Raising Money To Put Famous Classical Music Recordings Into The Public Domain

from the a-good-cause dept

Plenty of old school classical music is in the public domain, obviously (hell, many of the most famous pieces were created in an era before copyright). But, of course, the copyright on the composition is only one issue. The actual sound recordings made by orchestras gets a separate copyright, and those are probably locked up for ages. However, it appears some classical music archivists are trying to do something about this. The EFF points us to the news that Musopen has set up a Kickstarter page to raise money "to hire an internationally renown orchestra to record and release the rights to: the Beethoven, Brahms, Sibelius, and Tchaikovsky symphonies." That is, if they can raise the money necessary ($11,000), they'll hire an orchestra, record those public domain symphonies and then release the copyright on the sound recordings to the public domain as well. Definitely seems like a worthy cause for classical music lovers, though, it also serves as a reminder of the difficulty of actually getting works into the public domain these days.


Reader Comments (rss)

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  1.  
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    Mark H., Aug 26th, 2010 @ 7:52am

    Classical public domain music? I thought copyright on music was lifetime + 1000 years? Next thing you're going to tell me is that Brahms sampled music from other composers to create new music. Holy crap he did. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Variations_and_Fugue_on_a_Theme_by_Handel How dare new artists sample other peoples works!

     

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  2.  
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    Jon Lawrence (profile), Aug 26th, 2010 @ 8:00am

    Brilliant.

    Went and backed them with $10. This is a GREAT idea, especially for us in media who have a horrible time with music licensing.

    Hope they pull it off, and the classical music goes in my soundtrack library for use in videos:)

    YAY!

     

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  3.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 26th, 2010 @ 8:02am

    @Mark: This is about recordings of the music. The music itself for the works they're picking has already entered the public domain (see www.imslp.org).

     

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  4.  
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    Revelati (profile), Aug 26th, 2010 @ 8:23am

    What? No copyright? That is outrageous! How can there be media that the RIAA doesn't make money off of? Good thing lawyer bot is here to save us! Activate the lawyer bot!
    ERROR...
    ERROR...
    DOES NOT COMPUTE...
    INITIATING EMERGENCY LAWSUIT SUBROUTINES.
    SPAMMING LAWSUITS - PLEASE WAIT...
    CHILDREN AND OLD LADIES CONVICTED, SPAM SUCCESSFUL...
    HAVE A NICE DAY...

     

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  5.  
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    duffmeister (profile), Aug 26th, 2010 @ 8:40am

    I donated

    This is amazing. I am in awe of those people and am forking over a bunch of cash to them.

    The EFF article ends in a great way, you should read it.

     

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  6.  
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    Richard (profile), Aug 26th, 2010 @ 8:50am

    YES

    I was planning to do this myself someday - I'm really pleased that someone has started it already.

    Wonderful!

     

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  7.  
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    Dark Helmet (profile), Aug 26th, 2010 @ 9:10am

    Re: I donated

    Cough, ahem...there are some other good Kickstarter projects out there as well...

    ;)

     

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  8.  
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    Aaron, Aug 26th, 2010 @ 9:23am

    Re:

    The problem with these songs is that their public domain status is extremely dubious. Not every country will allow records to be converted yet. Look at what happened when Naxos did this, they lost in NY and were sued.

    The safest thing is for us to out-right own the rights and release them

    Sincerely,
    Aaron

     

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  9.  
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    Aaron, Aug 26th, 2010 @ 9:24am

    Re:

    The problem with these songs is that their public domain status is extremely dubious. Not every country will allow records to be converted yet. Look at what happened when Naxos did this, they lost in NY and were sued.

    The safest thing is for us to out-right own the rights and release them

    Sincerely,
    Aaron

     

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  10.  
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    duffmeister (profile), Aug 26th, 2010 @ 9:27am

    Re: Re: I donated

    which ones?

    I'm all about helping where I can.

     

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  11.  
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    Dark Helmet (profile), Aug 26th, 2010 @ 9:28am

    Re: Re: Re: I donated

    Actually, there's a ton of really cool projects out there. I'm on there as well, but I'm not going to spam the TD comments.

    But seriously, there are some pretty cool looking projects, particularly in the Art section....

     

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  12.  
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    duffmeister (profile), Aug 26th, 2010 @ 9:31am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: I donated

    I am now going to divert some of my charity funds there instead. I have techdirt to thank for helping me find that site.

     

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  13.  
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    david geertz (profile), Aug 26th, 2010 @ 10:01am

    is it enough?

    This is a brilliant idea: however, I do question the groups ability to get a series of recordings of quality from the amount of money they are raising. I tried to find out which orchestra they were planning to use, as this is a HUGE decision on a project like this and having the best is what most music buffs will want.

    A composer that I know just used an orchestra in Taiwan where the costs are considerably lower for the recording of a film score. The length of the recordings were significantly shorter, but cost more than what is mentioned in the campaign.

    Does anyone know who they are going to use? I would love to contribute to this project but will not do so until I know who the musicians and conductor are.

     

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    Richard (profile), Aug 26th, 2010 @ 10:50am

    Re: Re:

    Of course there are many recordings already in the public domain in Europe, Australia etc - but the US has created a ridiculous situation by a series of bad court decisions - later converted into laws.

    This means that it is impossible to host these on the internet - since US copyright holders tend to take the view that their rules should be applied worldwide. Whilst they might not win in the courts the approach of re-recording the music will probably work out cheaper!

    Worse still there have been many attempts over the past few years to extend sound copyright in the UK and the EU. I currently have about a dozen out of copyright recordings from the 1950's - but their public domain status is under threat.

     

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  15.  
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    RadialSkid, Aug 26th, 2010 @ 12:11pm

    "internationally renown orchestra"

    Grammar fail.

     

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  16.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 26th, 2010 @ 12:36pm

    That's pretty cool. I might donate to that.

     

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  17.  
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    Fundraising Ideas, Aug 26th, 2010 @ 2:00pm

    Post

    Keep us posted how your fundraiser goes.

     

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  18.  
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    Dologan, Aug 26th, 2010 @ 3:24pm

    Re: is it enough?

    The London Symphony and the Czech Philharmonic orchestras seem to be under consideration. No explicit big name conductors yet, but they say they'll be contacting some to see if they would be interested.

    It seems that ultimately which orchestra they use depends on how much money they manage to collect beyond the initial target.

     

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  19.  
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    david geertz (profile), Aug 26th, 2010 @ 4:36pm

    Re: Re: is it enough?

    I think London might be out as they would require ongoing residuals based on their union. I think the only way to do this is to use non union players which can be done; however its just a bit more R&D time on the project coordinators end.

    The Evergreen Orchestra in Taiwan is full of Juliard grads and they are non union. Perhaps another good group to approach.

     

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  20.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 26th, 2010 @ 6:01pm

    Re:

    funny how that is longer then many civilizations

     

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  21.  
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    herodotus (profile), Aug 26th, 2010 @ 6:29pm

    This is a great idea.

    I wish, though, that they would do something older than Telemann. A great deal of the music of the Flemish Renaissance is unavailable even in commercial releases.

     

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  22.  
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    nuvo, Aug 27th, 2010 @ 4:04am

    It's not late

    Those music has a CC BY-NC-SA license so you can't use it for a movie soundtrack or in Wikipedia articles.

     

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  23.  
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    Andrew D. Todd, Aug 27th, 2010 @ 5:09am

    Classical MIDI

    The plan is technically outdated. People are already doing "Classical MIDI." There are MIDI editors which work pretty much like word processors, giving one the ability to gradually revise a first draft. Using such an editor is ten or a hundred times more labor-efficient than an orchestra performance, in the same way that writing with a word processor is more efficient than hand-etching copper printing plates, as was done in the sixteenth century, or writing with a quill pen. To play a conventional instrument, you not only need to have the aural ability to be able to hear music, but you also need the manual dexterity to manipulate the instrument's keys, strings, or valves, as the case may be, and you have to do this perfectly every time. Naturally, that decreases the number of people who can perform music at a high level. A much larger pool of people can arrange music on a MIDI editor.

    In practice, the most ambitious projects, such as Bach's Brandenburg Concertos or Beethoven's Symphonies, are being routinely undertaken by individuals, such as music students, with no institutional backing. MIDI files get posted on the internet, much like blogs. New classical composers (again, often students) are putting their compositions directly into MIDI, and effectively bypassing the performance-interpretation stage. In this case, the published MIDI file sounds exactly the way the original composer intended it to sound. MIDI files are small enough that they don't require peer-to-peer software or broadband internet access. Bear in mind that a lot of people still haven't found out about Classical MIDI yet. It will grow. The situation in all kinds of audio-video-related computer fields is rather like what it was for word processors, circa 1980-85.

    Here is an emerging Internet Library of Classical Music:

    http://www.classicalmidiconnection.com/cmc/index.html

    This is a site which works pretty much like a managed blog. People "sequence" out-of-copyright classical works, and send them to the blog-meister, who posts these works with the permission of the people who sent them, and anyone can download them for free, on an anonymous basis. Technically, these performances are not public-domain, but the distinction is not terribly important for most people. Most people do not have occasion to use the works in ways which would require additional permissions beyond the limits of fair use. For example, if you download a MIDI file, and use MIDI software to convert it into MP3 to listen to it on your I-Pod while you jog, that is fair use. Of course, better still, you chose a brand of personal music player which supports MIDI in the first place, or which is a general-purpose computer capable of running whatever program you like.

    Now, if you own a restaurant, and you want to play the music on the sound system in your restaurant, that is not fair use, of course, but in practice, if you are running a restaurant, you will increasingly find that those patrons who desire to listen to recorded music have their own I-Pods, just as they probably carry around whatever books they may desire to read. There are certain monasteries where one brother, by turns, will read aloud from some improving book during dinner, but that kind of thing is almost unheard-of outside of the cloister. For most of society, book-reading is an essentially private matter. Storefront businesses do not normally provide reading material unless they expect customers to wait, which is in itself something of a faux pas. If we assume that classical-music-listening becomes rather like book-reading, then the same kinds of social norms will prevail.

    It is possible that the people doing Classical MIDI may be convinced of the importance of doing Public Domain. However, bear in mind that they have not experienced the kinds of things which have made other people into zealots. Classical music is not really big business, and has not experienced most of the more ruthless business practices. An analogous project for books is John Mark Ockerbloom's Online Books Page at the University of Pennsylvania, which is a kind of extension of The Gutenberg Project. Ockerbloom developed a set of criteria for including books: "Is it legitimately available at no charge?...Is it the full text of a significant book in English?... Is it a stable, well-formatted text in a standard format?" This boils down substantially to "Free as in Beer, only no tricks," not "Free as in Freedom."

    http://onlinebooks.library.upenn.edu/book-criteria.html

    For books which are not textbooks, these kind of criteria simply work. People use books in different ways than they use software. Books are for reading. Software is for operating machines. If we take Richard M. Stallman's experience with the printer driver he couldn't get, in order to modify, as the foundation of "Free as in Freedom," and look for a book analog, it might be something like this: you are teaching a class, and you want the students to read a book, but the book is too difficult for them at some points. "Free as in Freedom" would mean that you could load the book into your word processor and rewrite it. However, you don't need to do that. That kind of rewriting is a form of Bowdlerizing. What you do instead is to write up a help sheet, explaining the awkward points, which your students can read while they are reading the book. The necessary references to the book are well within the bounds of fair use. Your students are not idiots. They can combine references. They can reasonably be expected to learn to read books critically. By contrast, "Free as in Beer" means that you can direct students to download many books from the internet, but only _require_ them to read certain portions, say ten percent of the total material downloaded. You are not faced with the economic limit which would be involved with requiring students to buy paper books, or Amazon proprietary e-books. You can tell the students to download much, much more than they are required to read. And, who knows, some of them might actually read some of this additional material.

    Very well, classical music is probably like books, once the complications of obsolete technology are stripped away.

     

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  24.  
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    herodotus (profile), Aug 27th, 2010 @ 6:43am

    "The plan is technically outdated. People are already doing "Classical MIDI." There are MIDI editors which work pretty much like word processors, giving one the ability to gradually revise a first draft. Using such an editor is ten or a hundred times more labor-efficient than an orchestra performance, in the same way that writing with a word processor is more efficient than hand-etching copper printing plates, as was done in the sixteenth century, or writing with a quill pen. To play a conventional instrument, you not only need to have the aural ability to be able to hear music, but you also need the manual dexterity to manipulate the instrument's keys, strings, or valves, as the case may be, and you have to do this perfectly every time. Naturally, that decreases the number of people who can perform music at a high level. A much larger pool of people can arrange music on a MIDI editor."

    As a person who spends a great deal of time creating music using MIDI files, I can tell you that it is extremely difficult to duplicate the sound of naturally played acoustic instruments using MIDI and multisamples.

    While there are some great sample libraries out there (such as VSL and QLSO), making them sound natural is a great deal of work. To create an average classical symphony performance would take many weeks of work for one person, and even then, it wouldn't be completely convincing.


    "In practice, the most ambitious projects, such as Bach's Brandenburg Concertos or Beethoven's Symphonies, are being routinely undertaken by individuals, such as music students, with no institutional backing. MIDI files get posted on the internet, much like blogs. New classical composers (again, often students) are putting their compositions directly into MIDI, and effectively bypassing the performance-interpretation stage. In this case, the published MIDI file sounds exactly the way the original composer intended it to sound. MIDI files are small enough that they don't require peer-to-peer software or broadband internet access. Bear in mind that a lot of people still haven't found out about Classical MIDI yet. It will grow. The situation in all kinds of audio-video-related computer fields is rather like what it was for word processors, circa 1980-85."

    As I mentioned above, MIDI files need sample libraries to become audible sound. MIDI files that are executed by a standard GM sound module (say, the sort of thing you get with a cheap Yamaha keyboard like a PSR-225) sound unrelentingly cheesy. They might work in limited educational applications (say, musical examples in an online history of music), but they don't really sound at all like classical music was intended to sound.

    To make MIDI sound convincing, you need an intimate knowledge of not only the performance practices of the composer's age, but also of the tricks and quirks of the sample library you are using. Every sample library has different methods of executing trills and appogiaturas and glissandi and so on. The MIDI file itself needs to reflect these methods or it won't work.

    Please don't misunderstand me: I love public domain MIDI files of the sort you mentioned. My favorite site for these is CPDL, which is a truly wonderful resource. But such MIDI files, whatever their value, are not a substitute for a genuine performance.

     

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  25.  
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    JustMe (profile), Aug 27th, 2010 @ 6:49am

    Great project

    I'm donating.

    Also, as a student of classical guitar I can say that I have listened to many pieces in both MIDI and performance formats. While the MIDI is fine for getting basic timing when learning a piece it is NOT THE SAME as a live performance.

     

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  26.  
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    Aaron, Aug 27th, 2010 @ 2:31pm

    Re:

    If you can help us find some sheet music for it, we're happy to take a look.
    Aaron

     

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  27.  
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    Aaron, Aug 27th, 2010 @ 2:34pm

    Re: Classical MIDI

    There are a lot of Public Domain MIDI sites. I started Musopen because MIDI sounds terrible and our musical heritage deserves to be preserved in a decent quality.

    Honestly I would prefer a bad live recording to a MIDI of anything. Perhaps one day it will get better, but even still, it'll never replicate what a good musician can do.

     

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  28.  
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    Rance Moest, Aug 31st, 2010 @ 6:12am

    Re: Classical MIDI

    Conflating MIDI files with an orchestral performance is clearly idiotic.

     

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  29.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 31st, 2010 @ 2:33pm

    Re: Re: Classical MIDI

    Someday the midi approach will work - but we are a long way from that point right now.

    At present the piano performances sound OK (but rather mechanical). Orchestral is nowhere near and as for anything involving singing - you can forget it.

    PS Some good news - the project has just met its target!

     

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  30.  
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    Fundraisers, Dec 8th, 2010 @ 1:48pm

    Great work!

    This is a great cause. Thank you so much for bringing it the attention it so rightly deserves!

     

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  31.  
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    Easyfundraising ideas for charity, Oct 31st, 2011 @ 8:56am

    Thanks for all the information, showing my support :)

     

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