Birds sing, but campers canít - unless they pay up
By Lisa Bannon
Something is missing at Diablo Day Camp this year. At the 3 p.m. sing-along in a wooded canyon near Oakland, Calif, 214 Girl Scouts are learning the summer dance craze, the Macarena. Keeping time by slapping their hands across their arms and hips, they jiggle, hop and stomp. They spin, wiggle and shake. They bounce for two minutes. In silence.
"Yesterday, I told them we could be sued if we played the music," explains Teesie King, camp codirector and a volunteer mom. "So they decided they'd learn it without the music." Watching the campers' mute contortions, King shakes her head. "It seems so different," she allows, "when you do the Macarena in silence."
Starting this summer, the American Society of Composers, Authors &
Publishers (ASCAP) has informed camps nationwide that they must pay license
fees to use any of the 4 million copyrighted songs written or published
by ASCAP's 68,000 members. Those who sing or play but donít pay, ASCAP
warns, might be violating the law. Like restaurants, hotels, bars, stores
and clubs - which already pay fees to use copyrighted music - camps, including
nonprofit ones such as those run by the Girl Scouts, are being told to
ante up. The demand covers not only recorded music but also songs around
"They buy paper, twine and glue for their crafts - they can pay for the music, too," says John Lo Frumento, ASCAP's chief operating officer. If offenders keep singing without paying, he says, we will sue them if necessary."
No more "Edelweiss" free of charge. No more "This Land Is Your Land." An ASCAP spokesman says "Kumbaya" isn't on its list, but "God Bless America" is. Diablo, an all-volunteer day camp that charges girls $44 a week to cover expenses, would owe ASCAP $591 this year, based on the camp's size and how long it runs. Another composer group, Sesac, Inc., which owns copyrights to such tunes as Bob Dylan's "Blowin' in the Wind," says it plans to ask camps for another set of royalties in the fall.
So far, Girl Scouts of the U.S.A., the national organization based in New York, isn't playing along with royalty demands. But the American Camping Association, in Martinsville, Ind., which includes many scout camps, advises members to comply. Diablo's regional Girl Scout Council in Oakland is low on cash and decided its 20 area camps can't afford the extra expense. Rather than risk a lawsuit, the council told camps to scratch copyrighted songs from their programs.
"At first I thought, 'You guys have got to be kidding,'" says Sharon Kosch, the council's director of program services. "They can't sing the songs? But it's pretty threatening. We were told the penalty can be $5,000 and six days in jail." So the camp's directors have scrutinized its official "Elf Manual" and, in the section headed "Favorite Songs at Diablo Day Camp," have crossed out the most popular copyrighted tunes with black Magic Marker. The Scouts know about only a few of the banned songs because ASCAP hasn't mailed out a complete list; it includes 4 million songs and runs 70,000 pages. ASCAP says it has put a list on the Internet.
After finishing off hot dogs and smores for lunch, the Elves - senior scouts charged with helping younger campers - gather in a circle with directors to decide what they can sing. "Is Row Row Row Your Boat' copyrighted?" asks Holly Foster, a 14-year-old Elf with a turquoise happy face on her cheek. "Row Row Row Your Boat" might float, the directors decide, but "Puff the Magic Dragon" is out. "How about Ring Around the Rosie'?" another Elf asks. The directors veto it.
Even harder than figuring out which songs are which is explaining it all to the younger Brownies. "They think copyright means the 'mean people,'" says Debby Cwalina, a 14-year-old Elf Holly explains it to them this way: "The people who wrote it have a thing on it. A little V with circles around it. There's an alarm on it. And if you sing it, BOOM!"
That explanation doesn't always sink in. Alissa Fiset, age 8, crinkles her nose when asked why she can't sing "Puff the Magic Dragon." While squirting a friend with a water bottle, she says: "They did a rewrite on it. A copy thing. But why can't they just take the V away?" Royalty treatment
ASCAP, which is based in New York, defends the royalties. "Songwriters are small-business people who write songs to make a living," Lo Frumento says. "The royalties allow them to send their kids to Girl Scout camp, too."
The federal copyright act allows composers and music publishers to demand payments for any public performance of copyrighted material. The law defines a public performance as "where a substantial number of persons outside of a normal circle of a family and its social acquaintances is gathered."
Although the law has been on the books since 1909, ASCAP began notifying large music users, such as hotels, only a little over a decade ago and more recently has worked its way down to small users, such as rodeos and funeral homes. This year, it negotiated a reduced annual fee of $257 with camps enrolled in the American Camping Association. For camps, such as Diablo, that aren't association members, the fees range from $ 308 to $ 1,439 a year.
Penalties for noncompliance can be stiff. The law sets fines up to $ 25,000 or a year in prison, or both, for major infingements. ASCAP, which sends monitors around the country, has successfully sued restaurants, retailers and private clubs. While the law hasn't been tested on camps, copyright lawyers say that even little girls would lose.
"If you make an exception for the Girl Scouts, you could set a practical
precedent," says Russell Frackman, a copyright lawyer. "You give the impression
that a particular use is not an infringement, and that can be used against
you in the future."
After finishing the Macarena at the Diablo sing-along, one mother whispers that today is the sixth birthday of David Warneke, a camp volunteer's son. "We're not allowed to sing 'Happy Birthday,' " warns a codirector.
Huddling with the Elves, the directors come up with a plan: Sing a modified "Happy Birthday" to the tune of "Ninety-Nine Bottles of Beer on the Wall."
But Jansen is worried. "I hope that's not copyrighted, too," she frets.
Copyright 1996 The Washington Post
ASCAP Changes Its Tune; Never Intended to Collect Fees for Scouts' Campfire Songs, Group Says
By Ken Ringle
Reeling from the worst public relations disaster since Dan Quayle misspelled "potato," the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) now says that "ASCAP has never sought nor was it ever its intention" to make Girl Scouts pay to sing around a campfire. Other campers? Well, maybe.
Vincent Candilora, ASCAP's vice president and director of licensing, vaguely suggested that dark forces may have been behind a Wall Street Journal article last week that disclosed that the songwriters' group had sought this year for the first time in history to collect fees from children's summer camps.
Candilora conceded that ASCAP had cast a wide and nondiscriminating net in notifying the nation's 8,000-odd summer camps that federal copyright law requires them to fork over fees to ASCAP for any songs they use.
But he said Lo Frumento had been quoted out of context when he promised
to "sue them if necessary" if they didn't pay for their campfire songs.
And he was particularly insistent that ASCAP wasn't picking on the Girl
Scouts, even though it has already collected fees from 16 Girl Scout camps
this year. Any fees collected from the Scouts will be returned, he said.
In the wake of news stories and editorials picturing ASCAP throttling tiny, hopeful renditions of "Puff the Magic Dragon," Candilora said the organization had been besieged with protests from both the public and its songwriter members.
Lo Frumento was reported unavailable for comment yesterday on the protests, but his son Peter, a salaried ASCAP spokesman, released a statement from ASCAP President Marilyn Bergman saying, "It has always been in the interest of our members to encourage the use of music anywhere -- particularly by young people."
Candilora said ASCAP still intends to collect what fees it can from large, profitable summer camps -- "the sort that bring in bands for square dances, have music by the pool ... and are like sending your kid to a resort." But he said he "would assume the organization has other priorities" than to crack down on mom-and-pop camps and campfire songs, regardless of what its mailings earlier this year may have implied.
"What can I say? We bought a mailing list. We should have done more research," Candilora said.
ASCAP, he emphasized, is "a nonprofit organization owned by its member songwriters and 57 composers" that returns to them 83 cents of every domestic licensing dollar it collects. Last year it collected some S 320 million in licensing fees in the United States, he said, and returned $ 254 million. The remaining $ 66 million went for operating costs, he said, heavily augmented by membership and licensing fees collected overseas.
Communications Law Homepage