As Harvey Weinstein Falls, the Music Business Buttons Up Corporate Policies
Tough enforcement and the industry's contraction have helped weed out some of music's worst corporate offenders, but there's more to do.
As allegations of sexual harassment mount against Harvey Weinstein, Hollywood is making the once-wild music industry look relatively well-behaved. While the scandal has prompted other claims -- Amazon Studios head Roy Price resigned Oct. 17 after sexual harassment allegations -- none have surfaced since against music business executives.
On Oct. 17, the Oscar-winning producer left the board of The Weinstein Company. He had been ousted as co-chairman of the company he co-founded on Oct. 8, following a bombshell New York Times report, when over a dozen women came forward with allegations of sexual assault. The number has now climbed to about 40.
Labels say they have strong policies meant to prevent workplace discrimination and handle it swiftly if it does occur.
The key, says an attorney, is ensuring the policies are enforced. "Most big companies have really good policies already," says Manatt Phelps & Phillips' Jeff Biederman, who was an employment attorney before switching to entertainment law. "The policies are only as good as the people who are maintaining and working with them. If you have a policy, it's very important that you actually follow it. You have to actually administer these things. If they're administered properly, they really become litigation insurance."
Len Blavatnik, whose AI Holdings bought Warner Music Group in 2011, is one of the few music players who has done business with The Weinstein Company, including forming a joint film-financing venture in 2010 that sources say ultimately did not go forward. Blavatnik's relationship with Weinstein included the pair hosting a party together at the Cannes Film Festival in 2012. A WMG representative says the company has a comprehensive program to prevent sexual harassment that is regularly reviewed so that rigorous professional standards are maintained.
Neither Blavatnik's rep, Mike Sitrick, nor an AI representative would comment on an Oct. 11 TMZ report that AI was demanding a $45 million loan to The Weinstein Company in 2016 be returned.
A Sony Music Entertainment rep says Sony also "has a robust compliance program. We have plenty of communication and training with our employees that makes it clear there are channels for them to report any concerns. We have procedures in place so that any concerns that are reported are dealt with in the appropriate way."
After Rob Stringer's ascension to SME CEO, Sony dismissed Epic Records chief Antonio "L.A." Reid in May following a claim by a female assistant who alleged "unlawful harassment of an employee."
Sony has been entangled for the past three years in the ongoing legal battle between Dr. Luke and Kesha, with the singer alleging sexual assault by the producer/CEO of Kemosabe Records and Dr. Luke denying the charges and countersuing for defamation. Dr. Luke's contract at Kemosabe, a joint venture with Sony's RCA Records, expired in March and was not renewed.
A Universal Music Group representative says Lucian Grainge, who was appointed CEO in 2010, has made such standards a priority, with annual sexual harassment training and an anonymous tip line among the procedures in place.
It is vital, says Biederman, that companies not only have the rules in place but also provide a safe atmosphere for victims of alleged abuse to come forward. "You need the young people in question -- normally women, but not exclusively -- to have the courage to say, 'I'm not going to sell myself for this career,' and then have systems so that people feel comfortable enough that they will come forward," he says. "It's the company's responsibility that someone feels like he or she can say, 'Hey, this happened and it's wrong.' "
Sources believe the culture has improved somewhat in the last two decades, with fewer abuses at major labels than in the early 1990s, in part because the years-long contraction of the music industry weeded out many of the abusers.
In the '90s, a series of scandals rocked the industry: Marko Babineau, GM of David Geffen's DGC imprint, resigned after his assistant alleged he masturbated in front of her; RCA senior vp A&R Jeff Aldrich exited after sexual harassment allegations by several employees; and promotion executive Mike Bone was sued by his assistant at Island Records for allegedly attempting to coerce her into sexual relations -- charges he denied. Bone and Aldrich went on to work for other labels.
But now, once an alleged abuser's actions come to light, the reaction tends to be swift. In 2016, Life or Death PR founder Heathcliff Berru stepped down after several women alleged he had harassed or assaulted them.
"Years ago, men and women used to go out for drinks and talk about who they find attractive in the office," says one record label executive. "Appropriate or not, people did it. I don't even hear that anymore."