Updated: Wil Wheaton writes us in agreement that "$20 a year is
entirely reasonable, and it doesn't make it cost-prohibitive for
hobbyists to pay the fee." Of course, that still raises the question of
how to handle other rights that may apply and could be more costly —
those not administered by ASCAP. And I agree with Wil: podcasting could
be a fantastic promotional tool for music that could be crippled by
overzealous license fees from music labels.

Boing Boing certainly seems to have an axe to grind with ASCAP — after Wil Wheaton blasted ASCAP
for adding podcasting to their interactive license (and later tempered
his reaction, which didn't seem written for publication), Cory Doctorow
last week pointed to a campaign targeting ASCAP for "enforcing" license fees for Happy Birthday. Seems like the target for ire there is mega-media company Time Warner that owns the copyright, not ASCAP, or the copyright law that would allow the renewal.

I'm all for discussion, but let's get the facts straight first. Going
after ASCAP isn't going after the "corporate music industry" — it's
after 200,000 members who are song writers, composers, lyricists and
publishers, the
only performing rights group in the US controlled by its members. That
includes everyone from Dr. Dre to classical composer Jennifer Higdon.

ASCAP isn't "hunting down" podcasters, either. I dug up some info on
how ASCAP is handling licensing. (Apologize for the lag with the
original post, but this took some time.) The inclusion of podcasting in
ASCAP's latest interactive licensing agreement is an acknowledgment
that the medium could take off and make money — and that's good news.
It's mentioned in license agreements that include not only podcasting
but technology like Flash files and Internet jukeboxes, too. (read more)

ASCAP Asst. Vice President for New Media & Technology Matt
DeFillipis tells CDM: "Podcasting was not a deliberate inclusion in
ASCAP's current license agreements.  Rather, it is simply one of
the many ways music — and ASCAP's members' music in particular — may
be transmitted to the public, which the US Copyright Law defines as a
public performance for which authorization is required from copyright
owners or their licensing organization."

So, will ASCAP be knocking on your door wanting exorbitant fees for
your non-commercial blog? Not at all. You'll have to go to ASCAP to get
a licensing agreement, and if you qualify for a special individual
license, the cost could be as low as $20 a year, says DeFilippis. Not
every site will qualify, however: "Users who wish to determine if they
qualify for the Individuals
agreement can write to ASCAP at weblicense@ascap.com; they should
include a description of their music uses and a link to the place from
which they make such music available." Other licenses may apply
depending on your site like the web licenses; you'll have to check.

$20 a year and you're fully legal? Sounds terrific. Unfortunately, it's
not quite that simple, says DeFilippis. Internet broadcasting may still
require multiple rights. And yes, this where the RIAA (represented the
label) and Harry Fox Agency could come in.

And here's the case where Doctorow and Wheaton are absolutely right —
complex, costly licensing could be an obstacle to promoting music
online. That could be why LA-area public radio station KCRW has chosen
not to distribute music with their new podcasts.
There is a definite sense among podcasters, even some of the big radio
outlets that are getting into the game, that this is an emerging field
no one has quite figured out yet.

Whether this encourages copyright owners to seek a Creative Commons license
to promote their work by licensing it more freely or not, it should be
up to musicians — up to the copyright owners — to determine what
licensing and ownership is best for them. In the meantime, though,
let's spend energy really finding out how the law works and what will
make the most sense for song creators, not just randomly bashing ASCAP
without the facts. A licensing agency that represents copyright owners
could be the perfect part of a solution for everyone involved.

  • Guest

    I sure do get sick of seeing ASCAP dragged through the same muck that the RIAA does. I've been a member for 15 years, and the great majority of my income comes from my monthly ASCAP checks. They're the one group of people that actually looks out for me, as a professional musician, rather than taking advantage of me.

    Their sole purpose is to make sure that people that make money off of other people's music turn around and compensate the creator of that music. Almost nobody understands this.

    I release my records under CC licenses, and ASCAP still accepts them and safeguards the exploitation of them. Now, that said, it is _always_ up to the musician to determine what licensing and ownership is best for them. Musicians, in their hunger to get "the big deal," frequently (almost always, in point of fact) sign away those rights to record labels, in return for the label's active participation in the manufacturing and marketing of the musician's product. That's a decision the musician makes, to sign that contract. Nobody holds a gun to their heads.

    Chris Randall
    Positron Records, Inc. http://www.positronrecords.com

  • admin

    I'm with you 100%, Chris. Record labels (well, especially the 'majors'; I think there are some good guys among the independent labels) have a tendency to take away musicians' control over their music. And you're right — more to the point, musicians GIVE labels that control, even when that's sometimes not the smartest thing to do.

    Ironically, an organization like ASCAP is exactly what many people have suggested would help the digital music world — an agency that could collect flat fees, instead of having to negotiate rights for every piece of music separately with multiple entities.


  • Guest

    We're an artist run, non-profit label based in Melbourne, Australia. We've been providing podcast producers with Creative Commons Licenced music via our podcast feed for just on 6 months now. We support the use of our music within podcasts and we don't request a licence fee, only recognition. We sustain several hundred downloads a week. It has been a tremendous way to gain exposure as well as contribute towards independent publishing efforts.

    I agree that royalty collection agencies are not all that bad, however Australia's APRA is still uncertain how to deal with Creative Commons and podcasting seems way off their radar for now. They still haven't got their head around generative music, for instance, but do now have an ambient music claim system for those of us who do installations, etc.

    If interested, Secession Records is where you'll find our feed.


  • DJinL.A.

    For almost 20 years I was able to pick and play music for many, many various artists, musicians and yes the major record labels and many of the independent labels too via AM and FM airways. Now I am thinking of seriously taking a shot at Podcasting and think it's kinda sad that as some of the other guests have said this chance to play some of those great hits and expose and break new music this way can get me in some kind of financial bind with ASCAP, (most of my singer and musician friends are members btw)or RIAA which I helped to make millions. Just my two cents worth. Why is it that when ever something like this comes along where who ever, techies, jocks, ex jocks, or just hobbyist can do something like this the money issue has to become the focus? I plan to give it a try. I have a great music collection and I know how to present music in a way listeners can sit at their computers and really enjoy what I will be playing. I thin an experiment I will see how long it is before exorbitant type fees and regulations shut me down. Here's a hint about where to find my site. Use your IQ 🙂

  • Have you read the ASCAP license? Search on the term podcast or podcasting. Not one mention. So the $20.00 is totally a hypothetical and I'd challenge you to find one real-world example of this. In reality, no one will give you a straight answer. Believe me, I've tried.