ASCAP Boss Refuses To Debate Lessig; Claims That It's An Attempt To 'Silence' ASCAP

from the you-and-me-against-the-world dept

We were among those who were amazed at ASCAP's misguided and factually incorrect attack on EFF, Public Knowledge and Creative Commons. ASCAP's Paul Williams falsely made the claim that those three groups were against copyright and against compensating content creators. Nothing could be further from the truth. All three groups responded politely to the bizarre and factually incorrect attack, and many ASCAP members who support these groups and use Creative Commons licenses expressed their displeasure with ASCAP for such a blatantly misleading letter. Larry Lessig responded with a blog post, again pointing out the blatant errors in ASCAP's attack, noting that these groups actually look to help content creators by providing them tools to better exercise their rights. In that blog post, Lessig also challenged Williams to a debate so they could iron out their differences and ASCAP could (hopefully) retract their false attacks on these groups, and focus on helping artists again.

Hephaestus points out that Williams and ASCAP have refused to debate Lessig, with an open letter that is so bizarre that I keep rereading it to make sure it's not a joke. But, apparently, it's no joke, and it gets more and more bizarre the further you read, down to the point where Williams suggests Lessig's request for a debate is really an attempt to "silence" him. But, let's start at the beginning:
Anti-copyright crusaders are currently engaged in a publicity campaign to discredit ASCAP's efforts to defend the copyrights of our professional songwriter and composer members.
Again, the groups that Williams mentioned (though, amusingly, he does not rename them here) are not anti-copyright. And the statement is wrong as well. The only thing people are trying to "discredit," are the blatantly false claims that EFF, Public Knowledge and Creative Commons are trying to undermine copyright or that "their mission is to spread the word that our music should be free." None of those groups makes any such claim.
The copyleft movement has encouraged a culture of disrespect for copyright by defending corporate and individual infringers; undermining every effort to provide more effective protection, no matter how limited or reasonable; promoting a reduction in copyright protection; supporting the dismantling of our rights through the courts; and questioning the basic premise that the tidal wave of infringements and unlicensed uses online hurts creators.
Well, that's one way of looking at things. Even if it's wrong. First of all, Creative Commons has done no such thing in "defending" infringers. That's just false. EFF and Public Knowledge don't defend infringement, either. They defend consumer rights, and advocate balance in how copyright law treats consumers. Copyright law in the US was always supposed to be about providing more benefit to society as a whole, not about protectionism of artists. That EFF and Public Knowledge get attacked for simply reminding people of that fact seems like a travesty. As for the final point: "questioning the basic premise that the tidal wave of infringements and unlicensed uses online hurts creators." How does asking whether or not a claim made by certain organizations is true or false undermine copyright?

Has ASCAP really sunk so low that simply looking to see if something is factual is somehow "undermining" copyright? Really?

Then, in responding directly to Lessig's debate challenge, Williams spends a few paragraphs talking about his own success as a songwriter, and how he now spends all of his time fighting for the right of songwriters to make a living. And, because of that, he doesn't have time to debate Lessig, because he doesn't see how it will "help" in this neverending fight.

Of course, this is ridiculous. Everyone wants content creators to be fairly compensated and to earn a good living. The EFF has even put together a proposal (which I don't agree with) to create an ASCAP-like setup for digital music. Creative Commons gives content creators more options in easily licensing their music, to make it easier for them to get heard and to use within a business model. As for Public Knowledge, just a few months ago I was at an event they put on, which celebrated various content creators and their success stories in figuring out smart ways to earn a living. And, of course, many others who are regularly derided as being a part of the "copyleft" are successful content creators ourselves, and regularly highlight smart ways for content creators to earn a living. Suggesting that any of us are against helping content creators earn a living is both false and extremely disingenuous.

And then it gets bizarre. Williams simply repeats the false claims that were clearly debunked by tons of people in responding to his original letter:
I am well aware of those "copyleft" mouthpieces who take a highly critical view of ASCAP's efforts to protect our members' rights. That will not change ASCAP's commitment to doing so. ASCAP exists for one purpose -- fair payment to music creators for the use of their music by businesses and others who seek to attract viewers and customers. ASCAP has long welcomed and licensed new technological means of performing its members works, seeking only reasonable fees for those performances. Our members have every right to give their music away for free if they choose, but they should not be forced to do so.
People aren't upset that ASCAP is trying to protect members' rights. They're upset that (1) ASCAP seems to stretch the legal boundaries to do so -- such as claiming that ringtones or the 30-second "previews" on iTunes are "public performances" that require a separate licensing fee and (2) that you falsely claimed any of these groups were somehow seeking to "force" musicians to give away their music for free. No one has ever suggested that at all. That's what got everyone upset. For Wiliams' response to simply repeat that blatantly false claim is strange.

And then there's this:
What I find most fascinating is that those who purport to support a climate of free culture work so hard to silence opposing points of view. They will not silence me.
Huh?!? No one has tried, at all, to silence Williams. In fact, people seem to have done the exact opposite. They've asked you to come out and talk about stuff in a public debate. That's the opposite of trying to silence you. No one has any interest in silencing Williams at all. We just want him to stop making totally false claims and attacking groups who have worked hard to support artists as well by falsely suggesting they seek to undermine artists.

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  1. icon
    Jay (profile), 28 Jul 2010 @ 3:39pm

    Re: Re: Something Small I'm Sure

    Yeah, they have. Dey took er jobs!

    Seriously, ASCAP is interested in everyone going through their services. Everyone that goes through ASCAP represents more power and more money for them.

    I looked through their website in what was fair for a certain type of complex...

    The math for the royalty rate was insane. Because your place can have X amount of people at one time, that's a fee. Because you have a maximum square footage, that's also money.

    It's the same thing as rent control in NY. It does nothing but effectively kill the market. 10:1 odds, if the government lets people charge however they need to, it would work all the more to make everyone better off.

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