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"Mr. Henley, if you are within the sound of my voice, I hope you get carpal tunnel syndrome from counting all the money you make, compliments of the Copyright Act and the Congress which wrote it.''
—Subcommittee Chairman Howard Coble


Buttons Pushed In Congressional Hearing
On This Hot-Button Issue
In a Capitol Hill chamber packed to capacity with spectators, the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Courts and Intellectual Property on Thursday morning began hearings on ''work for hire,'' the controversial amendment to the 1976 Copyright Act that many artists claim is a sneak attack on the rights to their recordings.

Meanwhile, during her testimony before the committee, RIAA President and CEO hilary rosen',390,400);">hilary rosen',390,400);">Hilary Rosen asked Congress to recognize the benefits of the "work for hire" provision.

During his opening remarks, the Republican chairman of the subcommittee, Howard Coble of North Carolina, tried to lower the volume on the debate, calling the issue ''emotionally charged,'' and saying that, thus far, ''the truth has been battered around recklessly.''

However, in a prepared statement distributed to the audience earlier, Coble harshly came down on Don Henley, who has, in recent weeks, spoken out vehemently against the work-for-hire amendment and the RIAA.

''Instead of attending the hearing today,'' Coble wrote of Henley, ''he has chosen to promote his new album, scarily entitled ‘Inside Job,' in Austin, TX. Mr. Henley, if you are within the sound of my voice, I hope you get carpal tunnel syndrome from counting all the money you make, compliments of the Copyright Act and the Congress which wrote it.''

Coble chose not to revisit this criticism in his opening remarks.

Other subcommittee members agreed, saying that there was no closed-door scheming last year to pass the amendment, which for the first time classified sound recordings as ''works for hire'' rather than acts of authorship.

''Bad things happen inadvertently,'' said Howard Berman of California, the ranking Democrat on the subcommittee, ''consequences occur that we did not fully anticipate.''

''This is one group of creators who get ripped off more than anyone else in the industry,'' Representative John Conyers, a Democrat from Michigan, said, to wild applause. He then urged members to ''repeal this provision.''

Rosen said in her testimony that she was, "not here to downplay or diminish in any way the concerns of our artists over the way things work in the industry. But I am here to say that whatever the legitimacy of their issues, they are not applicable to the work-made-for-hire amendment to the Copyright Act."

Rosen cited four reasons supporting the policy for sound recordings as works for hire: The amendment was expected to clarify law, not change it. Sound recordings were already eligible for work-for-hire status under pre-existing law; The amendment does not automatically render sound recordings works made for hire. It merely confirms that they are eligible for such treatment when all parties sign an express written agreement; There is nothing new about treating sound recordings as works made for hire. Record labels, managers and artists themselves have all relied on the work-made-for-hire doctrine; and work-for-hire status benefits everyone involved in the creation and distribution of recorded music. Work-for-hire status is essential to preserve the marketability of highly collaboration works like sound recordings.

The opinions expressed at the meeting seemed to break down along party lines, although Representative Mary Bono, a Republican from California and the wife of the late musician-turned-politician Sonny Bono, wondered what her husband would have done in this situation, and then concluded: ''We should restore the law to the way it was before the change.''

Marybeth Peters, the register of copyrights for the U.S. Patent Office, urged Congress to seek a middle ground. She suggested that royalty rights should be granted only to key contributors in an album, such as the principal performers or producers. Peters pointed out that many artists who own their master recordings, such as Bruce Springsteen and Prince, register themselves as employers and make their supporting players sign a work-for-hire deal.

The committee indicated it would take into consideration the views expressed by the individuals who testified before rendering a decision.