ASCAP's first office was a tinyroom in New York's Fulton Theater Building. A kitchen table and broken-down chair served as office furniture. The Society's total payroll was $15 a week. Dues were $10 for writers and $50 for publishers. Today there are no annual dues.
Its earliest members included the era's most active songwriters – Irving Berlin, James Weldon Johnson, Jerome Kern and John Philip Sousa.
Early on, founding member Victor Herbert brought a lawsuit against Shanley's Restaurant for refusing to pay royalties. The fight took two years and went to the Supreme Court. ASCAP prevailed. Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote the decision of the Court: "If music did not pay, it would be given up. Whether it pays or not, the purpose of employing it is profit and that is enough."
In 1919, ASCAP and the Performing Right Society of Great Britain signed the first reciprocal agreement for the representation of each other's members' works in their respective territories. Today, ASCAP has reciprocal agreements all over the world and licenses the U.S. performances of hundreds of thousands of international creators.