Georgia lawmaker spins music-labeling bill again

Wednesday, January 27, 1999

Determined to stop the music industry from peddling obscenity- and violence-laden recordings to children, a Georgia lawmaker recently offered a bill in the state House criminalizing the sale of recordings with warning labels to persons under age 18.

With the introduction of House Bill 104, Rep. Vernon Jones, D-Decatur, resurrects legislation the House defeated in the last session with a 86-62 vote. Bills must receive a majority — or 91 votes — to pass the House. The current bill has been assigned to the House Special Judiciary Committee.

Music industry officials and civil liberties groups praised last year's vote. Groups such as the Recording Industry Association of America, the National Association of Recording Merchants and the Massachusetts Music Industry Coalition lobbied for weeks to prevent the bill's passage.

Specifically, these groups asked lawmakers to nix the bill because it would give the RIAA's voluntary labeling program the force of a law. They also said such legislation would chill free expression by discouraging artists from recording music they think might later be banned.

House Bill 104 would make it a misdemeanor offense for anyone to sell to minors “any sound recording bearing the parental advisory logo imposed by the Recording Industry Association of America.”

Jones was in session yesterday and wasn't available for comment.

In past interviews with the First Amendment Center, however, Jones said his bill would not impede free speech because “you can manufacture it, you can sell it, you can market it. But if you're going to sell it to minors, you better make sure they have an adult with them.”

Jones has said he sponsors the bill because he's worried that the recording industry intentionally targets minors with recordings that include offensive and sexually charged language. He has said that if the recording industry should respond to the proposal by removing the RIAA labels “it clearly shows that they are targeting minors.”

After the bill's defeat last session, Jones said the legislation didn't stand a chance against the lobbying power of the music industry.

Nina Crowley, executive director of the Massachusetts Music Industry Coalition, promises that her group and others “are going to fight the bill as strongly as last time.”

Crowley said this year's effort might also include more musicians. She said she hopes to line up support from the likes of Ted Nugent, the Indigo Girls and R.E.M.

“Musicians seem to make a big impression when they take a stand on an issue,” Crowley said. “But whatever it takes, we will keep fighting these bills as long as they keep coming up.”