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Business News (more headlines) 04-25-2004

Congress Threatens Live Music, Fans And Music Industry Fight Back

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Congress is considering two bills that would hold bands, DJs, bartenders, promoters, venue owners, radio stations and others liable if a patron uses drugs at a nightclub or concert. Legal experts and business owners warn the legislation would devastate the music industry and could spell the end of live music, especially large music festivals like South by Southwest and Burning Man. Music fans, bar and nightclub owners, and music promoters are launching a national campaign to defeat the legislation.

"Members of Congress may be too old to go to concerts and dance their butts off, but millions of voters are not," said Bill Piper, Director of National Affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance. "If politicians don't reject this legislation, these voters may dance their way to the voting booth and vote these old fogies out."

The Ecstasy Awareness Act (H.R. 2962) would throw anyone in jail who "profits monetarily from a rave or similar electronic dance event knowing or having reason to know" some event-goers may use drugs at the event. Similarly, Section 305 of the CLEAN-UP Act (H.R. 834) makes it a federal crime - punishable by up to nine years in prison - to promote "any rave, dance, music, or other entertainment event, that takes place under circumstances where the promoter knows or reasonably ought to know that a controlled substance will be used or distributed."

Under the provisions of both bills, almost any music promoter, nightclub owner or arena or stadium owner could be fined and jailed, because a reasonable person knows that some people use marijuana and other drugs at musical events. Business owners could be prosecuted even if they are not involved in drugs – and even if they take steps to stop drug use on their property. Dozens of music promoters and bar owners, as well as national groups such as the ACLU, American Beverage Licensees (which represents thousands of bars and nightclubs), and the International Association of Assembly Managers (which represents arena and stadium managers), signed letters to Congress earlier this year warning that the CLEAN-UP Act "is a threat to free speech and musical expression, and will undoubtedly harm innocent business owners."

In response to both bills, the Drug Policy Alliance declared April 24th a "Day and Night of Outrage" over the legislation and launched a website, www.protectlivemusic.org, to coordinate the work of thousands of concerns music fans and business owners. Voters in dozens of cities, from Billings, Montana to New York City are expected to take action on April 24th, including circulating petitions to Congress, passing out flyers, protesting, and holding fundraisers to raise money for the campaign. The day and night of action kicks off a four-month national campaign to stop the legislation, that will culminate in a concert on the lawn of Congress in August. For a full list of tomorrow's events please see: http://www.protectlivemusic.org/outrage_gigs.htm.

The Alliance picked the term "outrage" to describe the day and night of action to correspond with their "Outrageous" music CD the organization will release this summer to raise money for the campaign to protect live music. The Alliance chose to kick off the four-month campaign in April because it's the one-year anniversary of legislation that Congress passed, known as the RAVE Act, making business owners liable for the drug offenses of their patrons. That legislation, passed last April, was used last May to shut down a political fundraiser in Billings, Montana and music industry professionals contend it has had a serious chilling effect on musical expression. The CLEAN-UP Act and Ecstasy Awareness Act would make it even easier for the government to punish business owners for the crimes of their customers.

"The government can't even keep drugs out of its own schools and prisons, yet it is seeking to punish business owners that can't stop their patrons from using drugs," said Bill Piper. "If these bills become law, innocent business owners could go to jail and music fans may be unable to see their favorite artist live. That's why business owners and music fans are organizing to protect live music."

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