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New York State Looks at Proposed Artistic Freedom Act

Recording artists have joined forces with New York State

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, Assemblyman Roger Green, the Artist
Empowerment Coalition (“AEC”) and prominent entertainment attorney Londell McMillan (Prince, Ja Rule) to unveil a proposed legislation that
would limit the length of recording contracts in New York State. The
proposed law, known as the “Artistic Freedom Act,” would provide recording
artists with an “escape hatch” from the long-term contracts that unfairly
bind them to entities that dominate the entertainment industry.

The introduction of the Artistic Freedom Act to legislature yesterday is an
inspiring follow-up to the AEC-sponsored “Artist Power” concert held October 29 at the Beacon Theater in New York City. The concert performances by
Stevie Wonder, Roberta Flack, DMX, Faith Evans, Scarface, Montell Jordan,
Hezekiah Walker, Naughty By Nature, Public Enemy, Doug E. Fresh and Najee,
among others.

The law is being proposed in New York for a few reasons:

First, a significant number of recording artists (and a very large segment
of the U.S. recording industry) are based in New York; and New York law by
their own “standard” terms, governs a majority of U.S. recording contracts; and

second, under the “standard” industry contract, artists are typically
obligated to deliver up to seven albums – an obligation which can take
15-20 years or more to satisfy. At the same time as they seek to bind
artists to long-term contracts, the record companies have also relied on
their “standard” contracts to avoid any concrete obligation to release,
market or promote the artists or their recordings; and to hide behind arcane
and antiquated accounting provisions to play a shell game with artists’

Under the sponsorship of the AEC, and with the guidance of McMillan, the
artists have defined their agenda to reform a myriad of these unfair
practices in the recording industry. By enlisting Silver, Green, AFTRA and
other community groups in New York State to sponsor the Artistic Freedom
Act, the AEC has taken an important step to put its unique stamp on the
burgeoning artists’ rights movement. The AEC has also attracted support
from the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA) as well
as the NAACP, and has reached out to join forces on certain issues with the
California-based Recording Artists Coalition (RAC), among others.

“Locking aspiring artists into exclusive contracts that can last for decades
creates a situation where these individuals or groups are exploited and
taken advantage of for their entire music-making careers,” said Assembly
Speaker Silver. “These contracts are not only inherently unfair, they also
curb artistic expression.”

“In too many instances, artists have been creatively and financially abused
due to contracts of unfair and long-term servitude. It is time for a
business model in the music industry that places a fiduciary duty on record
labels as well as reasonable limits to long-term recording contracts,” said
AEC General Counsel, L. Londell McMillan.

The AEC is a not-for-profit coalition which was formed (i) to provide a
supportive environment in which the gift and creation of music, art and
culture can flourish, and help to make the world a better place and (ii) to
promote changes and reform in the relationships between artists and the
companies that exploit, market and distribute their creative work. The AEC
is an advocate for the arts, organizing common efforts to increase awareness
and funding by involving industry, community, educational and cultural
institutions and policymakers in the quest for an improved entertainment
model and creative offering.