Originally created 06/26/04

Librarians critical of CDs sent for recording industry settlement

SEATTLE -- As Washington school and library officials wade through thousands of CDs sent by the recording industry to settle a price-fixing lawsuit, one district can't help but wonder: Can a library have too much Whitney Houston?

The Puget Sound Educational Service District, serving 35 school districts, received 1,300 copies of Houston's soaring rendition of the "Star-Spangled Banner," a disc that includes only one other song, "America the Beautiful."

Other discs have raunchy rap unsuitable for school libraries, and some librarians said it looked like the music companies were dumping stale inventory.

"Really, you can never have too many Whitney Houston CDs," joked district spokeswoman Karen Farley.

Forty-three states are part of the settlement and Washington is the first state to receive the CDs - more than 115,000 for libraries, colleges and schools. Millions more will land on library loading docks around the country in coming weeks.

In the lawsuit, music distributors and recording companies were accused of penalizing retailers by withholding advertising reimbursement if the retailers cut prices. The industry agreed to pay $67 million to consumers, and mailed out as $13.86 checks a few months ago.

The CD giveaway to schools, colleges and libraries will cost an estimated $76 million.

The Spokane-based educational service district is about halfway through its 5,900 CDs, which seem to lean heavily to classical music, including multiple copies of Mozart's "The Marriage of Figaro."

"It seems like a very diverse selection," said spokesman Steve Witter. "I suppose if you want them to appreciate the '60s - we have everything from Mel Torme to the Jefferson Airplane."

The CDs were selected by experts and educators for their lasting significance, and attorneys general for the states involved signed off on the list, said Gary Larson, a spokesman for Washington Attorney General Christine Gregoire.

"We did not just give carte blanche to the recording industry to provide any CDs they had left over in their warehouse," Larson said. To qualify, CDs had to have been on industry charts for 26 weeks or to have peaked in the top half of the charts.

Librarian Lara Weigand from the Tacoma Public Library is dubious that even half of the 1,325 CDs sent to her 10-library system meet that criteria: She said she doesn't need 57 copies of "Three Mo Tenors," based on a 2001 PBS special about African-American tenors.

"It was well-received, but if you were making core lists of everything a library should have, the CDs shipped would generally not be on them," Weigand said.

Gregoire's office is advising recipients to swap their duplicates with other recipients - an e-mail list is being set up to help out - and sell the discs they don't want.

The office also is checking on the complaints to see if the settlement was violated, and has notified the claims administrator in hopes of averting similar problems in other states, Larson said.

"We were trying to do some good for schools and libraries across the state," he said. "We may not have been quite as successful as we'd hoped but we have ample evidence that many ... are happy with what they've received."


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