There have been a few things stirring around in my brain,
and making a nice tasty stew. The ingredients of this stew
are as follows:
- Record Company contracts
- ASCAP and BMI
- The Sonny Bono copyright extension law.
- Writing and performing music for the fun of it.
- Writing computer code for the fun of it.
- Richard Stallman, The GPL, and hordes of people
from all over the world, and what they have wrought.
- Hordes of people all over the world writing and
performing music for the fun of it.
Now that I've dumped the raw ingredients into your brain,
you may have already cooked the stew yourself and know what
must follow. And I'm sure I'm not the first to have these
kind of thoughts. But I'll give you a big steaming pile of
my brand of stew anyway.
Starting with the last ingredients first, Richard Stallman,
with his GNU, GPL, gcc, emacs, and loads of other programs,
combined with the Linux kernel from Linus Torvalds and hordes
of helpers, have done what many would have considered impossible if
it did not stand there defying impossibility before the eyes of the
world. They created a completely free operating system and loads
and loads of free software to go with it. (I'm not going to bother
to explain the special meaning of the word "free" here, that's not
the point of this node.)
Considering that there are many many people who sit around
writing and performing music simply for the fun of it, though
not as many as sit around programming computers for the fun of it,
it is surprising to me that there is not a free music culture in
the same way that there is a free software culture. Perhaps it
is because most musicians are illiterate? (a weak joke.)
When I was growing up, my dad and my uncles had a kind of
bluegrass band. It wasn't really legal for them to perform
many of the bluegrass standards, as these songs were copyrighted.
This is the musical analogue to the famous story of Stallman's
frustration at being denied access to the source code for an early
and buggy Xerox printer that he intended to fix himself. This
frustration was the very one that ultimately lead to the GNU project.
Some things I've read make me believe the music industry
is even more screwed up than the software industry in terms
of nightmarish legal hassles. For example, consider the
royalty collection services such as BMI and ASCAP. Radio stations
pay all of these services some amount which is arrived at
by statistical means. That is, these arrogant bastards assume
that if you've got a radio station and you play music, you
must be playing their music, and furthermore, they
don't even bother to find out what you're playing but just
assume you're playing "what's popular", and divide these
royalty payments however they see fit. If you have a radio
station that plays only Led Zeppelin, do all of your royalty
payments go to Led Zep? Nope. Probably most of it goes to
Britney Spears. But it's worse than this. Suppose you've
got a local bar that hosts live music. Suppose you hire a local
band that plays only original music. A local band that does not
have a record contract. You still have to pay those
arrogant bastards ASCAP and BMI, and none of that "royalty money"
goes to the band, it goes to the members of ASCAP, BMI, etc,
in proportion to how "popular" they are. The assumption is
any band must play covers, but there's way too many to
actually find out what they play, so we'll just collect from
them all, and distribute the money to our members however we
like. Now, how the hell is that fair?
So, considering how evil record companies really are, (and
I'm not faulting them for protecting their copyrighted works,
they have every right to do that, but, c'mon, their methods are
a bit draconian.), I have to wonder,
where is the free music culture? And don't
say "Napster!". Most of what's going on with Napster is outright
stealing. So much so, that Napster is probably in danger of
being adjudicated or legislated out of business.
Back in the early days of computers, one might have
argued (unsuccessfully) that "bulletin boards have no
legitimate purpose except to help people pirate software".
Well, clearly that was not the case, there was plenty of other
rather obvious uses for these bulletin boards, and for FTP sites,
and the like. The difference between these and Napster is that
the legitimate uses of Napster are not so obvious. But imagine
if there were a huge pool of free music out there. Consider all
the proprietary software available for Microsoft OSes, and then
consider all the software available under the GPL. There's an
incredible amount of GPL'ed software out there these days. If
there were a comparable amount of free music out there, nobody
would wonder what possible legitimate use Napster had.
So, supposing that we're at ground zero, we are RMS,
frustrated with our broken printer, as it were, and we want to
start down the long hard road to freedom. Where to begin?
How about a kind of GPL for music? Of course we have to
recognize that there are significant differences between music
and software. They really aren't the same in many respects.
Here's what I think a license for free music should permit
and forbid, stated as plainly as I know how (I'm not a lawyer):
The license should permit:
- copying of a recording of the work by anyone
- live performance of the work by anyone.
- creation of derived works by anyone, provided the derived
work is distributed under the same license.
- copying of musical transcriptions of the work by anyone.
(Musical transcriptions may be machine readable, e.g. MIDI files).
except for the following instances,
which the license should forbid:
- Charging more than a nominal fee for copies
of recordings or transcriptions of the work.
- Mechanized playback of recordings or transcriptions
of the work for commercial purposes.
- Modification of recordings of the work,
including but not limited to mixing additional audio
with the work, truncation of the work, addition of audio
to the beginning or ending of the work. Lossy audio compression
is permitted, provided the work remains presented in its entirety.
Some further explanation:
Under the activities which are permitted:
I think #1 is self explanatory.
With #2, I intended to allow anyone to perform the work,
and charge money for doing so.
With #3, I intended to allow anyone to perform and record
variations of the work.
With #4, I intended to allow anyone to easily learn how to
perform the work.
Under the activities which are forbidden:
#1 is pretty straightforward. Everyone who doesn't violate
the license is entitled to a copy of the work, but is expected to
bear the cost of the media and copying process.
#2 is to prevent radio stations, (and thus ASCAP, BMI, etc.)
from benefitting unfairly from the works of others.
#3 is to prevent the work from being sampled unfairly, taken
out of context, or defaced in any way. If you wanted to create
a parody of the work, you could not simply record new lyrics on
top of an existing recording, you'd have to record a new version
of the work from scratch. (You'd most likely have to do that
anyway, so perhaps that's not a great example.)
So, did I miss anything? Did I cover all the bases?
Stealth Munchkin, of course there's no way for songwriters to get paid with this license. This licence is about free music, music for the fun of it. If you want to get paid, use a different license. It's that simple. This license isn't meant for commercial artists. It's meant for me (or those like me), sitting in my bedroom with my guitar, writing a song that probably sucks, or might be terrific, but which I'm not interested in selling in any case. Instead I'm interested in giving it away, while protecting it from being abused by those who would attempt to earn money from it even though they contribute nothing. (I don't mind giving a song away, but not to have it used in an advertisement for Chevy Trucks or something. Not that that would be especially likely.)