ASCAP’s Williams Refuses To Debate Lessig; Claims That It’s An Attempt To ‘Silence’ ASCAP

Film Music Magazine • August 5, 2010

ASCAP President Paul Williams has refused an invitation to debate Harvard Law School professor Lawrence Lessig about ASCAP’s June letter to members critical of Creative Commons, Public Knowledge and the Electronic Frontier Foundation. Lessig is a former board member of the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

“At this moment,” the ASCAP fundraising letter says, “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 in 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.”

The ASCAP letter continues, “This is why your help now is vital. We fear that our opponents are influencing Congress against the interests of music creators. 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. We all know what will happen next: the music will dry up, and the ultimate loser will be the music consumer.”

The ASCAP letter has met with negative reaction from some in the industry, especially writers who have utilized the Creative Commons licensing system. In an apparent effort at backpedaling, a July version of the letter sent by ASCAP to members omits the names Creative Commons, Public Knowledge and Electronic Frontier Foundation and instead refers to “technology companies with deep pockets and the organizations that promote their interest.”

Lessig had publicly challenged Williams to debate ASCAP’s “attacks” on the three organizations, writing, “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. Let’s meet and address these perceived differences with honesty and good faith. No doubt we have disagreements (for instance, I love rainy days, and Mondays rarely get me down). But on the issues that your organization and mine care about, there should be no difference worthy of an attack.”

Williams, in a statement posted on the ASCAP website refusing to debate Lessig, responded that, ” I am focused on those activities that will further ASCAP’s goals to work for fair compensation to music creators for the use of their music. I don’t believe a debate with Lawrence Lessig will serve that purpose. 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. 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”

Author Michael Masnick writes in Techdirt, “What’s amusing (but really sad) is that this proves that the rhetoric out of ASCAP about protecting “artists’ rights” is bunk. Creative Commons does nothing whatsoever to undermine artists’ rights. It merely offers them more options for how they choose to license their works.” Masnicks’ complete article and a copy of the June ASCAP letter can be found here.


By Rebecca Kasilag on August 11th, 2010 at 6:43 am

I fail to see how Paul’s comprehensive response to the debate invitation “‘proves that the rhetoric out of ASCAP about protecting “artists’ rights’ is bunk.” This article is nothing more than a highschool-like attempt to provoke. Just as you get paid for your thoughts and ideas in this article, so too should songwriters.

By Mark Northam on August 11th, 2010 at 6:50 am

Rebecca – I didn’t write the article in Techdirt that you refer to, but I think the issue is that ASCAP has publicly condemned Creative Commons, a licensing system used by songwriters to license their own works to others. Then Paul refuses a polite invitation to debate respected law professor Larry Lessig, while at the same time charging various unnamed parties with attempts to “silence” him (Paul). It would seem that Paul is silencing himself by refusing to discuss in public these important issues, or at least that’s how the Techdirt article’s author saw it.

By Admiral Bob on August 11th, 2010 at 7:07 am

Hi Rebecca,

Creative Commons licenses are not a threat to songwriters’ ability to get paid. As Professor Lessig has pointed out, CC licenses don’t even make sense unless copyright also exists. CC licenses provide you as a songwriter with an easy way to permit certain uses of your song while forbidding others.

Basically, you don’t have to hire a lawyer to permit teenage Youtube video bloggers access to your pieces, while forbidding ACME Inc. from using it in a commercial without paying you. CC has simply pre-done all the lawyering for you!

By Brian Corber on August 19th, 2010 at 8:12 pm

I suggested to Lessig that he debate Richard Reimer or even Doug Wood. Paul Williams is a coward. And Ascap didn’t like facing someone who has a brain and a backbone.

Ascap really ought to answer for the con game they call a blanket license. It cons both users and members.

So much fraud, so ittle time.

By Brian Corber on August 19th, 2010 at 8:13 pm

I may nver watch “Phantom of he Paradise” ever again. Swann, indeed.


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