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American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers
Trade name
ASCAP (1914–present)
Founded February 13, 1914; 110 years ago (1914-02-13)
Founders Irving Berlin
Victor Herbert
Louis Hirsch
John Raymond Hubbell
Silvio Hein
Gustave Kerker
Glen MacDonough
George Maxwell
Jay Witmark
Nathan Burkan
Jean Schwartz
Headquarters New York, New York, U.S.
Key people
Paul Williams (president)
Elizabeth Matthews (CEO)

The American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers (ASCAP) (/ˈæskæp/) is an American not-for-profit performance-rights organization (PRO) that collectively licenses the public performance rights of its members' musical works to venues, broadcasters, and digital streaming services (music stores).

ASCAP collects licensing fees from users of music created by ASCAP members, then distributes them back to its members as royalties. In effect, the arrangement is the product of a compromise: when a song is played, the user does not have to pay the copyright holder directly, nor does the music creator have to bill a radio station for use of a song.

In 2021, ASCAP collected over US$1.335 billion in revenue, distributed $1.254 billion in royalties to rights-holders, and maintained a registry of over 16 million works. ASCAP membership surpassed 900,000 and revenues exceeded $1.5 billion in 2022.


ASCAP advertisement (7 January 1967)
ASCAP trade advertisement, Billboard January 7, 1967

ASCAP was founded on February 13, 1914, by Victor Herbert, together with composers George Botsford, Silvio Hein, Irving Berlin, Louis Hirsch, John Raymond Hubbell, Gustave Kerker, and Jean Schwartz; lyricist Glen MacDonough; publishers George Maxwell (who served as its first president) and Jay Witmark and copyright attorney Nathan Burkan at the Hotel Claridge in New York City, to protect the copyrighted musical compositions of its members, who were mostly writers and publishers associated with Tin Pan Alley. ASCAP's earliest members included the era's most active songwriters, George M. Cohan, Rudolf Friml, Otto Harbach, Jerome Kern, John Philip Sousa, Alfred Baldwin Sloane, James Weldon Johnson, Robert Hood Bowers and Harry Tierney. Subsequently, many other prominent songwriters became members. Composers who could not read and write musical notation were ineligible for membership. This requirement, since dropped, excluded many songwriters in such genres as country. However, an exception was made to admit Irving Berlin.

In 1919, ASCAP and the Performing Rights Society of Great Britain (since 1997 known as PRS for Music), signed the first reciprocal agreement for the representation of each other's members' works in their respective territories. Today, ASCAP has global reciprocal agreements and licenses the U.S. performances of hundreds of thousands of international music creators.

ASCAP and Manhattan School of Music summer campers
ASCAP and Manhattan School of Music summer campers participate in daily symphonic band rehearsals. Since 1999, the two institutions have partnered to offer a free music camp for New York City public school students.

The advent of radio in the 1920s brought an important new source of income for ASCAP. Radio stations originally only broadcast performers live, the performers working for free. Later, performers wanted to be paid, and recorded performances became more prevalent. ASCAP started collecting license fees from the broadcasters. Between 1931 and 1939, ASCAP increased royalty rates charged to broadcasters by more than 400%.

In 2010, ASCAP was inducted into the American Classical Music Hall of Fame.


In 1940, when ASCAP tried to double its license fees again, radio broadcasters formed a boycott of ASCAP and founded a competing royalty agency, Broadcast Music Incorporated (BMI). During a ten-month period lasting from January 1 to October 29, 1941, no music licensed by ASCAP (1,250,000 songs) was broadcast on NBC and CBS radio stations. Instead, the stations played regional music and styles (like rhythm and blues or country) that had been rejected by ASCAP. Upon the conclusion of litigation between broadcasters and ASCAP in October 1941, ASCAP settled for a lower fee than they had initially demanded.

Consent decree

In the late 1930s, ASCAP's general control over most music and its membership requirements were considered to be in restraint of trade and illegal under the Sherman Anti-Trust Act. The Justice Department sued ASCAP in 1937 but abandoned the case. The Justice Department sued again in 1941, and the case was settled with a consent decree in which the most important points were that ASCAP must fairly set rates and not discriminate between customers who have basically the same requirements to license music, or "similar standing". Also, anyone who is unable to negotiate satisfactory terms with ASCAP, or is otherwise unable to get a license, may go to the court in the Southern District of New York overseeing the consent decree and litigate the terms they find objectionable, and the terms set by the court will be binding upon the licensee and ASCAP. BMI also signed a consent decree in 1941.

Membership expands

ASCAP's membership diversified further in the 1940s, bringing along jazz and swing greats, including Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Benny Goodman, and Fletcher Henderson. The movies also soared in popularity during the 1930s and 1940s, and with them came classic scores and songs by new ASCAP members like Harold Arlen, Dee Libbey, Johnny Mercer, Cole Porter, Morton Gould, and Jule Styne. Classical-music composers Aaron Copland, Igor Stravinsky, Florence Price, and Leonard Bernstein brought their compositions into the ASCAP repertory in the 1940s. In the 1940s, it was common for ASCAP and BMI to send out field representatives to sign new songwriters and music publishing companies, as the firms were not household names; one such ASCAP employee was Loring Buzzell, who later formed the music publishing company Hecht-Lancaster & Buzzell Music.

The rise of rock and roll derived from both country music and rhythm and blues music caused airplay of BMI licensed songs to double that of ASCAP licensed songs. ASCAP officials decided that the practice of payola was the reason. So ASCAP spearheaded a congressional investigation into the practice of payola in 1959.

In the 1950s and 1960s, television was introduced as a new revenue stream for ASCAP, one that maintains its importance today. With the birth of FM radio, new ASCAP members, including John Denver, Jimi Hendrix, Quincy Jones, Janis Joplin, and Carly Simon scored massive hits. Many Motown hits were written by ASCAP members Ashford & Simpson, Marvin Gaye, Smokey Robinson, and Stevie Wonder. Both The Beatles and The Rolling Stones licensed their works through ASCAP, and the very first country Grammy Award went to ASCAP writer Bobby Russell for "Little Green Apples". During this period, ASCAP also initiated a series of lawsuits to recover the position they lost during the boycott of 1941, without success.

The early 1960s folk music revival, led by ASCAP member Bob Dylan (later switched to SESAC) made ASCAP a major player in that genre. Dylan's expansion into rock music later that decade gave ASCAP a foothold in that genre. At the same time, ASCAP member Shapiro, Bernstein & Co. started having country hits for ASCAP.

By 1970, a new generation of ASCAP board members decided to launch a campaign to attract more songwriters and music publishers away from BMI. The campaign led to Motown Records switching most of its music publishing from BMI to ASCAP in 1971.

During the last three decades of the 20th century, ASCAP's membership grew to reflect every new development in music, including the funk, punk rock, heavy metal, hip-hop, techno, and grunge music genres. Creators ranging from Lauryn Hill and Dr. Dre to the Ramones, Slayer, and John Zorn joined. ASCAP launched a Latin membership department to serve ASCAP Latin writers—Marc Anthony, Joan Sebastian, and Olga Tañon among them–with the Spanish-speaking world as their audience. In 1981, ASCAP prevailed against CBS in an eleven-year-old court case challenging the ASCAP blanket license.

ASCAP licenses over 11,500 local commercial radio stations, more than 2500 non-commercial radio broadcasters and hundreds of thousands of "general" licensees (bars, restaurants, theme parks, etc.). It maintains reciprocal relationships with nearly 40 foreign PROs across six continents, and licenses billions of public performances worldwide each year. ASCAP was the first U.S. PRO to distribute royalties for performances on the Internet and continues to pursue and secure licenses for websites, digital music providers and other new media.


ASCAP honors its top members in a series of annual awards shows in seven different music categories: pop, rhythm and soul, film and television, Latin, country, Christian, and concert music. Awards are presented through a "vote online" that makes up 50% of the judging criteria. The other 50% came from different music critics where in addition, ASCAP inducts jazz greats to its Jazz Wall of Fame in an annual ceremony held at ASCAP's New York City offices and honors PRS members that license their works through ASCAP at an annual awards gala in London, England. ASCAP also gives annually the special accolades Vanguard Award, Songwriter of the Year, and Publisher of the Year.

In 1979, to honor composers of concert music (Classical) in the early stages of their careers, ASCAP created The ASCAP Foundation Young Composer Awards which, upon the death of ASCAP President Morton Gould in 1996, were renamed the ASCAP Foundation Morton Gould Young Composer Awards to honor Gould's lifelong commitment to encouraging young creators as well as his own early development as a composer.

Beginning in 1986, ASCAP created the Golden Soundtrack Award to honor composers for "outstanding achievements and contributions to the world of film and television music." In 1996, it was renamed the Henry Mancini Award to pay tribute to the late composer's history of achievements in the field.

ASCAP also bestows the near-annual Deems Taylor Awards to writers and music journalists. Named after the first president of ASCAP, Deems Taylor, they were established in 1967 to honor his memory. The Deems Taylor Award "recognizes books, articles, broadcasts and websites on the subject of music selected for their excellence."

See also

  • BMI
  • Copyright collective
  • United States v. ASCAP
  • PRS for Music, a British music copyright collective
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