- The Washington Times - Friday, February 29, 2008

ANNAPOLIS (AP) — A proposal to make it illegal to impersonate a pop star brought real-life impresarios Charlie Thomas of the Drifters and Jon “Bowzer” Bauman of Sha Na Na to Maryland’s Senate.

The Truth in Music Advertising Act would make it illegal to promote or perform live music in the state while falsely or misleadingly claiming a connection to other performing groups.

“It hurts to see young people come along and step in my shoes,” said Mr. Thomas, 70, who sang lead tenor for the Drifters, the 1960s group known for hits such as “Up on the Roof,” “On Broadway” and “Under the Boardwalk.”

The Senate Finance Committee moved unanimously Wednesday to send the bill to the full Senate. Supporters of the bill say unscrupulous promoters have formed traveling acts under the names of various groups without permission, paying royalties or even acknowledging that they are not the original acts.

Mr. Bauman, who starred with Sha Na Na during its heyday in the late 1970s, urged Maryland to join 18 other states in stopping what he called a “sophisticated form of identity theft.” Mr. Bauman, representing the Vocal Group Hall of Fame Foundation, said some performers have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on legal bills trying to stop copycats.

Under the bill, the attorney general’s office would be authorized to pursue injunctions against impostors, seek restitution and impose fines of up to $15,000 per violation. Tribute bands, groups with at least one original member, or those with permission or the legal right to use the original group’s name would not be affected.

Sen. Michael G. Lenett, Montgomery Democrat and the bill’s chief sponsor, said doo-wop groups of the 1950s and 1960s have been particularly vulnerable because they recorded their hits “before the media surge that made top performers’ faces familiar to the public at large.”

•••

Tougher penalties for attending an animal fight are nearing agreement in the Maryland legislature.

The House of Delegates voted unanimously yesterday to increase maximum jail time or fines for people attending a dogfight or cockfight. The Senate has passed a similar bill, so all that remains is for the two chambers to agree to a single version before the measure heads to Gov. Martin O’Malley, a Democrat, for his signature.

Sponsors of the dogfighting bills and the Humane Society of the United States originally sought even tougher penalties for dogfighting, making it a felony to attend a fight. Some lawmakers questioned whether attending a fight should be felony, which carries lifelong consequences. Sponsors said they are happy that some tougher penalties have passed and that they will try in future years to make attendance a felony.

Lawmakers in many states are reviewing dogfighting laws after the conviction in Virginia of NFL quarterback Michael Vick, who is serving a federal sentence for arranging dog fights.

•••

Lawmakers voted to make possession of child pornography a felony, even as one of their former colleagues is under investigation for having such images on his computer.

The House of Delegates voted unanimously yesterday to change possession from a misdemeanor to felony. It is currently a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of $2,500 and two years in jail. Subsequent convictions are felonies.

The bill was approved less than two weeks after a House member resigned as federal investigators searched his home computer. The former lawmaker, Delegate Robert A. McKee, Western Maryland Republican, has not been charged with a crime.

House members had the child pornography bill under consideration before Mr. McKee’s resignation. The also voted yesterday to require sex offenders to have pictures taken more regularly and to require sex offenders to register their online screen names with state authorities.

All three bills now head to the Senate.


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