Year
1914
Month Day
February 13

ASCAP is founded

“If music did not pay, it would be given up.” So wrote Associate Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes in a landmark Supreme Court decision in 1917. Holmes wasn’t referring to musicians themselves in that statement, but to places of business in which copyrighted musical works could be heard, whether such music was live or recorded and, critically, whether or not it generated direct revenues. “Whether it pays or not,” continued Holmes, “the purpose of employing it is profit and that is enough.” Narrowly speaking, the 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. The case represented a much broader victory, however, for the new organization of which Herbert was the head: the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP), which was founded on February 13, 1914.

Among the founding members of ASCAP were the musical giants of the day: Irving Berlin, James Weldon Johnson, Jerome Kern, John Philip Sousa. Circa 1915, songwriters like these made their living primarily from fees earned through the sales of sheet music. Protection from unauthorized printed reproduction of their compositions was a right clearly established under U.S. copyright law, but it was a novel contention at the time that the composer had a further right to a share of any other revenue stream to which his work was a contributing factor. This was the claim made by ASCAP, which said that its fundamental 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 the wake of the successful Shanley decision, ASCAP adopted the royalty-payment mechanism that is still in use today: the “blanket license.” The ASCAP blanket license gives signatory businesses such as restaurants, retail stores and radio stations the right to play any composition by an ASCAP artist in exchange for a fixed annual fee. The broadcasting industry, in particular, has continually offered resistance to the ASCAP approach, going so far as to create what is now ASCAP’s biggest competitor, Broadcast Music Incorporated (BMI), in an effort to find more favorable economic terms. Yet the size of the ASCAP catalog, and the popularity of the roughly 8.5 million songs it encompasses, effectively force commercial music users to become ASCAP licensees. 

Tags
terms:
Laws

FACT CHECK: We strive for accuracy and fairness. But if you see something that doesn't look right, click here to contact us! HISTORY reviews and updates its content regularly to ensure it is complete and accurate.

ALSO ON THIS DAY

William and Mary proclaimed joint sovereigns of Britain

Following Britain’s bloodless Glorious Revolution, Mary, the daughter of the deposed king, and William of Orange, her husband, are proclaimed joint sovereigns of Great Britain under Britain’s new Bill of Rights. William, a Dutch prince, married Mary, the daughter of the future ...read more

First Medal of Honor action

The earliest military action to be revered with a Medal of Honor award is performed by Colonel Bernard J.D. Irwin, an assistant army surgeon serving in the first major U.S.-Apache conflict. Near Apache Pass, in southeastern Arizona, Irwin, an Irish-born doctor, volunteered to go ...read more

Galileo arrives in Rome to face charges of heresy

On February 13, 1633, Italian philosopher, astronomer and mathematician Galileo Galilei arrives in Rome to face charges of heresy for advocating Copernican theory, which holds that the Earth revolves around the Sun. Galileo officially faced the Roman Inquisition in April of that ...read more

League of Nations recognizes perpetual Swiss neutrality

The League of Nations, the international organization formed at the peace conference at Versailles in the wake of World War I, recognizes the perpetual neutrality of Switzerland on February 13, 1920. Switzerland was a loose confederation of German-, French-, and Italian-speaking ...read more

Johnson approves Operation Rolling Thunder

President Lyndon B. Johnson decides to undertake the sustained bombing of North Vietnam that he and his advisers have been contemplating for a year. Called Operation Rolling Thunder, the bombing campaign was designed to interdict North Vietnamese transportation routes in the ...read more

Downhill skier Hermann Maier crashes in Olympics

Austrian ski racer Hermann Maier makes one of the most dramatic crashes in skiing history when he catapults 30 feet in the air, lands on his helmet and rams through two safety fences at an estimated 80 miles per hour on February 13, 1998. Amazingly, Maier suffered just minor ...read more

Teddy Roosevelt discusses America’s race problem

On February 13, 1905, President Theodore Roosevelt delivers a stirring speech to the New York City Republican Club. Roosevelt had just won reelection, and in this speech, he discussed the country’s current state of race relations and his plan for improving them. In 1905, many ...read more

Serial killer strikes in Colorado

A 21-year-old woman named Mary accepts a ride from a man in the ski town of Breckenridge, Colorado, and is raped and severely beaten with a claw hammer. The attacker, Tom Luther, was traced through his truck and apprehended. Luther told a psychiatrist thatMary reminded him of his ...read more

Chernenko becomes general secretary

Following the death of Yuri Andropov four days earlier, Konstantin Chernenko takes over as the general secretary of the Soviet Communist Party, the ruling position in the Soviet Union. Chernenko was the last of the Russian communist “hard-liners” prior to the ascension to power ...read more

Firebombing of Dresden

On the evening of February 13, 1945, a series of Allied firebombing raids begins against the German city of Dresden, reducing the “Florence of the Elbe” to rubble and flames, and killing roughly 25,000 people. Despite the horrendous scale of destruction, it arguably accomplished ...read more