Record industry joins battle against fly-by-night fan clubs

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The Independent Online
The British Phonographic Industry will today host the latest stage in a four-year battle by teenage pop fans to get a fair deal from fan clubs.

The meeting has been organised by Short Change, the children's consumer programme on BBC1, which has been campaigning against fan clubs which take money from young fans and often give them little or nothing in return.

Short Change wants the representatives of PolyGram, MCA Music and reputable fan clubs who will be present to set up a trade association.

Hundreds of fan clubs exist in the UK, many legitimate and run by friends of the bands as a labour of love in the spare bedroom. But there are also many fly-by-night operations working out of post office box numbers.

The intention of today's meeting is to set out rules of association for prospective members and to come up with a seal of approval that can be withdrawn for bad behaviour. It will also give fans someone to complain to.

Around 70 per cent of complaints received by Short Change refer to fan clubs that rip off their members.

A typical experience is that of a 13-year-old from London who sent pounds 83 to teen band Backstreet Boys' fan club for a selection of merchandise. After six weeks she had received nothing and only after the programme intervened did she receive a pair of boxer shorts, a cushion and a book on the band written in German.

Often fans receive nothing at all, says Gilly Longton, a Short Change producer. "You wouldn't send a cheque off for a holiday without seeing an Abta sign, so there should be something similar for fan clubs." The amounts may be smaller for teenagers' fan clubs, but says Ms Longton, they are large for a teenagers' pocket.

The television programme, which is broadcast on Sunday mornings and is virtually unknown in the adult world, received no help when it approached MPs and the Office of Fair Trading. However, Ms Longton was helped by contacts in the record industry and has managed to elicit the support of some of the industry's heavy hitters.

"We spend a fortune creating and promoting the image of our artists," says Gary Farrow, vice president of group communications at Sony Music. "So we don't want it jeopardised by some over-enthusiastic band manager who can't handle a fan club, or worse, those that cash the fans' cheques with no intention of supplying anything. They ought to remember that with no fans, there are no record sales."