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Talks on Studio Access Get Tense

By Keith J. Winstein


Negotiations among a capella groups about access to a new recording studio built by the Logarhythms have grown tense, with some groups reporting disappointment that their initial expectations of equal partnership in running the studio have not been met with acceptance by the Logs.

In a four-hour meeting Sunday night, executive officers of MIT’s seven a capella groups -- the Chorallaries, the Toons, the Cross Products, the Muses, Techiya, Resonance, and the Logarhythms -- met to discuss access to the on-campus studio, including a 10-page proposed contract that the Logs have offered as “terms of access” to the six other groups.

Executive officers of all of the MIT a capella groups generally declined or did not return requests to comment for this article. But several officers cautioned that the negotiations are ongoing, and that the Logs’ proposal for terms of access is evolving quickly.

Proposal would give Logs control

Several groups have balked at the proposed terms, which would grant the Logarhythms “the right to remove their recording studio equipment at any time for any reason” and restrict non-Logs groups to no more than a month of free recording time every two years. Groups would have to pay for further access.

The proposed terms would also require groups to indemnify the Logarhythms against copyright infringement -- that is, to hire a lawyer to defend the Logs and pay any damages in the event the Logs are sued for copyright infringement. It was not immediately clear whether the groups would make these guarantees personally, or whom the Logarhythms would have to sue to enforce the clause.

Groups that agree to the proposed terms of access would also promise to disregard any future decision by the Association of Student Activities to reallocate the studio room, 50-301, to all of the groups, agreeing that nonetheless only the Logs would have “unrestricted access to the room.”

Logs paid for studio

The Logs have so far footed all of the $34,000 bill for the studio, which has room for five singers. Part of the funds came from a $10,000 interest-free six-month loan from the Undergraduate Association last December.

Several groups say they expected the Logs to allow them to buy in to an equal partnership in running the studio when they agreed to give up their joint office space to allow the Logs to be allocated the studio room last fall.

“The plan is that [the Chorallaries] will be throwing in as an equal partner,” said Ross I. Runnion ’04, the president of the Chorallaries, in an interview with The Tech in late March. The Chorallaries expected to reimburse the Logs $4,000 to $5,000 for the partnership, he said then.

But the Logs did not, in the end, offer the other groups the opportunity to reimburse their expenses in exchange for partnership. Instead, they have so far offered limited time allocations and fees for extra use to the other groups.

Some groups complain that this was not the deal they agreed to in giving up their space and not how the Logs represented their intentions.

In a UA bill he submitted to give the Logs the $10,000 loan last December, UA councilor and Logarhythms member Mark A. Sellmyer ’04 wrote in the bill’s preamble, “The other a cappella groups on campus support the Logs in building a recording studio and have agreed to cede control of some office space to allow the Logs to build the studio provided that they will eventually be able to uses [sic] the studio.” The bill passed unanimously with one abstention.

UA President Josiah D. Seale ’03 said the proposed contract did not agree with his recollection of how the Logarhythms represented their intentions. “I don’t recall them mentioning ownership or fees of this sort,” he said.

But, he said, the fees were not necessarily improper. “The UA loaned money to the Logs and they’ll be paying it back,” he said. “In that sense I can see them wanting to charge.”

ASA declines to intervene

Although the debate concerns the use of space the ASA has allocated to Logarhythms, “the ASA will not step in unless the issue becomes such that an arbitrator needs to step in,” said Jennifer S. Yoon ’03, the ASA president until May 1.

“What the ASA knows is that the a capella groups are pretty much handling this in-house,” she said.

One group member criticized Yoon for a conflict of interest in her involvement with the Logs and the studio. For coursework, Yoon is working on a documentary about the Logarhythms.

“It’s completely outside what I do for ASA,” Yoon said. “I do follow them around, but it’s not like I’m a Log on any level.”

“It’s a lot like when a photographer follows a group around taking pictures,” she said. “I was limited to following them on gigs” and some rehearsals, she said. “Anytime that it was sort of sensitive,” she was barred access, she said, and “when it comes to how the group works, I haven’t been involved.”

Yoon said she was completely uninvolved in the Logs’ administrative decisions and that in her three years working for the ASA, she had remained “to the best of my abilities objective and impartial.”

Logs not inconsistent, ASA says

Efforts to figure out what was said at the ASA space-allocation meeting last fall, when the a capella groups agreed to give up their office space, have been frustrated by the loss of notes taken at the meeting.

Yoon said that Kathryn M. Walter ’05, the incoming ASA president, had taken notes at the meeting, but that the notes were not typed up because the meeting was not an official ASA meeting. Walter would not confirm she had taken notes at the meeting, but said the notes were not archived or available.

But both Walter and Yoon said they could not recall any statements by the Logs at the meeting -- or otherwise -- that would contradict the Logs’ current position.

Yoon said she received a first draft of the Logs’ proposal in early April and that the ASA had concerns about the clause requiring groups to disregard a future ASA reallocation assigning the space to all groups. “That is actually one of the concerns that the ASA has on that particular issue,” she said.

Yoon said the Logarhythms seeking to license use of their recording studio was not unheard of among MIT student groups. E33 Productions, another ASA-recognized student group, charges other student groups fees for its theater production services, she said. She also cited The Tech, which has ASA-designated office space and sells advertisements to other student groups.

“There is multi-thousands of dollars of equipment sitting in this room, and given the history of security in Walker offices, I can understand why the Logarhythms, having invested so much in equipment,” would want groups to sign this contract, she said.