ASCAP raising money to fight the new culture.

Jun 28, 2010

One of the cornerstones of the Internet is making information available to whomever wants it for low or no cost. Case in point, the TCP/IP stack within the operating system you're now running to read this post was probably originally posted to the Internet better than twenty years ago under the BSD license. In fact, if you dig around inside the "About.." panes of Windows chances are you'll find that little block of text (at least, everything up to Windows 2000 had it, it's been a couple of years). The fan cultures that many of us partake of grew, at least in part, out of short stories, analyses, and discussions held on freely accessible forums online; for example, The Lurker's Guide to Babylon-5 began this way, with many and sundry contributing their thoughts. Back in the day (in the late 1990's and early 2000's) musicians around the world posted their music for anyone to download on a website called mp3.com (which no longer exists, sadly) because they discovered that if people could listen to a couple of tracks for free they were more likely to buy the entire album rather than take a chance on buying something that wasn't to their liking.

mp3.com is especially notable here because it started to shake up the powers that be, in particular, ASCAP because it meant that up and coming artists didn't have to join them to get their music recorded and distributed. Last week on Boing Boing composer Mike Rugnetta passed along a weapons-grade WTF to Cory Doctorow. Rugnetta had received a letter from ASCAP which urged members to contribute money to something called the ASCAP Legislative Fund for the Arts. The letter goes on to state that the Free Culture Movement is advocating mass piracy: that all music and art should be free regardless of the terms of licensing. Nothing can be further from the truth; ASCAP is, to put it succinctly, lying through their teeth because more and more popular artists are deciding to not join so they can strike out on their own, and are making good without ASCAP backing.

The message goes on to name names: ASCAP claims that the Creative Commons is trying to undermine copyright. Nothing is farther from the truth. The Creative Commons developed and made freely available terms of use for content that people like you and I put online so we don't have to worry that someone will come along and make a quick buck off of our work without at least asking us first. The Electronic Frontier Foundation does not advocate piracy either. The EFF is one of the few organizations out there who've been standing up for the rights of everyone online and has been doing so for twenty years now. They are behind the push for consumer rights for people like you and I which are increasingly coming under fire. They advocate for freedom of speech and the press in this country, rights which are also starting to take some shots. They also advocate for privacy for you and I in a time where even the contents of your personal e-mails may be sold to third parties if you don't watch out for people sneaking things into end user licensing agreements. Public Knowledge is another advocacy group fighting to keep the law from being changed such that people who aren't large corporations can innovate and so that you can I can continue to claim our right of fair use as well as the continued growth of the body of work known as the public domain (which is also taking a lot of fire right now).

So.. what can you do?

First of all, if you're a musician don't join ASCAP. Or contact them and tell them exactly what you think about what they're doing, though if you don't do it intelligently and succinctly I doubt they'll pay much attention to you. I also recommend that you donate money to the organizations that they're spreading FUD about, namely, the Creative Commons, the EFF, and Public Knowledge. I also strongly urge you to read this rebuttal to their letter, written by Eric Steuer of the Creative Commons.

This rant is published under the Creative Commons By Attribution/Non-Commercial/Share Alike v3.0 (unported) License. You are free to copy and share it however and wherever you like, you make adapt this work however you like (remixing), and you may use it in your own non-commercial projects only so long as you give the author (moi) credit for the material that you use. I'd really appreciate a link back to this post if it's online, too.