ASCAP Continues Its War on Free Culture

Last month, ASCAP issued a letter hoping to collect donations to fight the copyleft movement. After severe backlash both externally and internally for saying that organizations like Creative Commons, EFF, and Public Knowledge is anti-copyright, you’d think that ASCAP would simply drop the matter. Amazingly, you’d be wrong for thinking that.

Note: This is an article I wrote that was published elsewhere first. It has been republished here for archival purposes

Let’s recap. Last month, ASCAP (American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers) issued a letter seeking campaign contributions. Nothing wrong with that, but their announcement of what they were going to do with the money is what caused a huge uproar.

“At this moment,” the letter said, “we are facing our biggest challenge ever. Many forces including Creative Commons, Public Knowledge, Electronic Frontier Foundation and technology companies with deep pockets are mobilizing to promote “Copyleft” in order to undermine our “Copyright.” They say they are advocates of consumer rights, but the truth in these groups simply do not want to pay for the use of our music. Their mission is to spread the word that our music should be free.”

Many members expressed astonishment, disappointment and anger since a number of them use Creative Commons to help distribute their work. Some sent letters to voice their disapproval of the move, others responded by donating to the targeted organizations and some even went through the extreme measure of ending their membership with ASCAP. To say ASCAP got a black eye over the incident would be an understatement.

In response to the letter, Creative Commons spoke to ZeroPaid saying that Creative Commons is not about undermining other people’s copyright and clarified that Creative Commons is copyright licenses that artists can freely choose.

Shortly after, the EFF (Electronic Frontier Foundation) told ZeroPaid that ASCAP was misrepresenting the EFF. The EFF even passed along a letter written by an ASCAP member saying that he is donating to the EFF in response to the ASCAP letter. That same member also did a fascinating study on issues such as the state of music today.

Public Knowledge also spoke to ZeroPaid and, like the other organizations, said that ASCAP is not representing Public Knowledge correctly.

Shortly after, the NMPA pulled a similar stunt on similar organizations, furthering what has been deemed as misrepresentations of the organizations in question.

Since then, Lawrence Lessig weighed in saying pretty much what Creative Commons already told us, but he added to what was already said.

“This isn’t the first time that ASCAP has misrepresented the objectives of our organization. But could we make it the last? We have no objection to collecting societies: They too were an innovative and voluntary solution (in America at least) to a challenging copyright problem created by new technologies. And I at least am confident that collecting societies will be a part of the copyright landscape forever.” Lessig said in an editorial.

“So here’s my challenge,” Lessig added, “ASCAP President Paul Williams: Let’s address our differences the way decent souls do. In a debate. I’m a big fan of yours, and If you’ll grant me the permission, I’d even be willing to sing one of your songs (or not) if you’ll accept my challenge of a debate. We could ask the New York Public Library to host the event. I am willing to do whatever I can to accommodate your schedule.”

You’d think that, by this point, ASCAP would at least admit an error in judgment of some sort, cut their losses and move on. On the contrary, ASCAP apparently continued it’s crusade against the copyleft movement. ASCAP, along with President and Chairman, Paul Williams, have responded.

ASCAP said, “Anti-copyright crusaders are currently engaged in a publicity campaign to discredit ASCAP’s efforts to defend the copyrights of our professional songwriter and composer members.”

This is certainly relieving. After all, I could have sworn it was ASCAP doing all the work to discredit ASCAP this whole time.

“The copyleft movement has encouraged a culture of disrespect for copyright by defending corporate and individual infringers; undermining every effort to provide more effective protection,” the statement continues, “no matter how limited or reasonable; promoting a reduction in copyright protection; supporting the dismantling of our rights through the courts; and questioning the basic premise that the tidal wave of infringements and unlicensed uses online hurts creators.”

I think it’s safe to say that this is just willful ignorance at this point. ASCAP could have read the statements issued by any of the organizations on this matter or done some basic research. Unfortunately, they seem to keep saying that the copyleft movement is the same as copyright infringement – no matter what the evidence and responses suggest.

As for Williams, he had his own choice words on the matter. He responded to Lessigs challenge to a debate by saying, “I don’t believe a debate with Lawrence Lessig will serve that purpose.”

“I am well aware of those “copyleft” mouthpieces who take a highly critical view of ASCAP’s efforts to protect our members’ rights.” Williams continued. He wrote, “That will not change ASCAP’s commitment to doing so. ASCAP exists for one purpose — fair payment to music creators for the use of their music by businesses and others who seek to attract viewers and customers. ASCAP has long welcomed and licensed new technological means of performing its members works, seeking only reasonable fees for those performances. Our members have every right to give their music away for free if they choose, but they should not be forced to do so.”

I know Williams isn’t really relying on evidence, but I have to ask, which artist was forced to use a Creative Commons license anyway? Was there an incident at some point where file-sharers kidnapped an artist and forced that artist to adopt a Creative Commons license at gun point or something? I’ve never, as a Creative Commons user, ever heard of anything even remotely like this in my entire life. If this really happened where an artist was forced, against their will, to adopt a Creative Commons license, I’d like to be pointed to this.

Williams even took things a step further by writing, “What I find most fascinating is that those who purport to support a climate of free culture work so hard to silence opposing points of view. They will not silence me.”

So, somehow, a debate is a promotion for censorship? I’m, ironically, speechless. What exactly has transpired to allow such lunacy to take place? Even if it wasn’t Lessig Williams is referring to, who is censoring ASCAP on these matters? This organization is campaigning against a tool artists can use as an aid for free speech. When challenged to a debate on the matter, ASCAP argues that a debate is censorship. It’s the kind of logic that is exhibited by people having a chair short of a dinette set.

[Via /.]

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Google+.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: