Just last month, now former Rep. Mark Foley, R-Fla., was honored--along with Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and artist Kelly Clarkson--at the Recording Academy's Grammys on the Hill event. The honor
Just last month, now former Rep. Mark Foley, R-Fla., was honored—along with Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and artist Kelly Clarkson—at the Recording Academy's Grammys on the Hill event. The honors were presented to those who have improved the overall environment for the music community.
The day before his award, Billboard met with Foley in his Capitol Hill office to ask him about his recent work for the music industry. At the time, he was chairman of an ad-hoc group of House Republicans called the Entertainment Task Force.
According to the RIAA Web site, the House Entertainment Task Force was formed in the mid-1990s by then-Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., and the late Rep. Sonny Bono, R-Calif. They wanted to build closer relationships between Congressional Republicans and members of the entertainment industry. Foley, a member of the task force, was appointed chairman after Bono died in 1998.
The following is the Billboard Sept. 5, 2006, unedited interview with Foley.
How did you become involved with the entertainment task force?
It's a Republican group first and foremost. Sonny Bono and I, back when this all started -- he and I got elected together in "94 -- Sonny had said at the time, 'Our Republican party has so many things relative to the business of the entertainment industry. Yet we suffer because of the talent side of the equation mostly fixated on Democratic politics, more liberal politics.' He said, 'But if you talk about what the studios want, what the record honchos want -- the people who are involved in the dynamics of the business -- they're talking about Republican issues, which are trade, intellectual property, copyright -- things that are business-driven -- tax policy.'
He said, 'We have something that we think is marketable to them, but because of the party label with the entertainers, it's an anathema.' He said we ought to put together a working group, which would be a ROMP [Retain Our Majority Program] group of Republicans who could sit around [to talk], who have an interest in the arts, entertainment, Hollywood, whatever, that are hip, as he used to say. 'Let's put some hip cats together and work on a little group that we can go out and talk to them and show them that we're literate on their issues and also intuned and concerned about their business models.'
We made our first foray to Beverly Hills, met with all the various recording [people] -- screen actors, writers, you name it, studio heads. We had our first kind of focus group to say, 'What is it that is troubling you, and what can Congress do at least tangentially to help?'
At that time, and still to this day, runaway [motion picture] production was a big issue. So we started just meeting on an infrequent basis and having a place for them to come on Capitol Hill where they wouldn't just necessarily see Democratic elected officials. Because now it was very apparent that Republicans were running the House; it was the era of Newt Gingrich as Speaker. We were certainly in the majority and they had to come talk to us.
[Bono] wanted it to be a friendly forum and a friendly vehicle so it wasn't about raising funds, and it wasn't' about anything other than sharing issues, sharing an agenda, talking where we could be helpful and trying to separate ourselves at the time from either Roseanne Barr or Rosie O'Donnell or whoever was the object de jour of Democratic politics. It wasn't anti-them or anti-party -- Democratic politics. It was simply, 'We're Republicans, we know what the business is doing, what it needs to do.'
I often used the example of the airline industry. [The pilots] used to say, 'If it isn't Boeing, we ain't going.' Then all of a sudden, along comes Airbus, which the consortiums of European countries formed together to really start handing us our head, and Boeing was losing market share.
What we said was, 'We don't want to be the next Boeing. We don't want the entertainment industry to have packed up and left by the time we notice they're gone.' They were going to Prague, to Canada. Some was intrinsic on the value of the dollar, the conversion rates. Some was based on heavy, aggressive solicitation by the country to lure production.
Was music piracy discussed?
Well, it was really now starting to become the big problem because we were now moving quickly into the Internet era, and it was easier to download music.
Did you discuss CD piracy?
CD piracy was huge, especially in Asia and India, places where they were stamping out CD copies, you know.
Tori Amos is in my constituency -- her father -- and he would come sit on this couch and talk about how all of her works were stolen. Pirated. They were purloined.
What are the issues that you have been focusing on with this task force during the last year?
Probably the digital side of it, the downloading. And some of it has taken care of itself, if you look at iTunes, the iPod and the new paradigm of delivery. A lot of it's become really nothing Congress has done, but more what has happened in the industry to allow, you know, people are frankly somewhat tired of paying for 17 or 14 hits -- or records [tracks] -- when they only wanted one or two songs that the artist is great for. And now by making it easier -- the 99 cents per play -- people are happy to pay for the download. But there is still piracy.
Are there any specific issues brought to your attention -- brought to the entertainment task force -- by the music industry this last year?
The RIAA has been in, bringing in artists. They're more collaborative now than adversarial. That for a while had developed [into] a big gap between the talent and the record labels. [RIAA chairman/CEO] Mitch Bainwol has tried to bring some of that back together because at the end of the day, we're fighting with each other while people are stealing.
Is it important for artists -- whether recording artists, songwriters or producers -- to come here and meet with all of you?
Absolutely. Not only does it provide some sizzle, but everybody likes to see the talent. Don Henley's been here, and people get a kick [out] of seeing somebody that's had such a storied career. Sonny Bono was kind of an anomaly around Congress because people knew Sonny & Cher -- anyone in our generation. So you have that kind of dynamic.
Then you have the success of things like American Idol, which is showcasing musical talent. So it's probably come leap years from what music used to be, going to rock concerts to what it is now, a multimedia platform.
Do you find it to be more effective to have someone who is really well-known to be here -- someone who is a contemporary -- rather than artists who have not done much in recent years?
I don't think it matters. People around here are not going to be into the same genre. Emily Lou Harris came by, and I took her to see [former Rep.] Dick Armey [R-Texas] at the time. Most of my contemporaries would know Emily Lou Harris, but if they weren't country they wouldn't know her very well. They just know the name but probably couldn't pick a tune, whereas Dick Armey knew every song. He was going back and forth with her. Everyone has some utility. And some are writers, talking about their catalogs, the importance of the protection of that intellectual property.
There are many so-called copyleft groups, like Creative Commons, some members of Public Knowledge and others. Have you encountered any of those groups yet?
No. You always get - more from probably the Internet service provider side -- some of the people that are worried about getting caught in the crosshairs. A lot of those groups probably see me more as somebody that's looking to protect [copyright].
It's really interesting because when Newt was the Speaker -- Newt Gingrich wasn't necessarily a music aficionado -- when we brought in people [to discuss copyright], we also brought in scientists who write text books on scientific research. He got it when we said they won't put their works out in the public space if it's going to be stolen because their work is far too lucrative for them, and [is] part of their personality.
Have you reviewed the PERFORM Act, the Section 115 copyright bill -- SIRA -- or the audio flag bill?
No. I'm not on [the] Judiciary [Committee], I'm on Ways and Means. We do tax policy. I've not looked at those.
When the dust starts stirring, when people say, 'Listen, we better go make our case,' then we get the obligatory visits from the writer groups saying, 'Look, this is what we'd like help on.' We're just an ad hoc [group]. We're not a formalized structure.
Democrats have a formalized structure that does similar things. They're more of a party-building apparatus. They call it the entertainment industry task force, I think. We work collaboratively together.
When [the Democratic group] saw what we were doing, they quickly followed suit because they didn't want to lose their clout. Howard Berman [D-Calif.] is an exceptional member on the Democratic side that's deeply involved in all this. There are Democratic members that I would say, without question, are incredibly important to the dynamic of Congress, too.
Sometimes people see it as sheer industry vs. [talent.] One time we were sitting with Randy Travis and his wife, and Tom Selleck was part of the Republican outreach. We were talking to Randy and his wife.
Randy wondered why he was even there. I said, 'Quite frankly, every time you produce a hit, you're receiving royalties, but they're stealing far more than you're getting because somewhere in the world there's someone pressing a CD.' This is probably back in the early "90s. So he and his wife became quickly animated. [When] they were traveling in Mexico, [they] saw what they knew was a bootleg CD, and they weren't getting a cent off that. Then the commonality of interests [between the political parties] become more similar.
Issues like rights and royalty rates are extraordinarily complex, even for some who work in the industry. How do you get up to speed on them?
It's ever-evolving. This process is really a series of negotiations.
Who educates you? Does the group get together to learn about the issues?
The caucus can get together. We talk informally, we talk on the [House] floor. Last year we held a luncheon for staff, and we had Jack Valenti - it must have been more than a year ago [because Motion Picture Assn. of America chief Valenti resigned in 2004] -- and Mitch Bainwol come in. They bring in someone from the companies, and the staff can see first hand what all of this is about.
Again, you're talking about 435 [House] members, 100 senators, staff running around here, various and sundry publications that take an interest in this ongoing debate. It's a consensus gathering process by trying to figure out -- making certain that as you're crafting legislation, that this doesn't have an unnecessary impact on someone.
You know it's like pushing strings around. You push a little bit, and maybe it doesn't appear to move much here, but it will. It will unravel if you're not careful. So that's why we try to get a broad perspective of the voices inside, whether it's the record execs, the trade groups or the talent themselves. We don't want to leave them because there's five or six people involved in every process.
When the music industry wants to help educate legislators, should they work through the trade groups or simply make themselves available to you?
Both. A little bit of both. The drop-bys help a lot, and they've been more frequent because they're under more pressure. If you look at the evolution of the record business, it's just been fast and furious. They're now starting to re-group, but they've had a tough couple of years.
You go back, and they've been on a down trend. That's why when you saw the iTunes process, that business was going to fix for [the record business] their intrinsic problems. Not completely, but it was going to make a shift. And that was between the record labels and the guaranteed contracts -- what some would refer to as indentured servitude. Tori Amos's father used to refer to her being trapped.
I would try to say [to him] that I understand that aspect of it now that she's made a hit. 'But,' I said, 'What I kind of need to learn more about is what happens to those people who haven't had a hit and invested significantly in demo'ing these, and time-trial testing these kinds of products out in the marketplace. And yet they're supporting that person. Then when the hits makes [it], everybody all the sudden wants to forget that they made an agreement.'
So that's why you have to have some balance. It's always easy to say the big bad studios, then you think, as a business person, 'What happens if I invested in a real estate salesman? All these years I've been nurturing, teaching and training, and showing [the person] the ropes, and then the next thing they get a little, you know, idea on their own, and they're out there peddling their own wares and you just lost all of your investment.'
So that's balance. That's where you have to come to some conclusions. Then you have state law that can have a direct impact on some of the industry positions, too. So you try to keep up with all your state partners. California has some pretty aggressive laws on entertainment.