Tuesday, April 6, 2010

In Which Maggie Climbs on Her Soap Box And Screams

I know I’m not normally soap-boxy on this blog, which is the way I like it. But I’m afraid I’m about to get up on my soap box for a few moments and shout, enraged. I swear it will be a long while before it happens again.

Those of your who read my blog and Twitter feed regularly probably are aware that I’m insane about music. Music is a big deal to me. When I’m driving, I have music playing. When I’m writing, I have music playing. When I’m cleaning my toilets, I have music playing. When I don’t have music playing, it’s because I’m playing a musical instrument. I had bands in college and I write songs for my books still (available for free download on each book’s page here).

I know. You get it. Music = Maggie.

Almost as good as finding a song that makes my day is giving someone a song recommendation that makes their day. For every single book I write, I end up with a playlist several hours long, which I then condense into a shorter list. And then I post it on my website for readers to see what I was listening to. And then I got these fantastic emails from readers saying that they’d gone and bought a bunch of tracks off the playlist after hearing them on the website, and nothing made my little black heart warmer than that. I love being able to give possibly not as well known artists some listeners they might not otherwise have.

Or at least, I did.

Astute readers will have noticed that the clickable playlists on my website have disappeared, replaced by just a list of the titles and artists.

This is because, a few weeks ago, I was contacted by ASCAP. That’s the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers. They said that they’d noticed I had playlists on my website and that I needed to either take them down or pay a $340 licensing fee to have them on my website. The licensing agreement they sent me also let me know that that fee could go up, depending on traffic to my site, and that I’d need to let ASCAP have access to my records and that I’d be fined if I underpaid my licensing fee.

I would like to point out the amount of money I make from those playlists. ZERO.

The playlists were mirrored from my blog, where they had big notices that said: “If you love these artists, please go out and support them by legally downloading their music.”

And now I was being asked to pay $340 to play music that listeners could easily find for free on YouTube. I was supposed to pay $340 for the privilege of promoting the musicians I love. I let ASCAP know that I thought this was pretty silly, as I derived no profit from the music and that in this case, the player on my website was like a fantastic, pointed advertisement as readers were very likely to buy tracks off it later. I might have mentioned that I got 90,000 hits to my blog and website in February. And said something about 131,000 books sold in 2009 and that being a lot of readers and, by extension, listeners.

ASCAP was not impressed. They wrote back:

As someone who creates both written works and
musical compositions, I know you can appreciate the importance of
protecting copyrighted works -- in this case so that our songwriter and
composer members are able to make a living from their art.

This, I’m sorry, is bullshit. Appealing to my sense of reason as a composer and author is not going to fly. If I thought for a second that my playlists removed a single dime from those artists’ pockets, I would have taken them down in a heartbeat. It’s called viral marketing, ASCAP. It’s what people who have grown up with the internet do. It’s called using online media to your advantage instead of fetching the torches and pitchforks. I like to think I have some experience with this with my music and trailers and blogging.

ASCAP had an answer for this too:

I recognize that you feel that your website provides "promotional value" to
the music that you have posted.  But authorization directly from the
copyright owners or their representative, such as ASCAP, is still legally
required to play this music publicly over the Internet.

She forgot to add “and $340 in licensing fees a year” after “authorization.” If it was just about the authorization, I might be feeling a bit more sympathetic. But it’s not about getting permission. It’s about the licensing fees. When I told ASCAP I thought that this was ridiculous and short-sighted, they said:

While we believe the use of music enhances your website, we of course understand and
respect your decision if you choose to remove it.

Well, that is damn decent of them. ENHANCES? Does ASCAP even have any knowledge of what my website looks like? The playlist was not on autoplay, and it was halfway down the page on each book’s page. It was not the point of the website. It had to be sought out -- and sought out it was, because I have literally hundreds of emails, tweets, and blog comments from readers who told me they went and bought tracks after hearing me mention them.

Here's what it comes down to.

I am a musician and an artist. I think it’s damn hard to make a living in this market, where illegal downloads of books, music, and movies are so easy to come by and when a lot of teens don't understand how a free download hurts the artist. I think it’s damn hard to make a living as an indie musician when you don’t get a lot of radio play. And I know that sometimes the hardest step is getting heard that first time. One of the things I really, really loved about having such a widely read blog was that I felt like I could make a small difference and pay back these musicians who provide the soundtrack to my life.

But not for $340 a year. I’m sorry, but the playlists came down. Now, in order to hear samples of the music, you’ll have to dig them up on Youtube or MySpace or perhaps another blog or website ASCAP has yet to harass.

It’s hard not to believe that this is why the music industry is a dinosaur.

Oh, and right after I got the last email from ASCAP, I looked up my iTunes receipts since I started writing FOREVER. You know how much I spent on music tracks for my playlist while writing?

$340 on the nose.

Long live the establishment and the paperwork it lives in.


Donna Gambale said...

I for one have purchased at least one or two CDs worth of songs from your recommendations and playlists -- and passed on the recommendations to friends, who've also bought a couple songs. Worthy soap box choice, Maggie!

Dawn Embers said...

Wow. That is ridiculous. I have minimal exposure to communication law, including copyrights and even the international elements of the law but that seems a bit extreme. Especially since someone can create a playlist on youtube that is visible to others. Those types of players are used on a variety of web sites: blogs, myspace, facebook, etc. Are they going to try and force that fine on every person who uses a playlist on their page? Impossible. It's too bad your blog was targeted for such.

Amelia said...

This is a perfect example of an expression I've lived by for so long: "People are *idiots*." And you can substitute "people" for establishment or any other group/person/organization that's being a butthead.

Very nicely phrased and passionate rant. :)

Anonymous said...

thats one of my fears is getting fined for a bunch of money I don't have
the problom with me is I might like one or 2 songs from diffrent artists and becuse Itunes went for .99 to a dollar I have boycotted it the best I could by..youtube but ONLY becuse I think its dumb to buy a CD with only one or 2 songs I like if Itunes went back to .99 I'd be fine

anyway thats so sad though on the plus side your song that you wrote for shiver is still up (its beautiful btw)

Ginger @ GReads! said...

I'm confused.. how can they come down on you for having a playlist when there are DOZENS of websites out there giving you the codes to make playlists for your own personal blog/myspace/facebook/etc ??? This makes no sens to me, what so ever. Sounds like it's just another reason to get money from naive people.

Mary not so Contrary said...

ASCAP needs to be coming down on the play list websites. Like playlist.com or the ones you can get on blogger that look like ipods. Not on the blog owners themselves. Whatever happened to being allowed to promote the things you love without having to worry about getting harrassed for it. So stupid. Do these people not relize that by you having them on your blog they get FREE promotion. IDIOTS!! I don't agree with free downloading of music or anything else but using sites that allow you to put music on a blog or other website to promote the artist you love should be totally legal and fine. ASCAP should take there letter and shove it up there own butts for being idiots! A very good soap box indeed!! I say AMEN to ya girl!!

Unknown said...

Good grief, what a load of bullshit. Not cool, ASCAP, not cool at all.

Miss Scarlet said...

they're just jealous. someone probably got in trouble for bad sales or something and realized they didn't have the great idea to do playlists like you were doing.

Lisa Desrochers said...

Can I just say that, as a new author, I'd kill to have quotes from my book posted on ANY ultra-cool (because you are) established band's blog/website. How could that not be an AWESOME thing? And, if my books ever do well enough that anyone cares about my playlists, I'll be sending letters to the individual artists telling them how their professional association has sabotaged my ability to help them market their work. If their members realized what the ASCAP was doing, their policy would be changing pretty darn fast.

Carrie said...

I wonder what the bands/artists actually think about this?

Ann Elise said...

People are idiots. Simple as that.

Not Hannah said...

I already commented on the FB page, but in honor of your UK cover, I'm going to add the rejoinder that those eejits are wankers.

Anonymous said...

thats fucked up

Maggie Stiefvater said...

Hahaha, @NotHannah.

Thanks for the support, guys. I am scrounging around for other options. Right now it looks like I could become an iTunes associate and make 30 second sample playlists available, but then I'd get a cut out of each track that sold from someone clicking, and that makes me uncomfortable. I want to keep money out of it!

tekchic said...

That stinks that ASSCAP did that to you. Pretty ridiculous demand for someone that's not trying to sell the artist's music.

Organizations like that still seem to be operating in the 1970's. Good luck to them. (not).

Maggie Stiefvater said...

Heh, tekchic. My thoughts exactly.

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