Assemblyman Votes No on CD Longbox

Some are calling it shameless political grandstanding. Others are praising it as a bold step in support of a key environmental issue.

You can say this-- everybody in the music business has an opinion when it comes to the new bill introduced by Assemblyman Terry Friedman (D-Los Angeles) that would ban the 6-by-12 inch CD longbox in California. Coupled with similar legislation introduced last fall in New York, the move, if passed, could force record companies to jettison the longbox across the country.

Friedman, who has a history of supporting environmental issues, says he discovered longbox waste firsthand. "My wife and parents bought me a CD player for the holidays and when I opened up my first CD I was astounded. There was so much packaging I thought there were two CDs inside. It's just unnecessary waste."

Friedman's bill, sponsored by Californians Against Waste, would require that disposable CD packaging material not exceed the size of the actual disc by more than one inch. This could conceivably squash several current industry compromise proposals, such as the Digitrak package now in use with Sting's "Soul Cages" album, which allow stores to display 5-by-11-inch packages.

"The industry proposals put forth so far just don't go far enough," says Friedman, whose proposal has been endorsed by Don Henley and pop manager/activist Danny Goldberg. "We're inundated with so much waste in California that we're creating health hazards everywhere for the general public. This bill, according to our information, will also save the equivalent of 200,000 trees a year."

Friedman acknowledged that he hadn't spoken directly to any major industry executives. If he had, he would've found little support for governmental packaging restrictions.

"I've never heard of a more useless and shamelessly opportunistic idea," says Russ Solomon, chairman of the influential Tower Records retail chain and a recent convert to the anti-longbox cause. "This guy is just looking for votes. If we could only distribute CDs in a jewel box (the plastic case in which they're enclosed), it would cost $150 million to convert record stores to the new system.

"If this bill passed, it would be a mess. You'd have record companies shipping longboxes to California and then local retailers would spend all day chopping off the box."

Even A&M; Records president Al Cafaro, one of the industry's most outspoken longbox adversaries, could muster little enthusiasm. "I agree that we need to deal with the issue of wasteful packaging, but I don't think government legislation is the answer. For now, I think the industry should look at this as a warning shot across our bow--as an incentive for us to come up with our own solutions."

Another industry leader worried that Friedman's bill would open the doors for government interference in all aspects of the business. "It's a total contradiction," the executive said. "If its OK for government to pass laws about how to package our product, then why couldn't government pass laws telling us to label our records or censor our lyrics?"

Friedman insists his bill has nothing to do with government intervention in censorship issues. "This is trees vs. greed," he says. "We're not getting involved with First Amendment issues here. This has to do with dollars and cents. And I think the people of this state think that preserving trees is far more important than protecting the record industry's profit picture."

The early betting is that Friedman's legislation has about as much chance of being voted into law as a hard-hitting anti-ticket broker bill would. But supporters say it will give the longbox debate a new perspective. "Whether it passes or not, this will put pressure on the industry to get off the dime," Goldberg says. "And in the entertainment business, public pressure can have a real impact."

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