ASCAP v. Lessig Continues; Kay Challenges Copyleft

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The world of copyright law and performance rights organizations can be a complicated one, and the ongoing feud between ASCAP and Lawrence Lessig is no exception. To the casual observer, it may seem like a simple battle between those who want to protect intellectual property and those who advocate for more open forms of creativity. However, as with most things, the reality is much more complex.

ASCAP, the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers, is one of the largest performance rights organizations in the world. They represent thousands of songwriters, composers, and music publishers, and their job is to collect royalties for the use of their members’ music. They are also known for their aggressive stance on copyright infringement, and have been involved in many high-profile lawsuits over the years.

Lawrence Lessig, on the other hand, is a controversial figure in the world of copyright law. He is a professor of law at Harvard University, and is perhaps best known for his advocacy of “copyleft” and “free culture” – the idea that copyright should be more permissive in order to encourage creativity. He has written several books on the subject, including “Remix: Making Art and Commerce Thrive in the Hybrid Economy”, which has been both praised and criticized by those in the music industry.

The feud between ASCAP and Lessig has been going on for several years now, and has taken on many forms. Recently, ASCAP hosted a luncheon to discuss ways to challenge “copyleft / free culture,” which was seen by many as a direct attack on Lessig. In response, Lessig has accused ASCAP of using scare tactics and fear-mongering to protect their own interests.

The latest salvo in this ongoing battle comes in the form of a letter from longtime ASCAP board member Dean Kay. In the letter, Kay attacks the Lessig ideology, but instead of directly countering core Lessig points, he offers a collection of articles, reviews, and even a video interview with Stephen Colbert to undermine the less-restrictive copyright thinking that Lessig espouses.

The commentary in the letter is predictably ASCAP-friendly. Many of the articles and reviews cited are critical of Lessig’s ideas, and some even go so far as to accuse him of promoting “ripoff culture.” However, there are also some more nuanced arguments made, such as the idea that Lessig’s focus on remix culture ignores the importance of original creation.

Of course, from Lessig’s perspective, this is all just more evidence of ASCAP’s unwillingness to engage in a real debate about copyright law. In a blog post responding to Kay’s letter, Lessig argues that ASCAP is simply trying to protect its own interests, rather than engaging in a genuine discussion about what is best for the music industry as a whole.

So where does all of this leave us? It’s clear that there are passionate advocates on both sides of this debate, and that the issues at stake are complex and multifaceted. Ultimately, it’s up to lawmakers and industry leaders to decide what the future of copyright law will look like. In the meantime, the feud between ASCAP and Lessig will likely continue, with both sides continuing to lob mud at each other in an attempt to gain the upper hand.