I hope ASCAP is proud.
May 2, 2001 10:09 AM   Subscribe

I hope ASCAP is proud. I don't know about you, but I'll be sure to notify all Girl Scouts I know, that singing copyrighted material (you know like "Happy Birthday and "God Bless America") at camp might just land there camp directors behind bars.
posted by Qambient (25 comments total)
Well, two of the songs they said they couldn't sing can't possibly be copyrighted, because they're at least five hundred years old. But this is so ridiculous. It makes me want to become a rockstar specifically to thumb my nose at ASCAP by giving all my music away for free, and charging THEM to use it.

Not, you know, that I wouldn't mind being a rockstar anyway.
posted by annathea at 10:18 AM on May 2, 2001

I know there's big-evil-free-expression issues going on here, but I simply couldn't read past this:

"It seems so different," she allows, "when you do the Macarena in silence."
posted by billybunny at 10:24 AM on May 2, 2001

Old story. Just for fun, here's ASCAP's spin control.
posted by whuppy at 10:26 AM on May 2, 2001

The title of the page says the story is from 08-23-96.
posted by quirked at 10:28 AM on May 2, 2001

Nobody has to join ASCAP or BMI.
posted by thirteen at 10:29 AM on May 2, 2001

Old story, indeed. This was five years ago. Has anyone seriously encountered a drought of "Happy Birthday" or "God Bless America"?

I don't think anyone's going to be upset about silencing "Macarena," however.
posted by Skot at 10:31 AM on May 2, 2001

You know, I didn't see the date, but I thought that it was weird that they called the Macarena the latest dance craze.


I was under the impression that you DID have to join ASCAP. Guess I'll have to go look...
posted by annathea at 10:45 AM on May 2, 2001

Oh, for the days when the music industry groups could be bludgeoned around with a little bad PR....how nostalgic.
posted by briank at 10:47 AM on May 2, 2001

Wow, the music industry is even stupider than I previously thought... and that's saying something.
posted by muppetboy at 10:52 AM on May 2, 2001

Even harder than figuring out which songs are which, directors say, is explaining it all to young Brownies. "They think copyright means the 'mean people,' " says Debby Cwalina, a 14-year-old Elf.

Four years later, that age group became Napster's core user base.

posted by Dirjy at 10:57 AM on May 2, 2001

So, does this mean that if I sing "Puff the Magic Dragon" as I drive home today, I'll be violating copyright law and could go to jail? Why don't they crack down on cover bands, too? I think this is slightly different from Napster. These kids aren't going to camp to sing all the songs from the new Limp Bizkit CD, are they? I mean, come on! Edelweiss? Blowin' in the Wind?
posted by starvingartist at 11:03 AM on May 2, 2001

"Songwriters are small-business people who write songs to make a living," Mr. Lo Frumento says. "The royalties allow them to send their kids to Girl Scout camp, too."

FYI, that's ASCAP PR B.S. Most song catalogs are owned by private holding companies or conglomerates, not individuals. The most common scenario is that an artist who has a modest hit is approached and offered a nice sum of money to sell away their property.

Most well-publicized case of this was Lennon-McCartney selling away their songlist. Where previously they refused to allow Beatles tunes to be used for commercials, that changed as soon as McCartney and Yoko Ono sold off the rights.

ASCAP serves a need for artists to be properly compensated, but they act like they're the music mafia. Any artist who thinks ASCAP is doing them a favor is deluding themselves.

posted by darren at 11:45 AM on May 2, 2001

"They buy paper, twine and glue for their crafts -- they can pay for the music, too," says John Lo Frumento, Ascap's chief operating officer. If offenders keep singing without paying, he says, "we will sue them if necessary."

does anyone else think that is a lawsuit threat? maybe hes just getting quoted out of context.
posted by Qambient at 11:53 AM on May 2, 2001

I've heard jazz-musicians, who are routinely persecuted by ASCAP due to their frequent performance of "standards" & interpretations of other artists' tunes, complain that ASCAP has actually prosecuted church choirs for unauthorized use of religious songs.

Not sure if it's true, but somehow I wouldn't be surprised if it has occurred at least once...

The ASCAP folks are also known to target cofeeshops that play CDs for their customers.
posted by ShaneOPoghm at 11:58 AM on May 2, 2001

This is what happens when folks graze for links on Obscure store and Fark. Is it any better then just sucking the latest link off reuters?

There is no prize for posting on the front page. I don't understand the urge people have to post.
posted by john at 12:10 PM on May 2, 2001

Here's a fantasy: buy the rights to a famous, really annoying song to prevent having anyone play it or hear it on the radio; sort of like when I once gave the tuba player at the Broadway-Lafayette subway station $5 to stop playing for 15 minutes....
posted by ParisParamus at 12:16 PM on May 2, 2001

So, does this mean that if I sing "Puff the Magic Dragon" as I drive home today, I'll be violating copyright law . . .
Only if enough people hear you for it to be considered a "public performance," so keep your windows rolled up.

. . . and could go to jail?
Naah, but you might owe a "reasonable royalty" to someone.

Why don't they crack down on cover bands, too?
Under US copyright law, copyright holders have to grant a "compulsory license" to cover bands. The cover bands still have to pay, but the copyright holder can't stop the cover band from doing the song.
posted by whuppy at 12:33 PM on May 2, 2001

Whuppy: your Metafilter Copyright Law Guy.

Do I owe royalties if I play a copyrighted song backwards in public?
posted by ParisParamus at 12:36 PM on May 2, 2001

ParisParamus: Yes. The backwards song is a "derivative work" of the original copyrighted song.
posted by whuppy at 2:08 PM on May 2, 2001

I'm sure Woody Guthrie would be thrilled to hear that "This Land is Your Land" can't be sung.

Was a high wall there that tried to stop me

A sign was painted said: Private Property,

But on the back side it didn't say nothing --

That side was made for you and me.

posted by dogwelder at 2:09 PM on May 2, 2001

Whuppy: are you currently sitting in some soulless big law firm in Manhattan, using Metafilter to keep your sanity? If so, I feel for you...
posted by ParisParamus at 2:11 PM on May 2, 2001

Whuppy: what if I download the Mr. Softee jingle from Napster, record it onto a cassette tape, and play it through a boombox in the subway, but there is no one else in the subway car but me and one tourist from Sioux City? (OK: I'm all done now..back to work).
posted by ParisParamus at 2:18 PM on May 2, 2001

"This song is Copyrighted in U.S., under Seal of Copyright # 154085, for a period of 28 years, and anybody caught singin it without our permission, will be mighty good friends of ourn, cause we don't give a dern. Publish it. Write it. Sing it. Swing to it. Yodel it. We wrote it, that's all we wanted to do."

--Woody Guthrie
posted by norm at 2:22 PM on May 2, 2001

Some quick explanations:
(1) This is a very old story, and ASCAP came to its sense and backed down.

(2) Authors/Composers do not have to join ASCAP, BMI, or any other group. However, music publishers may make ASCAP membership a contractual requirement for publishing your song. And, it is near impossible for the individual to go after infringers.

(3) The law gives authors the exclusive right "to do or to authorize" public performances. What does it mean to perform a work "publicly"? It means "to perform or display it at a place open to the public or at any place where a substantial number of persons outside of a nornal circle of a family and its social acquaintances is gathered." 17 U.S.C. s 101.

So, is singing a copyrighted song in your car a violation of the copyright law? No -- your car is not "open to the public," and can't hold a "substantial number of persons."

Is singing a copyrighted song at Girl Scout camp a violation of the copyright law? Much closer call. ASCAP no doubt felt the camp was "public" and was a place where too many non-relatives gathered. A Girl Scout camp is arguably private, though, because it is owned by GSA and is only open to members. And one's GS troop could be considered the social circle contemplated by the definition. So it could easily go both ways.

And note that even after you determine that it is a public performance, and thus in violation of the copyright owner's exclusive right to authorize public performance, there's still a question as to whether it is fair use, or some other exception to the exclusive rights applies.

So why would ASCAP do this? GSA would be an easy mark, in the sense that it is a large entity covering many such performances, and so a large blanket license could potentially be extracted. They had a colorable enough case that they thought they could go in and out and grab a large chunk of cash and be done with it. THANK GOD the PR quickly shut them down!
posted by IPLawyer at 11:13 AM on May 3, 2001

"and can't hold a "substantial number of persons."

I'm sure that 2002 model SUVs will solve that problem.
posted by john at 1:28 PM on May 3, 2001

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