Lauryn Hill has come out in support of a California bill that would prevent record labels from suing artists who leave their record contracts prematurely.
On Thursday (April 14), the eight-time Grammy-winning singer/rapper made a public plea to members of the California State Assembly’s Committee on Arts, Entertainment, Sports, Tourism and Internet Media to support the FAIR Act, also known as Assembly Bill 2926. Introduced by Assemblymember Ash Kalra (D-San Jose) in February, the bill would repeal a 1987 amendment to California’s “Seven-Year Statue” (a.k.a. California Labor Code Section 2855) that allows record labels to sue artists for damages if they leave after seven years but before delivering the required number of albums in their contract.
“No institution should be allowed the opportunity to control the market by controlling the output of a creative being for some ridiculous, indefinite period of time,” Hill wrote on Instagram, tagging Arts Committee members Assms. Tasha Boerner Horvath, Suzette Valladares, Richard Bloom, Steven S. Choi, Mike Fong, Adrin Nazarian and Laura Friedman. “This is not only unjust, it’s dangerous, and at its core a violation of the principles of free expression. Artists’ expressions ARE their voices, and an extension of their free speech and should not be contained, caught-up or controlled beyond a reasonable amount of time by an institution with the money and power to obstruct and deny someone’s output indefinitely.”
The Instagram post comes ahead of an April 19 hearing and vote by the Arts Committee on the legislation, which cleared its first hurdle last month when it passed out of the Assembly’s Labor & Employment Committee in a 4-2 vote following testimony from Black Music Action Coalition co-founder/co-chair and artist manager Willie “Prophet” Stiggers in favor and RIAA chairman and CEO Mitch Glazier in opposition. If the FAIR Act passes in the Arts Committee, an Appropriations Committee hearing will follow. Were the bill to pass all three committees, it would go to the assembly floor for a vote — and, if it passes there, move to the state Senate.
The original FAIR Act (AB 1385) was introduced in March 2021 by Assemblymember Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego), but the bill was pulled when she left office to become head of the California Labor Federation (CLF). Assemblymember Kalra introduced AB 2926 on Feb. 18 with some additional stipulations, including a provision stating that if an artist “willfully renegotiates” an existing contract with the label, a new seven-year period would start on the execution date of the renegotiated deal, but only if certain criteria is met. Additionally, AB 2926 added a stipulation allowing artists to terminate their original deal if the label fails to exercise its option for more releases within nine months after the commercial release of a music product option.
Hill’s advocacy on behalf of the FAIR Act isn’t surprising when you consider the artist’s troubled history with her own label, Columbia Records, following the success of her multi-platinum solo effort, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. During an interview on Rolling Stone‘s 500 Greatest Albums podcast in January 2021, Hill said that despite Miseducation’s massive critical and commercial success, her label stifled any hopes for a proper follow-up.
“After The Miseducation, there were scores of tentacled obstructionists, politics, repressing agendas, unrealistic expectations, and saboteurs everywhere,” Hill said on the podcast. “People had included me in their own narratives of their successes as it pertained to my album, and if this contradicted my experience, I was considered an enemy.”
Hill seemed to allude to this difficult relationship in Thursday’s Instagram post, writing, “Artists can easily fall prey to the internal politics of business, someone inside simply not liking them, or bullying and intimidation and the attacks that come when someone resists that coercion.”
She continued, “Often people want to influence the influencers and will stop at nothing less than treachery to accomplish their goal. Greed often perverts the creative intentions of young dreamers who don’t realize they’re up against a system with a history of using and crushing people who don’t comply with their agenda.”
Hill’s last release was the 2002 live album MTV Unplugged No. 2.0, while reported sessions for a second solo studio album never bore fruit. In 2013, during a hearing on tax evasion charges, it was reported that Hill had signed a new $1 million contract with Columbia’s parent company Sony Music, though no album has yet resulted from that deal.