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Musicians Unions Avoiding Digital Rights Fight, For Now

July 21, 2008 12:50 PM ET

The fight over digital royalty payments that tore up Hollywood late last year could soon come to the music world. While musicians unions like AFM and AFTRA help artists by establishing minimal payments, seeking health insurance and negotiating contracts, the unions have avoided getting involved in the fight over digital rights and royalties. As of now, artists negotiate separate digital rights contracts with labels outside of the unions, but that could change in 2010, when the current AFTRA contract expires. When a new contract is drawn up, the unions can then pursue introducing widespread digital rights details into standardized contracts. Such an action could help prevent many of the lawsuits going now concerning digital rights, including a class action suit filed against Sony BMG by acts like the Allman Brothers and Cheap Trick over digital downloads and ringtones. "This period of time between 2008 and 2010 is a window of opportunity for artists to come together through their union to address an issue collectively that heretofore they have looked at as an individual issue," says AFTRA national executive director Kim Roberts Hedgpeth.

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Song Stories

“Bird on a Wire”

Leonard Cohen | 1969

While living on the Greek island of Hydra, Cohen was battling a lingering depression when his girlfriend handed him a guitar and suggested he play something. After spotting a bird on a telephone wire, Cohen wrote this prayer-like song of guilt. First recorded by Judy Collins, it would be performed numerous times by artists incuding Johnny Cash, Joe Cocker and Rita Coolidge. "I'm always knocked out when I hear my songs covered or used in some situation," Cohen told Rolling Stone. "I've never gotten over the fact that people out there like my music."

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