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ASCAP Declares War On Free Culture, EFF 483

Andorin writes "According to Drew Wilson at ZeroPaid and Cory Doctorow, the ASCAP (American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers), a US organization that aims to collect royalties for its members for the use of their copyrighted works, has begun soliciting donations to fight key organizations of the free culture movement, such as Creative Commons, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and Public Knowledge. According to a letter received by ASCAP member Mike Rugnetta, '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 is 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.' (Part 1 and part 2 of the letter.) The collecting agency is asking that its professional members donate to its Legislative Fund for the Arts, which appears to be a lobbying campaign meant to convince Congress that artists should not have the choice of licensing their works under a copyleft license."
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ASCAP Declares War On Free Culture, EFF

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  • Good. (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Dishevel ( 1105119 ) * on Friday June 25, 2010 @05:26PM (#32696676)
    Let them attack everything. Hell. I say let them even win. Once people can't do anything with any of the stuff they own they will wither get smart and take matters into their own hands, or allow themselves to to be screwed.
  • Awesome.. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anrego ( 830717 ) * on Friday June 25, 2010 @05:28PM (#32696688)

    Don't get me wrong.. this is really bad because they probably have a good chance of succeeding. As absurd as this is, essentially making it illegal to give the stuff you produce away for free, the media industry has a metric ass tonne of money and influence, and most importantly your average guy on the street is not going to understand or care.

    I am just happy to finally see what I would describe as inevitable happen. And I totally don't blame the media industry. It a logical approach:

    problem: something is costing us money
    solutions: make it illegal

    Should be interesting to see how this all unfolds.

  • by adamdoyle ( 1665063 ) on Friday June 25, 2010 @05:32PM (#32696764)

    Can't say that I blame them... it's their industry and they're advocating for it - big surprise. That's how the system works: Both sides fight it out based on how important it is to them and the courts decide. If I'm a shareholder, I want them doing everything they can to make the value of my stock go up. That's why the courts are supposed to be there to make sure they're playing by the rules. It's the courts that screw us.

  • by selven ( 1556643 ) on Friday June 25, 2010 @05:33PM (#32696776)

    ASCAP is asking its members to send donations to help out in a project against the free culture movement. They realize that no single organization alone can finance this 'war', and are trying to spread out the effort among their companies. They are using exactly the same strategy here that open source software like Linux uses - have large corporations that benefit from the project being successful all contribute to it, and allow the entire world to benefit from the result. If they lose, we win. If they win, they will have shown us that we can also win.

  • by rtfa-troll ( 1340807 ) on Friday June 25, 2010 @05:33PM (#32696778)
    • first they ignore you
    • then they fight you
    • then you win

    In a way this is great news. As long as people are ready to answer them with a good message, this will give great publicity. However, it's really important to point to new things that are produced by the free as in freedom movement. Out of copyright stuff and especially illegally copied stuff isn't stuff we have any right to claim and doesn't show the value of the new approach. Find good artists on Jamendo. Create your own stuff. Talk about how most new things in computing come out of the F/OSS movement.

  • Re:Awesome.. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by JSBiff ( 87824 ) on Friday June 25, 2010 @05:35PM (#32696810) Journal

    Copyright is all fine and dandy, but if Congress tried to actually make it illegal to *give away* your own recordings, I believe that would pretty clearly run afoul of, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."

    Congratulations, ASCAP: you are in the glorious position of educating Congress and the public on how awful and evil the 1st amendment is.

  • "Deep pockets" (Score:5, Interesting)

    by dsavi ( 1540343 ) on Friday June 25, 2010 @05:37PM (#32696850) Homepage
    That continues to baffle me. Apparently you can't make money off of copylefted music, so where did all this acclaimed money come from? If they can have deep pockets as copyleft organizations, then why doesn't ASCAP become one themselves?
  • Re:Good. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Kell Bengal ( 711123 ) on Friday June 25, 2010 @05:53PM (#32697062)
    To clarify the nuance of the argument, I think they are saying that if Artist A gives away their work for free, it is inherently undermining Artist B who is trying to sell an equivalent work. They're not saying that it's theft, they're saying it's anti-competitive. I would argue, though, that if you can't compete with free-as-in-beer then there's something wrong with your business model.
  • by Hairy1 ( 180056 ) on Friday June 25, 2010 @05:56PM (#32697116) Homepage

    Yes, its terrible, its just like those "Free Software" people rampantly pirating Windows all over the place. Oh wait. The Free Software people are a group of individuals least likely to pirate Windows. Something is wrong here.

  • by Weaselmancer ( 533834 ) on Friday June 25, 2010 @06:12PM (#32697306)

    The collecting agency is asking that its professional members donate to its Legislative Fund for the Arts, which appears to be a lobbying campaign meant to convince Congress that artists should not have the choice of licensing their works under a copyleft license.

    I'd like to see what their legal argument would be. Basically they're lobbying to make a particular kind of legal contract they disagree with illegal.

    Ooo, no - that's not a slippery slope at all. I'm sure lawyers all over the continent will sit still for that! I can't see how that would cause a problem ever!! *hah*

    Hell, even the bad lawyers would fight having that for a precedent. Harder than the good guys I'd guess - tricky contracts are where a good bit of their bread and butter comes from. If the law began placing restrictions on what sorts of contracts you could make...well, that would have a lot of other interesting implications.

  • by rtfa-troll ( 1340807 ) on Friday June 25, 2010 @06:12PM (#32697308)

    It might not die, but there would be a whole lot less.

    I don't think so. One of the problems most live musicians face is that they don't have to compete with their neighbors; they have to compete with the best in the world. Why listen to some guy who's just "good" at the guitar when you can listen to Jimmy Hendrix? If there was a whole load less recorded music, that would definitely be good for actual live music.

  • by imthesponge ( 621107 ) on Friday June 25, 2010 @06:17PM (#32697364)

    "THE NEW ENEMY" []

    I have put together a top 10 list of the positions taken by these groups that I will define as their extremist, radical anti-copyright agenda.

    No. 10: They support changing the law to reduce damages for copyright infringement.

    No. 9: They support the elimination of statutory damages for secondary copyright infringement.

    No. 8: They favor rolling back copyright extension; in some cases, radically.

    No. 7: They favor the elimination of the songwriter and publisher rights for server, cache and buffer copies.

    No. 6: They oppose efforts to obtain the identities of individuals engaged in massive copyright infringement.

    No. 5: They support extreme versions of orphan works legislation.

    No. 4: They have filed legal briefs supporting anti-copyright positions of Grokster, Napster, LimeWire, Cablevision, Google, YouTube and Verizon.

    No. 3: They oppose graduated-response protection for copyright owners.

    No. 2: They oppose treaties that support copyright enforcement like the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement.

    No. 1: They actually argue that illegal peer-to-peer file-sharing traffic helps the economy and doesn't hurt songwriters.

  • Re:Good. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by PopeRatzo ( 965947 ) * on Friday June 25, 2010 @06:18PM (#32697376) Journal

    People who are releasing their works under a Creative Commons are stealing from the real artists, who work so hard to earn a living.

    I've been making a living releasing my music under Creative Commons licenses exclusively since 2006 (when I also quit ASCAP).

    Creative Commons is not (necessarily) a "free license.

    I understand that you're being sarcastic and you believe that you were making some sort of joke, but there are some issues about which I don't find snarkiness the least bit useful. Repeating verbatim what ASCAP really believes hardly qualifies as parody. And there are people out there that won't understand the subtlety of your wit and will believe that a bright Slashdot reader really does think this way so there must be some merit to such an argument, god forbid. For the sake of such simple folks, I politely request that you make your cleverness a little more blatant in regards to this issue, kthx in advance.

  • Re:Good. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by dunng808 ( 448849 ) <garydunnhi@g m a i l .com> on Friday June 25, 2010 @06:28PM (#32697482) Journal

    People are unaware of the money collected for ASCAP because it is done "behind the vinyl curtain." Radio stations, college campuses, and other large institutions who play recorded music or put on live performances pay an annual fee to ASCAP. It is ASCAP's position that they represent all song writers and composers, therefore all music performed and recordings played are subject to their fees. Radio station owners feel it, university chancellors feel it, but consumers do not.

    Consider gasoline taxes. What consumers see is $3.29/gal. Things would be different if the posted price was $2.17/gal and the bill for ten gallons was $32.90.

    Ignorance is bliss.

  • Re:Good. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Ash Vince ( 602485 ) on Friday June 25, 2010 @06:51PM (#32697746) Journal

    While the damage produced is probably nominal, the number of people that gulp pirated content is fairly large, not an insignificant blip.

    You are of course absolutely right. The problem however is the the people who gulp pirated content may not stay that way for ever. Many previous movements in history have shown us that as people get older they generally become more inclined to toe the line and less inclined to break societies laws, however injust they may be.

    Once upon a time when I was a student I pirated everything I watched. I always made sure my ratio was sky high and kept a permanent ultrapeer available on the gnutella network. Now I actually buy more DVD's than I pirate and very rarely use bitrorrent or any of the networks I thought were so important. I would also be horrified if the software I produce for a living was given away free without me seeing any benefit or giving my consent. The only thing I use bittorrent for is for things I am unable to buy, such as very old computer games or copyleft materials.

    I am also far more conservative in my views than I was when I was young. I used to think nothing about being arrested for my beliefs (and as an eco-protester I frequently was) but now this is not something I would allow to happen.

    Unfortunately this is how things are, just ask the vast majority of people from the sixties who have now given up struggling against the system and are now contributing towards it since it is in their best interests to do so. Generation after generation have tried to rock the boat while they were young then switched to steadying it in their middle and old age.

    Even after all this though, I would certainly not ever support bittorrent being banned or non-copyright material being made illegal. The question however is how far I would be willing to go in order to campaign against laws that made such things illegal now I have other concerns that come with old age.

  • Re:Good. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by IronChef ( 164482 ) on Friday June 25, 2010 @07:18PM (#32698062)

    The same argument has been going on in photography for a while now. The explosion of "microstock" agencies that facilitate Joe Blow Hobbyist actually licensing the one good picture he has ever taken really aggravates the old pros. Even worse are people who just post their stuff online and don't worry about people who choose to use it commercially.

    The proverbial million monkeys have left their typewriters, and are taking photos now with digital cameras. I don't say that disparagingly. I am one of the million monkeys.

    It probably sucks to be a pro when some hobbyist undercuts you on price, with pictures that are not as good... but good enough for many clients' uses. But I'm not going to support changing the laws to keep them or anyone else in business.

    It's not the first industry that has been shaken up by changing technology (or culture) and it won't be the last.

  • Re:Coffee shops (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday June 25, 2010 @07:52PM (#32698406)

    They essentially said to me, 'We don't care. We have this low-end licensing fee you must have because there is a chance your band might play a cover song.'"

    Based on that logic, surely ASCAP, et al, would not object to paying a license fee in case they might use my software. Perhaps I should just send them a bill now.

  • Hypocrites... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by MikeV ( 7307 ) on Friday June 25, 2010 @08:08PM (#32698494)

    They claim that we don't want to pay for music. And at the same time, their begging for donations tells us that THEY don't want to pay to litigate.

  • by John Hasler ( 414242 ) on Friday June 25, 2010 @08:10PM (#32698506) Homepage

    > Why listen to some guy who's just "good" at the guitar when you can listen
    > to Jimmy Hendrix?

    For the same reason that in college I watched my friends play intramural hockey but never bothered to attend a varsity game: the intramural players were people I knew and liked who were playing because they enjoyed it while the varsity players were arrogant jerks and assholes in it for fame and fortune.

  • Re:Good. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Gordonjcp ( 186804 ) on Friday June 25, 2010 @08:37PM (#32698686) Homepage

    I am also far more conservative in my views than I was when I was young.

    Really? Because I found the opposite happened. I used to write shareware. People occasionally registered it, but not nearly as many people registered as used it without paying. Bugger. So I made it less and less functional, without registering. Even *less* people registered, and not only that but on BBSes (jeez, I'm giving my age away) people used to post cracks to get around the registration code.

    As I grew up, my silly, naive and idealistic capitalist side waned and I settled down into the comfort of being a rabid old Commie. I gave my software away for free. I gave my music away for free. I gave my circuit designs (ones that I wasn't being paid quite a lot of money to do by my employer, but stuff like guitar effects) away for free. People posted on the Internet, oh yeah, use this stuff, it's quite good. People I spoke to at computer festivals and other such geekery pissups said "Oh you're the guy that wrote $thing? Cool, I use that" and bought me beer.

    Long story short, fuck capitalism. Give the stuff you love away for free, and earn money from the stuff you don't care about.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday June 25, 2010 @08:58PM (#32698842)

    Go to their donation site [] and donate 0.01 on your credit card. This will drain their funds because the processing fees will be much larger than the donation (processing fees are a percentage plus a transaction amount). Transaction amounts vary from 0.10 to 0.25, so anything less than a dime definitely results in a net loss.

  • Re:Coffee shops (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Reverend Zanix ( 1157273 ) on Friday June 25, 2010 @09:13PM (#32698954)
    This is not an uncommon occurrence at all. I used to enjoy playing and going to shows at this local cafe/venue that was all independent musicians playing their own songs. Then they were essentially forced to shut down because they were tiny and couldn't afford the overhead with the licensing for things that weren't even. And yes, they have agents that go around to small places like this, check if music is being played and then cross reference if they don't have a license. It's like a Mafia protection racket. You are forced to pay them when they don't even provide a service to them, lest you be sued out of existence.
  • Re:Good. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by arth1 ( 260657 ) on Friday June 25, 2010 @09:14PM (#32698958) Homepage Journal

    It's your choice to be protected by copyrights in exchange for donating the work to the public once the copyrights expire. You don't have to do that. You can keep the work a trade secret, and require buyers to sign non-disclosure agreements. In which case you don't enjoy the protection of copyright laws, but can keep ownership indefinitely, and can sue the hell out of buyers who distribute your works, and someone who takes one of your copies is committing theft, not just violating copyrights.

    The problem is that the copyright organisations wants it both ways. They want to have their cake and eat it too. To both have the rights protected by the state, and be able to sue as if the author still owned all copies, and interminable extensions to the copyrights to keep income coming in even if nothing new is produced.

    I have no problems with copyrights, if we go back to the original intent for copyrights and patents: To give the [b]creator[/b] (not a corporation) a [b]time limited[/b] monopoly on distribution [b]in exchange for[/b] transferring ownership of the work to the public. The time limit must be short enough to force the creator to not rest on his laurels, but continue to create.
    And these days, when distribution happens so much faster than in the past, the time should be even shorter.

    My recommendation: 5 years for patents, 2 years for copyrights.
    No extensions, but make it easier to publish without public copyright protection for those who choose to do so, e.g. by making copyright cartels and opt-outs illegal.

  • by jackbird ( 721605 ) on Friday June 25, 2010 @09:14PM (#32698964)
    "First they ignore you. Then they laugh at you. Then they fight you. Then you win." -Gandhi

    Looks like a pretty clear case of step 3 to me.
  • Re:Good. (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Just Some Guy ( 3352 ) <> on Friday June 25, 2010 @10:13PM (#32699286) Homepage Journal

    The proverbial million monkeys have left their typewriters, and are taking photos now with digital cameras. I don't say that disparagingly. I am one of the million monkeys.

    So am I. I just got an email this morning that a location-based networking service used one of my Flickr pictures (CC with attribution) to represent a tourist attraction in a city I'd been in last month. I'm sure some professionals would be happy to sell similar - and almost certainly much better - photos of the same place. My price was right, though, and the shot was good enough for the user's purposes.

    Things like that have to be terrifying to stock photographers.

  • No. 7: They favor the elimination of the songwriter and publisher rights for server, cache and buffer copies.

    That one's a joke. Isn't it? Because no one can be fucking stupid enough to believe that they should have rights to ephemeral cached or buffered copies.

    Right? Please tell me that was sarcasm.

  • Re:Good. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by postbigbang ( 761081 ) on Friday June 25, 2010 @10:43PM (#32699442)

    To get the books published twenty years ago, publishers demanded that the work be copyrighted.

    There is no copyright group, in my case.

    I would extent patents to ten, copyrights to five.

  • by WCLPeter ( 202497 ) on Friday June 25, 2010 @11:54PM (#32699788) Homepage

    2 years for copyrights.

    Two years sounds good on paper until you write a super kick ass novel that XYZ Corp wants to turn into a movie. They'll write the scripts, shoot the film, create the special effects, print the reels, and at 12:01 AM exactly two years to the day the copyright was granted, ship the film out for a release date 2 Years + 5 days past the original copyright date. All perfectly legal since they did not, in any way, distribute your copyrighted work with anyone outside their company until after it had expired.

    You, the author, will get absolutely nothing from this, XYZ Corp will rake in 60+ Million on opening weekend, over 150+ Million by summer's end, 200+ Million worldwide box office, and an additional 300+ Million after worldwide DVD sales are factored in.

    A two year wait is nothing to an immortal legal entity with many of the same rights as an individual, two year copyrights are a joke. So are 90 years plus life of the author, anyone old enough to read this now will likely be dead before they can make any use of the ideas inspired by current copyrighted works. So much for progressing the useful sciences and arts!

    A good compromise would be 25 years. Long enough to give an incentive for XYZ Corp to work with you, a popular novel being turned into a movie will be a money train for all involved and 25 years is a long time to gamble it will still be popular, while still being short enough that the inspiration to create new derivative works can be realized while you're still alive to do it; I've seen a few Star Wars fan-films that deserved the big-budget treatment and in a sane copyright world would have been allowed to.

    If I had the money I'd buy stock in "XYZ Corp", any large media company would work here, then sue their asses off for failure to maximize shareholder value through deliberate lobbying to extend the copyright term length. For example: When 20th Century Fox releases a Star Wars movie they earn 100+ Million in the box office; the worldwide box office, DVD, and broadcast rights will garner many times that value. Had Star Wars been allowed to pass into the public domain, which wasn't possible due to active lobbying by XYZ Corp, XYZ Corp could have also made its own Star Wars film and earn a comparable sum of money.

    Yet through their successful lobbying of governments to extend copyright terms they have artificially impeded their ability to generate profit, an action which goes against the interests of shareholders. Consider the primary role of a corporation as defined by law, to legally maximize shareholder value to the exclusion of all other considerations. Maximizing copyright terms prevents the creation of a rich public domain, preventing the use of popular works that otherwise would have entered it. Through their actions to impede this process it negates their ability to create competing products using popular public domain franchises, in this case the creation of a competing Star Wars film, and creates a lost opportunity to maximize shareholder value.

    I honestly think that all the recent attempts to reform copyright have been going about it the wrong way. Appealing to the loss of the public domain and the moral issues surrounding it, like the recent lawsuits to repeal the Micky Mouse Protection Act, wasn't going to work because the money side makes it look like we're trying to steal their stuff; even though they're ones who are stealing. You want to get copyright reduced to a sane time limit, you need to show that the actions of media companies to create ever longer copyrights impede the maximization of shareholder value.

    All the flower power talk of morals and how it relates to the public domain will get you no where, show the courts that the actions of big media are hitting shareholders in the pocket book and we'll get the shorter terms we want!

  • Re:Good. (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Compaqt ( 1758360 ) on Saturday June 26, 2010 @01:27AM (#32700164) Homepage

    Yeah, you're right about theft being a universal taboo. Doesn't matter if a society is Protestant, Catholic, Muslim, Shinto, atheist/Buddhist, tribal, or whatever, people don't want their stuff taken without their consent.

    By contrast, copyright is a purely arbitrary law. That's not to say people shouldn't follow arbitrary laws (like staying on the right side of the road), but if those laws become too onerous (like having a bigger punishment than for murder or rape), people are going to lose respect for the system.

  • by JockTroll ( 996521 ) on Saturday June 26, 2010 @02:40AM (#32700446)

    25 years is more than reasonable, given that movie companies will want to turn a successful novel into a movie NOW, not in one quarter of a century time. Actually, the media industry doesn't want "copyright" to be enforced plain and simple, they want THEIR copyrights to be enforced and extended until eternity and beyond. Nothing would please them more than "selective enforcement" of copyright. Why not, Eminent Domain laws already dictate that the strongest economic party's right to make money trumps the property rights of individuals.

    What they don't want - what they fear - is that artists could actually market themselves successfully without the media megacorps and to avoid this they will gut the internet. They WILL do it. They ARE doing it. And they will succeed because their money makes them gods in the political arena. They must be destroyed, or they will turn the clock back 50 years and more.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday June 26, 2010 @08:48AM (#32701736)

    One interesting scheme for copyright, in terms of both controlling a limit to copyright terms and to give the "big boys" some ability to have long copyright terms for commercially successful content is to impose a sliding scale that determines how long the copyright term for that work actually is. Essentially, you have to pay a fee to the government and the more you pay, the longer term for copyright protection that you get.

    All works would get the "automatic" copyright protection for 10 years (as is the law currently), and then if you want that term extended you have to pay a "renewal" fee that increases in price logarithmically for increasingly longer terms.... going up 10x every 10 years. For 20 years, charge $1, 30 years $10, 40 years $100 and so forth. If you want 100 year protection, you need to spend an ungodly sum of money for that protection. There would certainly be some Hollywood producers for some films (like perhaps Gone with the Wind) that may want to fork out a million dollars for an extra 10 years of copyright protection. I say, let them! It is better going to the federal treasury directly rather than going to some politician's campaign fund.

    The terms, rates, and more can certainly be argued but the point is that for 99% of all copyrighted works most people don't need even 40 years of copyright protection... although there certainly are some people who would want to have that kind of protection. Make it something that has to be earned, something that is valuable and for those copyrighted works that would be orphaned.... those should go into the public domain.

    Do you really think copyright law ought to apply to a 2nd Grade kid's essay for "life + 90 years"? I certainly think that there ought to be a difference in terms of copyright protection between that vs. a professional filmmaker who clearly is at the top of their game. Spending a couple thousand dollars for additional copyright protection would be pocket change for somebody with a Hollywood budget, but something that is unnecessary for ordinary folks.

Of course there's no reason for it, it's just our policy.