RIAA an Ally in Fight Against Censorship

Jason Berman is president of the Recording Industry Assn . of America

It's time to set the record straight. Too many half-truths and misconceptions are flying about, particularly since Chuck Philips' recent article ("Rock Industry Rapped for Inaction," June 4), concerning Washington state's erotic material bill.

To clear up these misconceptions, let's go back to February, 1992. There were two bills pending before the Washington legislature. The first bill, which the Recording Industry Assn. of America defeated in committee, was the greater of two evils.

In addition to restrictions on sexually explicit material, the bill would have placed restrictions on material dealing with violence as well. Such a measure would have drastically damaged artistic freedom.

The second bill, the one that has sparked an uproar in Washington, in our view, effectively did little to change current law--a law that to our knowledge has never been enforced in more than 20 years. Put simply, the bill added "sound recordings" to the list of materials, such as books and movies, which could be found obscene. However, because the existing law was broadly written to embrace "other material," any zealous prosecutor could have used it to go after music. I should note here that 45 other states already include "sound recordings" in their definition of potentially obscene material.

I'm excited that the Washington music community and other industry critics have become sensitive to the ongoing battle against free expression. But the RIAA is not the opponent. We're the ally. To underscore this point, let me delineate some of our recent efforts.

* In 1990, the RIAA kept lyric labeling legislation off the books in 22 states by implementing a state government relations program that became the RIAA's second-highest-funded program, dedicated a full-time RIAA executive, consumed more than 80% of the association's public relations efforts, mobilized grass-roots campaigns involving local retailers, artists, legislators and consumers and brought expert witnesses to testify before state legislatures.

* Again in 1991, the efforts of the RIAA's state government relations program defeated similar legislation in more than a dozen states.

* This year, the program has been broadened by recruiting local legislative councils in 14 states resulting in defeated measures in New York, West Virginia, Arizona, Illinois and Missouri while the battle continues in Massachusetts, Louisiana and Michigan.

* Throughout all of this activity, we've been a key player in opposing a federal bill creating third-party liability for sexual violence alleged to have been caused by music and other forms of entertainment.

* We are a founding member and the principal funder for Rock the Vote, the music industry grass-roots organization aimed at defeating censorship and promoting participation by young people in the democratic process.

* We formed the Coalition Against Lyric Legislation, an organization comprising more than 60 groups rallying to fight freedom of expression.

* In addition to our amicus brief on behalf of 2 Live Crew, which raised the key issues leading to their exoneration in the 11th Circuit appeal, we contributed to the cost of the defense in the case, and have also committed legal and financial assistance to retailers in Nebraska and Florida.

* Finally, we are proud to stand with the Washington Music Industry Coalition to seek a judicial declaratory ruling that the recently enacted erotic music statute is unconstitutional and should be stricken from the books.

As you can see, the RIAA has long been a leader in the fight against censorship. We welcome others to the battle, but let's focus on the real enemies.

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