“First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.”

If Mahatma Ghandi’s famous this description of political struggles applies to Creative Commons’ quest for an alternative copyright, then the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) has just entered stage three: open battle.

In a letter to members (see Part 1, Part 2) ASCAP asks for donations with the following rationale (see BoingBoing):

“At this moment, we are facing our biggest challenge ever. 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 is 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.”

According to this statement, the biggest enemies of copyright holders are no longer “pirates” and respective platforms such as “The Pirate Bay” (see also “Framing Piracy“) but rather NGO’s and unnamed corporations pursuing a copyright reform agenda.

This is a remarkable change. Some even claim that with this letter “ASCAP Declares War on Free Culture“. Before, copyright collectives such as the ASCAP have mostly hovered between completely ignoring copyleft licensing models altogether or emphasizing their impracticality for professional creators (see, for example, ASCAP’s feature “Common Understanding“). One of the major issues thus was compatibility of membership in a collecting society and usage of alternative copyright licenses (see “Improbable Match: CC and Collecting Societies in Europe“). Ironically, as evidenced by a lengthy description of an ASCAP-member in the Creative Commons forum, ASCAP’s practice of signing non-exclusive contracts with artists is more compatible with Creative Commons licenses than the practices of many of its European counterparts (in this case the Austrian AKM).

Consequently, Wired’s David Kravets calls the attack on Creative Commons “more laughable than ASCAP’s stance against EFF and Public Knowledge“, since “Creative Commons actually creates licenses to protect content creators.” In a first response to the ASCAP-letter, Creative Commons spokesperson Eric Steuer however played defense (see zeropaid):

“It’s very sad that ASCAP is falsely claiming that Creative Commons works to undermine copyright. Creative Commons licenses are copyright licenses – plain and simple, without copyright, these tools don’t even work. CC licenses are legal tools that creators can use to offer certain usage rights to the public, while reserving other rights. Artists and record labels that want to make their music available to the public for certain uses, like noncommercial sharing or remixing, should consider using CC licenses. Artists and labels that want to reserve all of their copyright rights should absolutely not use CC licenses.”

It remains to be seen whether continued attacks by rights holder’s associations will force Creative Commons to also engage more in political debate or whether it will even strengthen its current strategy of presenting itself as a mere provider of legal licensing tools, which does not get involved in political lobbying.


In the meantime, Creative Commons founder and professor at Harvard Law School Lawrence Lessig has responded to ASCAP’s allegations in the Huffington Post, inviting ASCAP President Paul Williams to a public debate:.

“This isn’t the first time that ASCAP has misrepresented the objectives of our organization. But could we make it the last? We have no objection to collecting societies: They too were an innovative and voluntary solution (in America at least) to a challenging copyright problem created by new technologies. And I at least am confident that collecting societies will be a part of the copyright landscape forever.
So here’s my challenge, ASCAP President Paul Williams: Let’s address our differences the way decent souls do. In a debate. I’m a big fan of yours, and If you’ll grant me the permission, I’d even be willing to sing one of your songs (or not) if you’ll accept my challenge of a debate. We could ask the New York Public Library to host the event. I am willing to do whatever I can to accommodate your schedule.”