Did the recording industry initially give in to demands for record labeling so it could get its home taping legislation through Congress? That's the widespread perception among industry insiders.
They feel the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) originally endorsed a plan calling for warning labels on potentially offensive albums, because they wanted to show Congress they're accommodating enough to deserve the financial break that home-taping legislation, under consideration by a Senate copyright subcommittee today, would give them. The bill would add 5 percent to 25 percent to the price of tape recorders, and impose a penny-per-minute levy on blank tapes, which could add an estimated $200 millon yearly to the industry's coffers.
The call for record ratings originated with the Parents Music Resource Center (PMRC), made up largely of the wives of congressional and administration officials.
"Our opinion is that the pressure groups, led by the wives of the senators and the secretary of the Treasury, have tried to use the impending home-taping legislation to intimidate the record companies into instituting an '80s-style blacklisting that they call record rating," says Danny Goldberg, president of Gold Mountain Records and founder of the Musical Majority, a coalition of performers, writers and executives opposed to any rating system.
Goldberg says he hasn't seen the PMRC directly threaten to influence the home-taping bill -- but, he adds, "There's no question that the message was sent to the RIAA, by whatever means, that failure to compromise with the PMRC would affect the views of certain senators on the home-taping bill."
From the beginning of the controversy, Goldberg has been the most visible record executive to speak out on the ratings issue. Most others still decline to comment on issues involving the PMRC.
"Most of us want to tread water on this one for a while," says one label executive who asked not to be named, "but I don't think there's much question that the industry would be a lot less cooperative with the PMRC if those women didn't have husbands who'll vote on the home-taping bills."
The RIAA, the lobbying arm of the U.S. record industry, originally agreed to place warning stickers on some records. Since then, though, many record companies have rejected the stickers, and manufacturing organizations such as the National Association of Record Merchandisers have come out against ratings.
But despite the RIAA's original concessions to the PMRC, RIAA President Stanley Gortikov says Goldberg's description of the connection between taping and rating isn't correct.
"It's just totally untrue," said Gortikov. "It's like saying that Prime Minister Nakasone of Japan is in the United States because his equipment and blank-tape makers have an issue at stake here. That's nonsense."
Still, last June 7, Gortikov himself wrote a memo to the RIAA's board of directors, discussing the PMRC's initial demands. "Non-response by companies to this emerging problem can have serious negative backlash effects," he said in the memo, which reporter Dave Marsh printed in a recent issue of the Village Voice. "Our legislative and national/international antipiracy enforcement projects and priorities can be diluted or jeopardized."
Gortikov admits that the RIAA currently has one "legislative priority": the home-taping bill. So doesn't his own memo prove there's a connection?
"Certainly, there could be," he replied after a pause. "If all the wives of all the legislators who vote on this issue were able to convince their husbands of a point of view, then that would act to our detriment. But since that's unlikely . . .
"Certainly, it's important to us to have Washington, both legislators and administrators, look favorably on our industry."
But any connection between H.R. 2911 and S. 1739, the respective House and Senate versions of the home taping legislation, and the PMRC demands, make exeuctives like Goldberg nervous.
"We're not prepared to give up our right of creative expression just to have a better chance of a having a tape bill," says Goldberg, "which seems to me to be the compromise we're being asked to make."