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Musicians to tackle industry over royalties

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ATLANTA — An arena's worth of major musicians are banding together to fight the music industry over royalties and artists' rights as the music industry is winding up a horrible year.

The Recording Artists Coalition, which includes Elton John, the Dixie Chicks, No Doubt, the Offspring, the Eagles, Billy Joel, Sheryl Crow, Weezer and others, is planning five fund-raising concerts in one night — Feb. 26, the night before the Grammy Awards.

They want to raise money (for lobbying and lawyers) to force record labels to change the way they do business. Most songwriters now must sign away ownership of their compositions to get them played.

John recently told fans at a concert that he would not make any more albums because "I like playing to you guys but I hate the record industry." Dexter Holland, lead singer for the Offspring, said, "It's about time for artists to take control of their work and how it is presented to our fans."

Grammy President Michael Greene, who's being sued by producer Dick Clark in an unrelated dispute (over the Grammys' alleged strong-arming of musicians in urging them not to appear on Clark's American Music Awards), said he supports the new coalition.

The growing disgruntlement of musicians only adds to the music industry's woes. CD sales fell about 5 percent 2001, according to the tracking service SoundScan.

Nearly all categories — rap, pop, metal and country — are down. It's telling that the best-selling CD of 2001, according to Billboard magazine, was the Beatles' "1," a collection of 30- to 40-year-old hits.

More ominously for the big labels, blank recordable CDs outsold recorded music CDs in 2001. That's because many music fans, particularly younger ones, continue to download massive amounts of music for free from the Internet, then burn their own CDs rather than buy new ones even those by musicians they like. The Recording Industry Association of America managed to finally shut down Napster's wildly popular file-sharing program in July, but it has been replaced by an explosion of similar offerings such as Aimster, BearShare, Morpheus and KaZaA

"The amount of music being downloaded is, as you know, reaching unprecedented levels," RIAA President Hilary Rosen wrote in a letter to record label executives in September soon after college students returned to campus and downloading spiked.

The industry recently launched two sanctioned download programs — pressplay and MusicNet — that charge for downloading and thus pay money to those holding rights to the music, unlike Aimster and others. But both have far fewer songs available than the file-sharing programs such as Aimster. The revolt among musicians catches the record labels in a pincer, between those who make their products and those who consume it. Many feel this has been coming a long time.

"Why are record companies run by lawyers, accountants and other business types who care more about money than about art?" says singer Jody Watley. "Artists always suffer the consequences."