Henley: Artists' Initial Mission Accomplished

In an exclusive interview Aug. 9 with Billboard, Artists' Coalition co-founder Don Henley discussed the joint settlement with the Recording Industry Assn. of america (RIAA) on legal language to rescind without prejudice the 1999 "work-for-hire" amendment to the Copyright Act.

Will the mutually accepted new language to be inserted into law regarding the work-for-hire amendment actually nullify that amendment or serve as the "repeal without prejudice" demanded by the artists?

Henley: The language that is now mutually agreed upon accomplishes precisely what Congressman (Howard) Herman (D-Calif.) instructed both parties to do, which is to get back to where we were before November of 1999 (when the amendment was inserted into law]. The Artists' Coalition and legal representative Jay Cooper have run this language by some of the most respected legal scholars in the nation, including Jane Ginsburg, a venerable professor of intellectual property law at Columbia University Law School who is the daughter of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Gisnburg, as well as law professor Peter Jaszi at American University in Washington, DC; Marci Hamilton at the Benjamin Cardozo School of Law (in New York]; and Peter Menell at the University of California at Berkeley. And they all say that it accomplishes what we're after.

This language has been approved by all the interested parties, including Ann Chaitovitz and Susan Riley at the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists; Barry Bergman at the Music Managers Forum; Lisa Alter of AmSong; Steve Young and Patricia Polach at the American Federation of Musicians; Mike Greene and Adam Sandler at [the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences]; Frances Preston at BMI; Marilyn Bergman at ASCAP; artist attorneys like Bob Donnelly-plus Ron Fierstein at the Artists' Coalition and my co-founder, Sheryl Crow; the people at the Nashville Songwriters Assn. International; and many others. We've been very careful to include everyone in the process.

What's to stop the RIAA from reneging on this latest accord with the Artists' Coalition, as it did earlier?

Henley: Well, they have signed off on this, and this agreement has been released to the media. It would look very bad for anyone to back out at this point.

The Napster dispute seems to involve current abuses of copyright, but the RIAA-sponsored amendment seemed to involve permanent corporate abduction of artists' copyrights, plus abuses of lawmaking power. Which issue has more industry significance?

Henley: It seems to me that if artists don't have control of their copyrights, then everything else is a moot point. Or as Bob Dylan said "When you ain't got nothing, you ain't got nothing to lose."

Why do you think Napster has gotten more widespread attention than the work-for-hire controversy?

Henley: Napster is a sexier issue because it involves the new technological revolution rather than issues of copyright law, although both issues are related, in some respects. I mean, this is all about intellectual property. But there are some who feel the Napster issue and Internet piracy are of paramount importance.

I disagree. I can assure you this work-for-hire issue is just as important-if not more important-and I hope that people eventually realize that. Because I think this work-for-hire issue goes to the very core of intellectual property rights, and even matters of civil rights.

Clout in Washington is based on ensuring that one's opponents face consequences on Capitol Hill for any misconduct. How does the Artists' Coalition plan to reinforce its standing in the nation's capital?

Henley: The Artists' Coalition will soon be changing its name to the Recording Artists' Coalition - in part because evidently someone we don't know has put up a Web site under the former heading and is disseminating information about this issue. It's a cursory overview being provided, but it's not us doing it. So to avoid confusion and further focus our aims and announce our constituency, we're becoming the Recording Artists' Coalition.

We will have an extensive, well-designed Web site, and we continue to grow the coalition. Our membership is increasing every day, and we continue to educate our membership about the issues at hand. We intend to be a very formidable presence both within the industry and on Capitol Hill.

We will have a staff, and we will also continue to work with attorneys and lobbyists. We hired two different lobbyists on this issue, the Haley Barbour firm (Barbour, Griffith & Rogers) and their lobbyist Greg Stevens on the Republican side, and Margaret Cone on the Democratic side. Even though this issue has ostensibly been resolved, Congress still has to sign off on this, and we will continue to bring it up before members of the Senate to ensure the smooth passage of this agreement we've worked out. It's still not quite over yet, and we will be working to ensure we don't have any backsliding or erosion during the final stage of the process.

As painful as this has been, in the final analysis, it's been a good thing, because it has served as a wake-up call to the entire artistic community. From this day forward, we intend to be wide awake and well aware of all the things that impact artists' intellectual property rights. We intend to protect what is rightly ours.