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ASCAP Declares War on Free Culture

ASCAP Declares War on Free Culture

The free culture movement is abuzz today over news that ASCAP has requested their members to fight organizations like Creative Commons, Public Knowledge and the Electronic Frontier Foundation over what it claims as an effort to undermine copyright.

ASCAP (American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers), according to ASCAP member Mike Rugnetta, has sent a letter out asking its members to send donations that would go to fighting organizations like Creative Commons, the EFF, Public Knowledge and other supporters of the free culture movement. He posted the letter to prove it (Part 1, part 2).

“At this moment,” the letter says, “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.”

The letter continues, “This is why your help now is vital. We fear that our opponents are influencing Congress against the interests of music creators. If their views are allowed to gain strength, music creators will find it harder and harder to make a living as traditional media shifts to online and wireless services. We all know what will happen next: the music will dry up, and the ultimate loser will be the music consumer.”

ASCAP urged its members to donate, on average, $5 to the Legislative Fund for the Arts (ALFA).

As an artist who uses Creative Commons, I can clear a few things up. Creative Commons is a license that artists can voluntarily adopt to help market their music. They can choose to adopt that license, put their music in the public domain or simply copyright their music. Creative Commons is a middle-of-the-road approach when it comes to copyright and enables creators to tell consumers, in plain language, what they can and cannot do with their content. In short, it’s an option for artists. Any attack on Creative Commons is an attack on an artists right to choose what they feel is appropriate for their chosen distribution channel.

Additionally, Creative Commons is not an attack on creators who copyright their work. It is a response to what some feel is the failings of copyright. It is not a movement to pirate copyrighted material. If a Creative Commons work infringed on copyright, the license would be invalid and unenforceable. If an artist chooses to use Creative Commons, then it is their work that is placed under Creative Commons, not someone else’s.

Many feel that copyright, in its current form, is outdated and does not do a good job at responding to the digital environment and is more appropriate for a time when one couldn’t send music via an electronic form. Many feel that a free music distribution model is a form of marketing – just ask 50 cent about that.

This is how Creative Commons works from the perspective of an artist such as myself (for the purposes of this article, I’ll pretend that it’s about 2005 when I first started because that’s where many artists start using Creative Commons):

I have started producing music, but I’m just starting out. I don’t know whether its actually good music or bad music. I also don’t have a good network to market my music locally. I also happen to know that the internet is basically access to a world-wide distribution network. I also happen to know that file-sharing is a great way to distribute music because of its efficiency.

At this point in time, I’m, by default, desperate for an audience because no one has really heard of me before, so it’s in my best interest to get as many people as possible to have heard my music. I also don’t want people to think they are criminals for downloading my music in particular, so I want to give them permission to redistribute my music – something that’s more formal than a little scribble saying, “please spread this music”.

The good news is, all the legalese has already been written out. On top of that, there’s a sort of human readable version that goes along with it. So, I go to that resource called Creative Commons and get a license. The license asks me a series of questions like do I want to allow others to remix the works or do I expressly forbid any derivative works? Do I allow commercial use of my work or should I be contacted first to get permission for commercial use of my work? After a few simple questions like that, I get a block of code that I can attach to a website (or I can simply include a link inside a music archive, whatever the case may be)

The license can is attached to whatever form of distribution I choose whether it be a .zip/.rar/.tar/etc. file on p2p or via some server space. Then, others can take a look at that license and be told, “Hey, this is my music and you can use it in a number of ways so long as conditions x, y and z is met.”

Creative Commons is a very popular way to distribute music for free, but does that mean it’s all about free music? No. If I wanted to, I could put a simple license image (like a physical picture on the physical medium) on a CD of my work and sell it using this license. If I wanted to, I could make sure my work is copyrighted on that CD instead (because, as the creator, I have the power to revoke a license at any time) It’s all about the creators choice.

What would happen is an organization like ASCAP were to somehow make Creative Commons illegal? Well, that would mean an artists choice would go from, “copyright (all rights reserved), creative commons (some rights reserved) or public domain (no rights reserved)” to “Copyright (all rights reserved) or public domain (no rights reserved)”. An attempt to shut down Creative Commons is an attempt at censorship being placed on creators.

Since this is in the US, if this escalates from a call to war from ASCAP, things could get very interesting. Americans may have their faults, but I know they are very supportive of free speech generally speaking. Whether or not this really escalates beyond a very poorly thought out letter is hard to say at this point.

Hat tip: BoingBoing.

Have a tip? Want to contact the author? You can do so by sending a PM via the forums or via e-mail at [email protected].

Drew Wilson
Drew Wilson is perhaps one of the more well-known file-sharing and technology news writers around. A journalist in the field since 2005, his work has had semi-regular appearances on social news websites and even occasional appearances on major news outlets as well. Drew founded freezenet.ca and still contributes to ZeroPaid. Twitter | Google Plus
emmanuel willy
emmanuel willy

comment faire pr etre membre du club ascap etant au cameroun!!!

Cecil
Cecil

Just now I ran across the web for exactly these types of info. Be grateful for to your publish that seek needs to ending at this time. You wrote the article in a very easy to understand way. With that, I added your websites as one of my favorites! Many thanks!

Kaitlen Renner
Kaitlen Renner

this sucks not realy well kinda it wont let my phone use it

Beatrice Ask
Beatrice Ask

Stuff like this makes me more and more convinced to vote for the Pirate Party in our countrys upcoming elections. Vive le resistance!

Shocky
Shocky

I just wanted to point out that you're wrong about CC being an alternative to copyright. CC only works because of copyright laws, which give the author the right to control how their work is used. You create something, you own the copyright (unless and until you assign it to someone else), you get to choose what is done with it. CC licenses are among those choices. Without copyright, CC licenses would be meaningless, because anyone could do anything they wanted with your creation, and you couldn't do a thing about it. What CC is really an alternative to is the abusive, extortionary record contracts the big labels force on musicians. They used to get away with this because they controlled all the distribution channels. That model is collapsing, and their desparate. The more artists choose CC or other alternatives, the less power they have.

Frank
Frank

Any organization that is against public knowledge will obviously want you to remain ignorant.

Tom D / Curulan Angelicos
Tom D / Curulan Angelicos

I am an author-slash-community-moderator who uses the CC license for both my writings and the writings of other members of my collaborative storytelling forum. Why do I use CC? Because I've put a lot of my own work into the setting for this forum, and I want other people to enjoy it as well. I also want to retain the right to publish works based on this "pool" of ideas at some point if I so choose. Others can do the same. Creative Commons isn't about controlling or stealing... it's about inspiring and directing.

Dan T.
Dan T.

When ASCAP rails against CC licenses as "destroying copyright", they remind me of the religious fundamentalists railing against same-sex marriage as "destroying marriage". But opening up either copyright or marriage to new choices more in line with the preferences and values of some people poorly served by the pre-existing system does not destroy the old choices, which remain an option for all who prefer them.

albert
albert

Last I heard ASCAP was a royalty collection agency, providing royalty payments to songwriters and composers.

Maverick Steel
Maverick Steel

"Their mission is to spread the word that our music should be free." This is about the only correct sentence in the letter, but they don't even seem to know what "free" means in the context of CC Licenses. Also, "our" music?

Billy
Billy

"because, as the creator, I have the power to revoke a license at any time". No, you have a right to start distributing your music under a different license, but Creative Commons licenses are specifically non-revocable. This prevents you from giving it away as CC-BY, getting hundreds of people to make derivative works, and then revoking the license and demanding royalties after you got free advertising and tricked others into embedding your content into theirs

Teddybear
Teddybear

I'm going to donate...to the EFF. Go f*** yourself, ASSCAP.

Benji
Benji

ASCAP is a business, pure and simple. If you license via CC instead of signing with ASCAP then they are losing out on that revenue. The contents of the letter is just corporate mumbo jumbo, they don't care about artists or intellectual copyright rhetoric they just care about the dolla billz. This isn't really news....

roger_watts
roger_watts

Daemon_ZOGG - that's funny - ASSCAP is the label I created for the folder for the records I keep regarding the extortion I pay to these thugs - RICO anyone?

roger_watts
roger_watts

ASCAP has a wonderful business model - extort businesses under threat of legal action for exorbitant fees to promote music/concert t-shirt sales of the artists they allegedly represent. GO COPYLEFT! Kill ASCAP'S business model! As a restaurant owner I have no love or sympathy for these thugs.

Daemon_ZOGG
Daemon_ZOGG

"ASS-CAP" yep.. that sounds about right. These scum-trolls have a history of screwing things over for everyone else. ;P

Attack pirates not creators
Attack pirates not creators

This is a direct attack on creators. CC is not about theft it is about creation and sharing via clear licensing. Utter ignorance.

Ray
Ray

Has no one else seriously questioned the veracity of the letter to begin with? What we are offered as "proof" here are a couple snippets of text on Twitpic from someone who also has ICP photos in the same stream. I have no love for ASCAP, but this looks pretty dodgy so far.

Billy Joel
Billy Joel

You people are all theives and criminals. Go ASCAP!

Alex
Alex

I've got a great idea: let's start a campaign to send pre-made tinfoil hats to ASCAP! That way, they can keep those dangerous freedom rays out of their brainwaves!

Mike
Mike

It's hilarious watching these music industry scums scramble to sue everything in sight. Like a bunch of drowning rats.

Joshua
Joshua

The bottom line is this: The case for the continued existence of ASCAP and SoundExchange becomes harder and harder to make with a straight face. The twentieth century is over. The sqealing sounds coming from their ilk is just the sound of them trying to do as much damage as they can before they die.

Gunnar Lawry
Gunnar Lawry

This looks like anything involving lawyers. The Lawyers get paid and most of yours. Are the artists getting much of anything these guys collect? You can see how much the artists get when these guys get caught with their hands in the till. Another ripoff, but what can we do?

Fergal Daly
Fergal Daly

You said "as the creator, I have the power to revoke a license at any time". I don't think that's true and maybe that's not what you meant. If I have a license from you, you can't take it back whenever you feel like it (unless the license specifically says so). E.g. Microsoft do not have the power to revoke your Windows license whenever they feel like it. If this was the case in general, you would have a situation where e.g. a company uses your music in a movie and pays you for it but then the movie is a big hit and you say "give me lots of money or I will revoke the license". You do have the right to stop distributing under license X and start distributing under license Y but if X lets other people redistribute then there may be no point.

jgkojak
jgkojak

This is what I never understood- if I as an amature, write and record my own song, how can I be forced into any sort of agreement with ASCAP and how can ASCAP have any rights to anything I do without me signing a piece of paper saying they do? Seems to me that its ASCAP who doesn't want to pay for the music they use.

Jacob
Jacob

"As an artist who uses Creative Commons, I can clear a few things up. Creative Commons is a license that artists can voluntarily adopt to help market their music. They can choose to adopt that license, put their music in the public domain or simply copyright their music. Creative Commons is a middle-of-the-road approach when it comes to copyright and enables creators to tell consumers, in plain language, what they can and cannot do with their content. In short, it’s an option for artists. Any attack on Creative Commons is an attack on an artists right to choose what they feel is appropriate for their chosen distribution channel." That's the point. When there's a copyleft license, there is the possibility of listening to music without paying for ASCAP licenses. That's the "interests" ASCAP is fighting hard to maintain. Cartels such as ASCAP require a complete monopoly over music in order to artificially inflate prices and persuade individuals to license their music. Clearly, now is the time (more than ever) to get involved both financially and in terms of effort/time: + Donate to the EFF and the Open Rights Group; + Communicate with your politicians, informing them respectively and succinctly; + Submit articles and comments to both commercial and non-commercial traditional and "new" media; + Start a blog, use twitter, comment on other blogs. But don't spam and don't use talking points; + Refuse to licence media from such dystopian organizations; + Listen to and share copyleft media and software (via sneakernet, P2P, word of mouth, etc). Try tryad for one, they make awesome music; + Attend relevant debates if there are any near you. Participate if you're up to it and good at debating/have strong verbal intelligence; + Send snail-mail and lobby politicians around the time that important legislation is discussed or passed; + Use logic and reason when informing and discussing the issues, but express it with (non-fallacious) rhetorical devices. Particularly among the less logic-adept, emotion is necessary to persuade, but unsound logic fails to prepare the converted to defend their position when confronted by opposition; and + Release your works and media under CC or other copyleft licenses. It's all well and good, ranting and complaining at the obvious disingenuous and down-right corrupt behaviour on the part of publishing business and rights-holding organizations, but doing so alone will not help the cause--and helped the cause can be. Engage, inaction does nothing. Debate, silence informs nobody. Inform, misinformation harms all of us. Write, for otherwise the ASCAP will drown our politicians with misinformation in the silence we would otherwise leave to them. Our stance is just, ethically sound and prosperous for culture, knowledge and liberty. To argue against our position suggests greed at best and misanthropy at worst.

Andrew Clunn
Andrew Clunn

Ah yes. "Free" music, like how http://rcrdlbl.com/ distributes free music. Oh but what's this? Most of the free music songs are remixes of copyrighted material? Copyleft is just a front for "steal [intellectual property item] because the industry is evil!" PC games are pirated like crazy. Limewire is most people's source of music these days. Torrents distribute movies. And the funny thing is that if one wanted to go copyright free, they could just use free software, creative commons music, and watch free movies on youtube. But people don't do that because you get what you pay for, and the distribution methods for the legal free stuff are the same as the piracy venues. The truth (that so many people try to hide) is that many in this "free culture" movement WANT the current production methods to fail. It's like the Marxist European movement of half a century ago, except rather than trying to encourage people to be more giving, they're just telling people to steal instead. F*** Creative Commons and it's like.

Wayne
Wayne

One small note: the Creative Commons license is a PERPETUAL license which means it is not a revokable license as indicated above. A content owner can cease distribution himself of his works under the Creative Commons license, but other people who have received a copy under the Creative Commons license are allowed to continue to distribute under that license.

Anon
Anon

"If I wanted to, I could make sure my work is copyrighted on that CD instead (because, as the creator, I have the power to revoke a license at any time) It’s all about the creators choice." Sorry but that is wrong. Once you release your work under a creative commons license you cannot revoke it. Doing that would undermine any derivative works based on it. Still you could release it (under e.g. cc-by-nc) and then sell the music on CDs as well it if you wanted... but the music would still be licensed under cc-by-nc with all of the freedoms which that entails. Anyhow I like how the ASCAP have indirectly declared war on Wikipedia as well, that's definitely not good publicity.

Spurge
Spurge

Don't you just love how they say "use of our music" They believe they actually own the music. So the artists actually mean nothing to them. I always thought that's their mentality, but it's nice to see it said by them.

Ang3r
Ang3r

f*CKIN sCUMBAGS!

m
m

It's been said that ASCAP wants to collect royalties on music that isn't necessarily controlled by ASCAP. Systems like Creative Commons throw a severe monkey-wrench into that plan. In order for ASCAP to continue its current model of self-entitlement and unlimited unstoppable royalty income, they feel they must destroy Creative Commons.

Natanael L
Natanael L

@Billy Joel: By what definition? How do I steal and break the law when I publish things I have made myself under free licenses like the Creative Commons licenses and download music that the artists themselves has released for free under the same free licenses? How is that possible when I am authorized by (even international) law to do what I do?

Billy
Billy

Here's the relevant FAQ entry. Hope this doesn't get me filtered as a spambot.....Free linking is under attack too! :P http://wiki.creativecommons.org/Frequently_Asked_Questions "What if I change my mind? Creative Commons licenses are non-revocable. This means that you cannot stop someone, who has obtained your work under a Creative Commons license, from using the work according to that license. You can stop distributing your work under a Creative Commons license at any time you wish; but this will not withdraw any copies of your work that already exist under a Creative Commons license from circulation, be they verbatim copies, copies included in collective works and/or adaptations of your work. So you need to think carefully when choosing a Creative Commons license to make sure that you are happy for people to be using your work consistent with the terms of the license, even if you later stop distributing your work. " If you create a work and it's fully your own, then you can multi-license it if you want, and you can change licenses, but you can't revoke it. Since you're the author of the entire work, you have the right to keep licensing it to different people under different terms. You couldn't take a derivative of your work and license it under new terms, however. If you release a CC-BY-SA work, you can't take someone's derivative, make your own derivative, and put it under CC-BY-ND instead. To change the license would require asking all the contributors and getting complete agreement. The same applies to a GPL'd computer program. You can't later, after hundreds of contributors have improved it, decide to go proprietary. The program now belongs jointly to each and every one of them. You can still release your original source, before it was changed thousands of times by others, under any terms you want, even proprietary.

D.AN
D.AN

You and all those who you act on accordance with are petulant wankers.

Chris
Chris

Billy! can we get a lil piano man???

JohnWilson
JohnWilson

@AndrewClunn: "The truth (that so many people try to hide) is that many in this “free culture” movement WANT the current production methods to fail. " Just exactly, where does CC encourage people to steal anything? (For that matter any OSI license?) Without the power of copyright they fail utterly. And just where is the analogue to Marxism, European or not? This is not about state or proletariat control of the works but about creator control and the creator's desire to share. About the only thing remotely "marxist" here is ASCAP's desire to be the only collection agency and to ensure it collects every penny for it's partners like the RIAA. Nada about the creators themselves. It's about playing music is washrooms fer goodness sake!



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