Washington rock station DC-101, faced with a threat of legal action if it broadcasts Pat Benatar's new album without commercial interruptions to foil home tapers, has in turn refused to play the record at all.
The station, which helped make Benatar famous three years ago, is one of several that often "track" albums -- play them without interruption. The practice angers some record companies because it is believed to encourage home taping.
DC-101 has received a strongly worded letter from Chrysalis Records indicating that the station would be "in violation of Federal law" and subject to prosecution if it tracked "Get Nervous," Benatar's new album.
"They said that if we persisted, they would take legal action," said Don Davis, the station's vice president of programming and operations. "We didn't feel they had grounds; our lawyers got a big laugh out of it, just like we did. They Chrysalis said we were being very unprofessional. We've been unprofessional for seven years, so why stop now?"
According to a spokesman for Chrysalis, DC-101 was the only station among more than 1,000 nationwide that refused to comply with the label's request to refrain from tracking. At the heart of the battle is a new copyright concept that has been in effect on all Chrysalis albums since February but has yet to be tested. Chrysalis, an independent label whose only gold record this year has been Blondie's "The Hunter" and which recently reduced its national staff, contends that "the songs contained in said album were selected and sequenced by employees . . . resulting in a musical compilation copyright" that exists outside traditional sound recording copyrights.
Chrysalis claims the right of "public performance," exempting "the broadcast of particular songs." Davis replied that "our position is that once it's released and we pay the mechanical royalties, we can play anything we please. If they tell us how to use the product, we won't use the product." He refused to say whether the ban would extend to other Chrysalis products, but "they can expect not to have their product aired on the station. Our level of cooperation goes down when people don't cooperate with us."
Ronda Espy, the label's director of business affairs, said the new copyright policy, which also covers previously released material, was instituted after Chrysalis was given a legal opinion by UCLA professor of law Melvin Nemor, one of the nation's foremost copyright experts, in cooperation with the Recording Industry Association of America. "We're the first to say that compilation creates a music work that has a performance right attached to it," Espy explained. "There were no reports of full album airplay on the Blondie, but we would have proceeded exactly as we are now. Pat's a unique situation, so we're proceeding before the fact."
Letters outlining the Chrysalis policy were sent out to every Top-40 and album-oriented-rock radio station about the Benatar record because it was the one most likely to provoke tracking, which industry observers see as an invitation to home taping of new products that cuts deeply into sales. "No other stations threatened to play it," Espy said. Davis feels the home-taping fears are "overplayed . . . less than 20 percent of that problem can be placed at radio's door." The RIAA estimated that the industry may have lost as much as $1 billion in sales from home taping last year.
Chrysalis also unveiled a new "light signature" anti-counterfeiting device on "Get Nervous." The reportedly fool-proof system will allow verification of whether albums were pressed by Chrysalis or by counterfeiters, who the RIAA claims were responsible for more than $400 million in record sales last year.