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.

Filed Under: classical music, public domain
Companies: musopen

Reader Comments

Subscribe: RSS

View by: Time | Thread

  1. identicon
    Andrew D. Todd, 27 Aug 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    The plan is technically outdated.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:


    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."


    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.

Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Subscribe to the Techdirt Daily newsletter

Comment Options:

  • Use markdown for basic formatting. (HTML is not supported.)
  • Remember name/email/url (set a cookie)

Follow Techdirt
Techdirt Gear
Shop Now: Copying Is Not Theft
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Essential Reading
Techdirt Deals
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Techdirt Insider Chat
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Recent Stories
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads


Email This

This feature is only available to registered users. Register or sign in to use it.