Settlement reaps reward of quantity, not quality
Tuesday, August 10, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 12:14 p.m. CDT, Sunday, July 20, 2008

Librarian Greg Reeves has had little room to stretch his legs beneath his desk ever since the 30 to 40 bread-loaf-sized boxes arrived in his office. Their contents: more than 2,000 compact discs.

The CDs, which arrived at Columbia Public Library about a month ago, are part of a settlement in which music distributors agreed to provide $75 million worth of CDs to public and nonprofit organizations in all 50 states. The lawsuit leading to the settlement accused the distributors of price fixing.

Reeves said most of the CDs are “cutouts” the music companies would have gotten rid of anyway because they’re not selling.

“Normally, unless they’re settling a lawsuit, they’ll sell it in bulk to a (retailer), and it ends up in a dollar bin at Wal-Mart,” Reeves said.

He said he wouldn’t have chosen many of the CDs for the library. “There was some good stuff in there, but actually most of the good ones we’d get one copy of,” Reeves said.

By contrast, the library got more than 20 copies of smooth jazz group Fourplay’s Christmas album. The most copies of a CD Reeves would buy is eight, for albums such as Outkasts’ “Speakerboxxx/The Love Below.”

“I’m always happy to get free. Free is good. But the quality just left a lot to be desired,” Reeves said. The library already has copies of the 10 percent of the donated CDs that Reeves considers good.

The lawsuit, brought by individuals and 43 states and territories that bought music from certain retailers, claimed music distributors and retailers violated federal and state antitrust laws, unfair competition laws and consumer protection laws. They were accused of conspiring to keep the price of CDs above a certain amount.

Missouri Attorney General Jay Nixon did not sign Missouri onto the lawsuit because he foresaw problems with it, spokesman Scott Holste said.

One problem was lack of control over which CDs were donated, Holste said. Henry McMaster, the attorney general of South Carolina, censored CDs by music artists such as controversial rapper Eminem, excluding them from the CDs sent to organizations in his state.

Reeves said the Columbia library has received no objectionable CDs.


Defendants included distributors EMI Music Distribution, Warner-Elektra-Atlantic Corp., Universal Music Group, Bertelsmann Music Group and Sony Music Entertainment and retailers Tower Records, Trans World Entertainment Corp. and Musicland Stores Corp.

Holste said Nixon also foresaw “that libraries would receive multiple copies that were not popular and that CD companies would try to clean out their warehouses.” In Washington state, schools received 1,300 copies of Whitney Houston singing “The Star-Spangled Banner,” and a Seattle library got 48 copies of Martha Stewart’s “Scary Sounds of Halloween.”

Attorney James Rosemergy of Carey & Danis law firm served as liaison council for Missouri consumers. He distributed 109,733 CDs to 557 Missouri schools, symphonies, nonprofit radio stations and libraries. Rosemergy contacted the Missouri Library Association to make it aware of the CDs and to guarantee the donations would exclude anything offensive.

The library association informed its 43 institutional members about the availability of more than 33,000 CDs, said Margaret Booker, executive director of the library association. She said 25 members registered for CDs, which were then distributed directly to libraries.

Reeves has sorted the CDs by genre and put some on the shelves. The rest he said he will go through when he has time, noting that music selection is only part of his job. “The bulk of (CDs) I will probably add at some point,” he said.

Reeves said he would eventually like to trade CDs with other libraries so he doesn’t have so many multiple copies. If it’s legal, he said, he’d like to place a good chunk of them in the Friends of Public Library’s book sales, which benefit the library.

The library’s existing collection of CDs tops 16,000, and about 600 to 700 are added each month, Reeves said. “We add new stuff all the time. ... It stays about steady with what’s on the shelves,” he said.

Federal Judge D. Brock Hornby in Portland, Maine, approved the settlement in June. The defendants agreed to pay more than $67 million to plaintiff consumers. Missourians who joined the suit got checks for $13.81, not enough to buy an average CD. The defendants admitted no liability.

With about 10,000 CDs in his own collection, Reeves decided to sign onto the lawsuit. “I think they ripped me off for more than 13 dollars and 81 cents over the years, but I was glad to take what I could get,” he said.

Holste also signed on and received a check as a private consumer.

Even though organizations have received CDs from the music companies, Reeves said he thinks they’ve failed to meet their responsibility.

“It’s basically a tax write-off for them, and they got rid of stuff they were going to sell for pennies a CD anyway,” he said. “The dollar amount of what they gave away is pretty minuscule.”

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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