ASCAP – the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers – turns 109 today. The organization was founded in 1914 by some of the musical giants of the 20th century, including Irving Berlin, James Weldon Johnson, Jerome Kern, and John Philip Sousa. Their goal was to “assure that music creators are fairly compensated for the public performance of their works, and that their rights are properly protected.”
In 1917, a landmark SCOTUS decision in Herbert v. Shanley Co. forced Shanley’s Restaurant in New York City to pay a fee to the American songwriter Victor Herbert for playing a song of his on a player-piano during dinner service.
In the wake of the successful Shanley decision, ASCAP created a “blanket license” that would entitle signatory businesses (restaurants, retail stores, radio stations, etc.) the right to play any composition by an ASCAP artist in exchange for a fixed annual fee (generally a percentage of revenue or advertising revenue).
I’ve been a member of ASCAP for a very long time. I have a lot to say about how ASCAP’s royalty schemas could be improved, but the system works! Each quarter, members receive a statement that details the usage of their works and a check that represents their share of the current quarter’s royalty pool.
As I think about the issues that artists and creators of every kind are having with the way their works are being used to train AI, I’m wondering if a version of “ASCAP for AI” or “ASCAP for the web” is something we should be thinking about. It’s too simplistic to think that a blanket license would suffice, but some version of a royalty pool coupled with a content tokenization schema might be a step in the right direction.
Author’s note: This is not a sponsored post. I am the author of this article and it expresses my own opinions. I am not, nor is my company, receiving compensation for it.