We were disappointed to read of deceptive comments made last month about EFF by ASCAP, the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers. Writing to its members, ASCAP claimed that EFF, Creative Commons and Public Knowledge are "influencing Congress against the interests of music creators." If these efforts are succesful, ASCAP warns, "we all know what will happen next: the music will dry up." The letter asks ASCAP's members to help fight this dire threat by making a donation to a "Legislative Fund for the Arts" which will be used to lobby Congress.
ASCAP's attacks were echoed a few days later by David Israelite, President of the National Association of Music Publishers (NMPA). In a talk to music publishers, Israelite called EFF "the new face of our enemy," and spoke of an "extremist, radical anti-copyright agenda."
Fortunately, the claims were laughable to anyone who's actually been paying attention to our work. In the wake of ASCAP's and Israelite's comments, blogs across the Internet have been quick to point out their flaws in detail. Particularly worth reading are responses from Wired's Threat Level, Create Digital Music, TechDirt, Creative Commons and Public Knowledge.
Interestingly, ASCAP's own members were among the first to challenge ASCAP's story. Perhaps the most thorough reply came from longtime ASCAP member L. Peter Deutsch, who, in an open letter to ASCAP, wrote "I was disgusted by your grossly one-sided letter soliciting my contribution to your 'Fund for the Arts.' ASCAP has consistently misrepresented the purpose, the history, and the facts of copyright."
As Deutsch goes on to point out, ASCAP's and NMPA's actions often seem to place the interests of the major record labels over those of the artists they claim to represent. In recent years, they've demanded fees from the Girl Scouts Of America for singing songs around a campfire, as well as from consumers for using unauthorized ring-tones in their cell-phones. Judging from the requests that NMPA made to the US government in April, it appears that their lobbying agenda in DC this year will have more to do with surveiling and censoring the Internet than with preventing music from "drying up".
If these organizations actually want to represent artists' best interests, then they should put their formidable resources towards helping artists and labels understand and adapt to the new challenges posed by the Internet, rather than fighting them. They should explore projects like EFF's proposed Voluntary Collective Licensing system, supporting innovative startups like BandCamp and Topspin, or educating artists in how to thrive without help from major labels. That's the kind of approach taken by smart groups like Future Of Music Coalition and The Independent Film & Television Alliance.
We're glad this episode has prompted some ASCAP members to take a closer look at whether the organization has been working in their best interests. We hope that ASCAP members keep making their concerns known to ASCAP, and that ASCAP starts paying attention.