Music at Summer Camps?
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From: Peter Langston <psl>
Date: Thu, 22 Aug 96 11:08:52 -0700
Subject: Music at Summer Camps?
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From: today's Wall Street Journal.
ASCAP Cautions the Girl Scouts:
Don't Sing 'God Bless America'
By LISA BANNON
Staff Reporter of THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
LAFAYETTE, Calif. -- Something is missing at Diablo Day Camp this year.
At the 3 p.m. sing-along in a wooded canyon near Oakland, 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.
"Yesterday, I told them we could be sued if we played the music," explains
Teesie King, camp co-director and a volunteer mom. "So they decided they'd
learn it without the music."
Watching the campers' mute contortions, Mrs. King shakes her head. "It seems
so different," she allows, "when you do the Macarena in silence."
A Stern Warning
Starting this summer, the American Society of Composers, Authors &
Publishers has informed camps nationwide that they must pay license fees to
use any of the four million copyrighted songs written or published by
Ascap's 68,000 members. Those who sing or play but don't pay, Ascap warns,
may 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 the campfire.
"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
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"
Another Group Set to Go
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 popular tunes as Bob Dylan's "Blowin' in the Wind," says it plans to
ask camps for another set of royalties this 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 all the camps to scratch copyrighted
songs from their programs even though only a few received warning letters.
"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
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 comprises four million songs and runs 70,000 pages. Ascap
says it has, however, put a list on the Internet.
After finishing off hot dogs and s'mores 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" may
float, the directors decide, but "Puff the Magic Dragon" definitely is out.
"How about 'Ring Around the Rosie'?" another Elf asks. The directors veto
"We wanted to sing 'Underwear,' but it's set to the tune of 'Battle Hymn of
the Republic,' " says Mrs. King, the co-director. "We're not sure if that's
copyrighted; so, we don't sing it."
"When in doubt, don't sing," advises Site Director Leslie Shanders.
Even harder than figuring out which songs are which, directors say, is
explaining it all to young 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 'c' 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 eight, 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 'c' away?"
Ascap, which is based in New York, defends the royalties. "Songwriters are
small-business people who write songs to make a living," Mr. Lo Frumento
says. "The royalties allow them to send their kids to Girl Scout camp, too."
The Hunt for Violators
The federal copyright act allows composers and music publishers to demand
royalty 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 are higher, ranging from
$308 to $1,439 a year. Small camps that last two weeks or less get a special
rate of $77.
Penalties for noncompliance can be stiff. The law sets fines up to $25,000
or a year in prison, or both, for major infringements. Ascap, which sends
monitors around the country, has successfully sued restaurants, retailers
and private clubs, Mr. Lo Frumento says. While the law hasn't been tested
on camps, copyright attorneys say even little girls would lose.
"If you make an exception for the Girl Scouts, you could set a practical
precedent," says Russell Frackman, a Los Angeles copyright lawyer. "You give
the impression that a particular use is not an infringement, and that can
be used against you in the future."
Irving Berlin's Gift
Ascap contends that its members have contributed heavily to the Scouts over
the years. In 1940, Irving Berlin donated all future royalties from his "God
Bless America" to the New York City Boy Scout and Girl Scout councils.
Although the Scouts still get royalties from it, Mr. Lo Frumento concedes
that, nevertheless, they can't sing it without paying the fee.
So, it's back to black Magic Markers.
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 Debi Jansen, a
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 Mrs. Jansen is worried. "I hope that's not copyrighted, too," she frets.
© 1996 Peter Langston