An ASCAP legislative fundraising letter revealed last week that the American performing rights organization is invoking fears of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Public Knowledge, and Creative Commons in order to raise money. ASCAP appears to be repeating, now in the more heated language of fundraising, arguments it has had with the Creative Commons license in the past. For its part, Creative Commons insists most of its licenses don’t preclude performing rights bodies like ASCAP from collecting funds.
In the letter, sent on behalf of ASCAP’s Political Action Committee (PAC), the ASCAP Legislative Fund for the Arts, the PAC argues to its members that that these organizations undermine the value of music:
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.
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.
Attacks on Creative Commons by ASCAP are nothing new. The organization argued in a 2007 essay (and subsequent report) that elements of the license, which is applied to copyrighted works, meant “artists should give up all or some of their rights.” As noted in a rebuttal by Creative Commons’ Laurence Lessig, some of those claims were incorrect. Among other items, ASCAP said that the “licenses ask creators to waive the ability to collect royalties,” which isn’t true of the non-commercial CC licenses.
The claims in the fundraising letter were more bluntly inaccurate. Creative Commons’ licenses are all built on copyright, and as non-exclusive licenses, they do not in any way prevent artists from being paid for music. They don’t even, as the organization observed three years ago, preclude ASCAP license collection – at least not on works licensed with the non-commercial provision.
Creative Commons licenses do reserve fewer rights for the creator, by definition. All the licenses currently in use include provisions to allow works to be freely distributed via peer-to-peer file services, and depending on the license chosen, may open up other possibilities for use and remixing. But nowhere does the letter acknowledge that an artist must choose to license their work; unlike Copyright, CC licenses are not automatic, nor is the CC organization advocating that they should be. Creative Commons spokespeople have previously told CDM that they aren’t even suggesting that CC licenses are the right choice for everyone in every circumstance. As advocates of their own license, on the other hand, they have explicitly said that their hope is that the license will help artists make money, not that all music “should be free.”
The blog ZeroPaid covered the initial controversy and criticized ASCAP’s take on Creative Commons as an attack on creator choice:
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.
Creative Commons responded on the same site:
Creative Commons Responds to ASCAP
ASCAP Claiming That Creative Commons Must Be Stopped; Apparently They Don’t Actually Believe In Artist Freedom [Techdirt]
ArtsJournal blog Mind the Gap observes that the fictional characters on Glee are in conflict with current US Copyright Law, and expresses surprise that the black-and-white claims of ASCAP’s fundraising letter would target the EFF, Creative Commons, and Public Knowledge. He asks if any card-carrying, royalty check-cashing ASCAP members would share how they feel, and they do – largely to express frustration with ASCAP.
The Right Balance on Copying [Mind the Gap]
ASCAP membership dues can go toward advocacy; only the ASCAP Foundation is a 501c3 charitable organization; the latter supports education and talent development. I’m curious, then, what royalty-check cashing ASCAP members think of these issues, as well.
Thanks to Jason Phoenix for the tip, and incidentally to my friend Mike Rugnetta, whom I was surprised to see pop up in the stories. (Internet: population, one dozen?)