Sunday, August 29, 2010

The ASCAP "Copyleft" fund-raiser: Campaign of misinformation?

If you've not been following the Creative Commons scene, you might not have heard of the fund-raising campaign by the American Society for Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP), started in June 2010.

The ASCAP fund-raiser for a legislative campaign
First, you ought to read their letter for yourself.

Their fund-raiser is for a "legislative campaign" to "urge the members of (the U.S.) Congress to support [their] rights".

I've read the letter several times. I'm still not sure what rights ASCAP is campaigning for. Or is it for a law against the lawful sharing of works -- even if initiated by the creator?

What's really controversial was ASCAP's claims that 'Creative Commons promote "Copyleft" in order to undermine "Copyright"'. was probably the first to break the news (25 Jun), and the article sums up the fallacies in ASCAP's position:
The American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers is urging the membership to donate money to battle the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Public Knowledge and even Creative Commons.

ASCAP’s attack on EFF and Public Knowledge are farfetched. Those groups do not suggest music should be free, although they push for the liberalization of copyright law.

But the attack on Creative Commons is more laughable than ASCAP’s stance against EFF and Public Knowledge.

While lobby groups EFF and Public Knowledge advocate for liberal copyright laws, Creative Commons actually creates licenses to protect content creators.

Did ASCAP bother to find out what Creative Commons (CC) really is about?
CC is built upon the foundation of Copyright. CC is NOT an alternative to Copyright; CC works along side it.

The idea of Creative Commons (CC) is not hard to understand. So I was puzzled as to why an organisation like ASCAP would choose to espouse wrong ideas.

A Red Herring?
Reading the ASCAP letter carefully, I think the basis of their concerns is in this statement (emphasis mine):
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.

I think there's the real issue: the weakening and gradual collapse of the traditional music publishing and distribution business model, brought about by technology.

Technology is the cause of the industry's collapse (or some might say the greed and/ or narrowly-defined business models of music publishers). Certainly not global movements like Creative Commons.

Don't take my word for it. This business week post (Jul 2010) cites technology as the underlying issue to the fall in traditional music sales. Musician John Mellencamp already said it so back in 2009. Even further back, here's a MSNBC article summary by Bob Baker in 2003 that reads just like it was written yesterday.

ASCAP is trying to do something. But I think initiating a legislative campaign is just barking up the wrong tree. Not to mention wasting resources (from doners).

A music community responds to ASCAP
Anyway, what's more interesting to me was how a music community like ccMixter chose to respond to ASCAP's claims. Check out this Freedom To Share campaign.

So here’s how it works. FREEDOM TO SHARE has two stages.

Stage One: Write, record and upload a piece that reflects the theme FREEDOM TO SHARE.

Stage Two: Remix someone else’s upload from Stage One. Upload your remix BETWEEN AUG 18 - SEPT 5.


WHEN: Aug 1 through August 14

WHAT: Write and Record a lyric that comments on the themes of this project: artistic freedom, sharing culture, collaboration, the evolution of the music industry, etc.

HOW: Up through August 14, upload a recording of your lyric as an acapella….you can submit a spoken word, a rap, or a melody. (If you’ve never uploaded a poem or a song, this is your opportunity!)



WHAT: Remix one (or more) of the uploads from Stage One.

HOW: You can start woking with pells from Stage One as soon as they are submitted and upload between Aug 18 - Sept 5. Upload your remix here (or remixes) that include at least one track from Stage One. Your remix should continue to explore the theme of this event — artistic freedom, sharing culture and collaboration. Again, your remix must include at least one track piece from Stage One (please note all samples in your remix must be yours originally or under the appropriate Creative Commons license). You are free to upload more than one remix too.


Through this project, we at ccMixter will create a musical body of work that demonstrates the power of creative collaboration using Creative Commons licenses. We also hope the FREEDOM TO SHARE Remix Event will sonically illuminate matters requiring more light in this debate.

The music created by the project will become a tool for educating others about the versatility of Creative Commons licenses. We intend to share these remixes via curated playlists, podcasts and compilations in as many venues as we can reach, including other websites that support CC licensed work, such as Jamendo, Soundcloud, FMA,, etc.

Debate seems to be over before it begun
CC co-founder, Lawrence Lessig, offered to publicly debate the issues. ASCAP declined and continued to issue puzzling statements that lumped CC as part of movements that encourage "a culture of disrespect for copyright".

The irony may be that ASCAP's campaign has done the opposite of its intent. They might have inadvertently created greater awareness of movements like Creative Commons.

Dear Mr Williams...
Whichever the case, here's my contribution as an amateur songwriter. BTW, I didn't deliberately choose to make my mix an "international" one. It just so happens that I found suitable stems from musicians from Mexico and Japan, not to mention the ccmixters from US, UK, Canada (I think):

The track was made possible by those who have chosen to share their works under their chosen Creative Commons licenses:
The Full mix and backing tracks available at this ccMixter page.


  1. Admiral Bob10:21 am

    As Prof. Lessig points out, Creative Commons licenses don't even make sense without copyright. They rely on the author holding rights to the music to be able to offer rights to the licensee. ASCAP's arguments don't make any sense.

    It would be nice if we heard from a technical or legal mind at ASCAP on their legal theories about Creative Commons, rather than the soundbites from their President's office.

  2. @Admiral Bob - yes, that would be nice. ASCAP's arguments has so far been based on rhetoric rather than facts.


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