settle a case brought against it last year by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), in which the RIAA charged that workers at one of Technicolor’s disc plants had made and distributed batches of illegal copies. The total of the settlement was less than 10% of the amount originally sought by the RIAA.

Technicolor is one of the entertainment industry’s oldest and most trusted sources for media replication. Company spokesmen insisted that the alleged piracy was an extremely rare occurrence. The incident or incidents may have happened during a lull in supervision, according to industry reports. Terms of the settlement include an agreement to allocate 20% of the damages to the RIAA’s MUSIC Coalition antipiracy campaign and a concession allowing RIAA inspectors to enter Technicolor plants without warning. Technicolor will also allow the RIAA to examine its books as often as twice a year.

The RIAA agreed to give written notice and submit to mediation if it discovers any subsequent discrepancies. “We are pleased to settle this case and that Technicolor has taken steps to improve its procedures,” said RIAA chairman and CEO Hilary Rosen. “This settlement should remind everyone that the music industry is serious about respecting the rights of artists, record labels, and other creators.”

No one is more concerned about the rights of artists than artists themselves. Members of the Recording Artists Coalition (RAC) are reportedly in talks with top political consultants to ascertain the feasibility of putting a contract-limiting initiative on the ballot for the November 2004 election. If public polls and focus groups indicate a chance of passage, the RAC will sponsor a “Creative Artists Initiative” to repeal an exemption to California contract law that allows record labels to control artists for decades. The law generally limits employment contracts to seven years.

The initiative would need about 373,800 signatures to get on the ballot, and would cost approximately $600,000. It would also cost additional millions in advertising during an election campaign that would pit artists against record labels more publicly than ever before. Neither side is in a position to fund such a campaign, but the industry certainly has deeper pockets than the artists. An RIAA spokesman described a battle for voters as an effort that would “cost so much yet affect so few.”

The initiative is one solution being looked at by the RAC after getting nowhere in negotiations with the music industry. Another possibility is a legislative repeal sponsored by state senator Kevin Murray (D-Culver City). Last year, Murray pulled his bill at the insistence of the RAC, which sought a more strongly worded version. The former artists’ agent has introduced the new version for consideration by his colleagues, as well as two bills to correct ambiguous royalty and accounting practices. The threat of passage for these bills has already produced some results