The record industry may be booming at the end of the century, but always following in the shadows of success are serious issues such as copyright infringement and censorship. New technologies have introduced novel opportunities to illegally use an artist's work. And, even in an era that appears more musically enlightened - entire genres such as rock and roll and heavy metal are no longer widely feared as evil influences - there's still the occasional outcry to silence musicians whose controversial lyrics and images make them Public Enemy Number One on the hit charts.
Aside from its purpose of finding new talent, combating the perpetrators of infringement and censorship has become the most pressing goal of the Recording Industry Association of America, or RIAA, a Washington DC-based organization.
Joel L. Flatow, a Jericho native, is vice president of government affairs and artist relations for the RIAA, which means that he is responsible for fostering sound and beneficial relationships between artists and governmental policy-makers who draft laws pertaining to the music industry.
Flatow, a member of RIAA since 1995, and promoted to his current position in May of 1998, meets frequently with some of the most influential politicians in America, attempting to persuade them to protect musicians' properties and freedom of speech. Sometimes he will even arrange for an individual artist to speak directly with politicians on his industry's behalf.
According to Flatow, artists and government officials surprisingly share "a lot of mutual interests and admiration, and so we very often are trying to bring recording artists and public figures together. That's one of the most interesting parts of my job."
Flatow said that political figures are more open-minded than one might expect, and even those who at first believe certain music should be banned, often can be convinced otherwise when reminded that they are unfairly quashing liberties. That's especially important to today's controversial artists (Marilyn Manson, are you paying attention?).
The brands of music that trigger calls for censorship most often, explained Flatow, are shock rock and rap, because of their crude lyrics depicting violence, sex and decadence. But, said Flatow, people often misinterpret the words contained in these songs.
"The messages sometimes contained in rap are about anti-violence and how life is being devalued in urban areas and other parts of the country. It's a music of rebellion and expression," he remarked. "Very often people respond to the anger [in the lyrics] and not the actual message, and then try to restrict it in some way, which is not what musical expression is all about."
"Leave the issue of deciding what is appropriate music or not [to] parents," Flatow continued. "It shouldn't be the government. That's a slippery slope."
Censorship is a problem when an artist is forbidden to distribute his music through any of the normal channels of communication. The other considerable problem musicians face is, inversely, when they cannot control the rampant, uncontrolled distribution of their music. Therefore, the RIAA is frequently educating artists and politicians about music piracy.
While the nation's newest major medium, the Internet, is providing millions with a way to globally communicate, it also is a tremendous source of musical copyright infringement. "Our goal is to balance the opportunity of the Internet, making it a viable marketplace, with the amount of piracy that's out there right now," said Flatow, who often will have one-on-one sessions with artists and their managers, explaining their rights.
Flatow, in addition to being an advocate for musicians' rights, has his own musical background. "Actually, my whole family, stemming from my grandparents on both sides, and both of my parents, are very musical."
Flatow and his sister and brother were all sent to musical school from an early age. His sister became a professional violinist and his brother plays the piano and composes. Flatow also described his mother as "an exceptional singer."
From 1989-95, Flatow served as legislative director of the Congressional Arts Caucus, one of Capitol Hill's largest and most active bipartisan service organizations, comprised of 280 House and Senate members. He has spent 10 seasons as a tenor with the Washington Opera at the Kennedy Center and serves on the board of directors of the Washington Area Music Association.
"Not to be corny, but it's really great to be at a job where I just love what I do...[I] love music and have an interest in public affairs. It's great to be able to merge the two of them and that is such a great association," said Flatow.