RIAA Rep Picks Zappa to Fight Porno Bill, But It's News to Association

By Bill Holland

Billboard, March 22, 1986

WASHINGTON The Annapolis lobbyist hired last month by the Recording Industry Assn. of America (RIAA) to work against passage of a Maryland album-lyrics obscenity bill has invited artist Frank Zappa, whose views on record labeling and other issues differ from industry stances, to testify at a hearing Tuesday (18) before a Maryland State Senate committee.

An RIAA spokesperson expressed surprise at and extreme concern with reports that Bruce Bereano, the lobbyist, had invited Zappa to appear as an industry spokesman and that RIAA was picking up the artist's travel and hotel expenses. The spokesperson said the trade group would "decline" to pay such expenses.

"We like Mr. Zappa," said RIAA executive director Jim Fischel, "and we find him both an intelligent and amusing gentleman, but no, we haven't authorized anything – [Zappa] wasn't exactly in our corner the last time around."

In peppery testimony before the U.S. Senate's Commerce Committee on Sept. 19, Zappa was critical of the RIAA stance in dealing with the demands of the Parents Music Resource Coalition (PMRC) for written ratings and warnings on records and tapes with controversial lyrics. He said several times that the industry had brought up the dirty lyrics issue to draw attention away from the home taping royalty bills now pending on Capitol Hill. (Zappa stops Sony's plans to sticker his new video. See story, page 46.)

However, late Thursday, Bereano said that he had "personally" invited Zappa to appear and that it was he who would be paying the travel expenses.

Several other sources have said that Zappa believed that he was invited to testify with the authorization of the trade group. Bereano denied these reports.

The announcement from Bereano's office of Zappa's appearance could cause local and national television and print media to attend the hearing in numbers equal to the hordes of reporters and camera crews that descended on Capitol Hill last September. Commerce Committee member Sen. Ernest Hollings (D -S.C.) described that event as a "media circus."

Zappa, in his written and oral testimony before that committee, said: "The [PMRC] ladies' shame must be shared by the bosses at the major labels who, through the RIAA, chose to bargain away the rights of composers, performers, and retailers in order to pass H.R. 2911, the bill providing for a royalty on blank audio tape."

Staffers on the Maryland Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee said that no witness list has been drawn up yet. "We won't know who's appearing until they sign up that Tuesday," one said.

Bereano, for his part, is holding a Monday (17) night reception for Zappa so that he can meet Assembly members and express to them his views. There is also a Monday afternoon press conference scheduled at Baltimore/Washington International Airport. Said RIAA's Fischel: "I can't figure out why he [Bereano] invited him. It's perplexing, that's all I can say."

The pending bill would make it a crime, punishable by a fine of $1,000 or a year in jail or both for first-time offenders, for a retailer to sell an audio recording containing state-defined obscene lyrics or cover art to a minor.

Should the measure pass, it would become the first obscenity law in the country to prohibit the sale of such records and tapes to minors. The bill faces an uphill fight in the Senate, however, according to those close to Annapolis politics.

The pending bill has spawned a new group – a coalition of record store employees and owners – the Record Retailers Opposing Censorship (RROC), which says it plans to lobby both locally and nationally against legislation that infringes upon the free rights of artists, labels, retailers, and others in the music industry.

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