ASCAP vs. Mobile Phone Users – The money song

It’s a bit out of character for me to take AT&T’s side anywhere. Yet when the
EFF reported on ASCAP’s lawsuit
against the telecom behemoth, this is exactly what I wound up doing.

This is the same ASCAP that tried to extort the Girl Scouts for singing
songs around campfires. Some of you may be less familiar with that story so I’ll post an excerpt of the Web site linked above:

After reportedly opening its negotiations with the American Camping Association with an offer of $1,200 per season per camp, ASCAP eventually settled on an average annual fee of $257. But once ASCAP’s plan went public, and people learned that the Girl Scouts were among the 288 camps being dunned, the group beat a hasty and embarrassed retreat.

This story does not mention the number of camps that would have had to pay this amount. Still, $257 times hundreds or thousands of camps across the US adds up to a huge chunk of change for someone.

Fred von Lehmann, who is credited for writing the EFF’s blog post, takes a no-nonsense approach towards blasting ASCAP for the lawsuit, citing a lesser-known part of the copyright act, 17 USC 110(4), and continuing with an excellent explanation of why ASCAP’s arguments are completely out of tune.

I can understand representing the interests of the composers, who have expenses just like the rest of us. However, there is a line between fair compensation and greed. ASCAP’s proposal crosses way over the line.

A lot of this could be avoided if copyright restrictions were capped to a sensible length of time. The original 28 years of US copyright law is much more reasonable than today’ length which is effectively forever (life of the author plus 75 years, and that’s if it doesn’t get extended yet again, which is always possible given the history of copyright law). Had we stuck with 28-year copyright, here’s a small sampling of what would be public domain today:

  • Any surviving recordings of sporting events held during or before 1980, including Super Bowls I through XIV and the World Series staged in those years
  • Any recordings of the Olympic games up to and including the XXII Summer Olympiad and XIII Winter Olympiad (both in 1980, held in Moscow and Lake Placid, respectively), which would include the original game tape of the 1980 Miracle on Ice
  • Every movie copyrighted in 1980 or earlier, including: Rollerball, The Godfather trilogy, the first two Star Wars movies (episodes IV and V), American Graffiti, and any film which predates these (a very long list indeed)

Of course, the list goes on and on far beyond what I could hope to include here. While I don’t realistically see us going back to 28-year copyrights, I do think the pendulum has swung way too far towards “copyright it now, it’s yours forever” and ASCAP’s greedy grab is only a symptom of the disease.