[LINK] Ars: 'Musopen raises $40, 000 to set classical music "free"'

Roger Clarke Roger.Clarke at xamax.com.au
Tue Sep 14 11:54:54 EST 2010

['Setting music free' is an attractive catch-phrase, because it's 
short.  But it's misleading.

[Copyright in the sheet-music in question has already expired.  But 
copyright automatically subsists in performances and recordings of it.

[Where copyright applies to a work, the 'public domain' notion is 
problematical, and best avoided.  (Aaron Funn should read the 
literature surrounding Creative Commons, and FSF for that matter).

[What Aaron's really doing (which is a great idea) is using donations 
to pay for recordings of performances, and then making them available 
under a liberal copyright licence.]

Musopen raises $40,000 to set classical music "free"

A radio host recently "referred to me as a Communist," says Musopen's 
Aaron Dunn. Music professors berate him by e-mail because his project 
is "like Napster." Dunn's crime? Setting music free.

[Radio hosts we know about.  Are there really "music professors" who 
are that ignorant about copyright law?   Okay, in the US, 'professor' 
means Lecturer and above;  and in German-speaking countries it can 
mean secondary-school teacher.  But even so ...]

In fact, though, Dunn's version of "freedom" looks little like 
Napster. Instead of distributing a recording without permission, Dunn 
raises money, hires orchestras to record terrific classical music ("I 
was a bassoon student," he says) that has fallen into the public 
domain, and then makes those recordings available to anyone, for any 

Those reasons might include using Beethoven's "Für Elise" in an indie 
film-indie filmmakers being some of Musopen's heaviest users-but Dunn 
has heard from shows like Mythbusters who also needed a bit of 
classical music for a segment. Wikipedia uses Musopen music to 
illustrate its entries on classical music.

People are willing to fund the idea. "Someone offered me $1,000 
yesterday and asked how much Smetana I could record," Dunn told me, 
but funding for the part-time project has been sporadic to date.

To drum up the excitement and donor base needed to give Musopen 
ongoing life, Dunn put the project on Kickstarter, seeking $11,000 to 
"hire an internationally renowned orchestra to record and release the 
rights to: the Beethoven, Brahms, Sibelius, and Tchaikovsky 
symphonies. We have price quotes from several orchestras and are 
ready to hire one, pending the funds." The project had a goal, a 
deadline, and a sense of urgency, all elements that Musopen's 
fundraising has lacked in the past.

With one day left to go, the Kickstarter projected has now secured 
more than $41,000, much of it after recently being featured on 
Slashdot. Intoxicated with the support and the promise of cash, Dunn 
has big dreams. He could hire a "brand-name" orchestra like the 
London Philharmonic, for instance. Sure, it would burn up all of the 
money and only generate a single symphony, but what a symphony it 
would be.

The other main alternative is to look "east"-Eastern Europe boasts 
tremendous orchestras that will record for a fraction of the price 
charged by their big-name Western counterparts. Hiring Prague's 
terrific philharmonic would cost only $10,000 to $15,000, for 
instance, but the recording wouldn't give Musopen the same cachet and 
publicity-both important considerations as Dunn tries to turn his 
baby into a truly sustainable organization.

And, as Dunn is learning, when you raise money socially, your donors 
have... strong ideas, and they can be quite vocal in expressing them. 
The donors will soon get to vote on how the money should be 
allocated, with Dunn planning a blind orchestral listening test to 
help people decide.

This is significant step up for Musopen. When we first profiled the 
site back in 2008, most of its recordings came from groups like the 
Davis High School Symphony Orchestra and Oldham Music Centre Youth 
Wind Band-fine institutions, but not quite the same as a big 
professional orchestra. Now Dunn is entertaining the idea of using 
the London Philharmonic, even as he ponders his many other projects: 
an open-source music theory textbook is in the work, for instance.

He has heard from musicians skeptical about Musopen. If it takes off, 
they fear that Musopen will harm the market for orchestral recordings 
and licensing, a key source of revenue for cash-strapped orchestras. 
But Dunn isn't out to make life more difficult for musicians, and he 
argues that "Glen Gould will always be the default" when it comes to 
Bach's Goldberg Variations, for instances. As for their 
bread-and-butter, live performances, Dunn hopes that more accessible 
music will lead to more interest in live concerts.

Besides, any pain that such a model causes must be set next to the 
huge upside for consumers, indie filmmakers, libraries, and 
universities: free access to high-quality recordings of some of the 
West's best music.
Dunn's highest hope now is that he might improbably raise more than 
$50,000-five times the hoped-for amount-by the time his Kickstarter 
project closes.

Roger Clarke                                 http://www.rogerclarke.com/

Xamax Consultancy Pty Ltd      78 Sidaway St, Chapman ACT 2611 AUSTRALIA
                    Tel: +61 2 6288 1472, and 6288 6916
mailto:Roger.Clarke at xamax.com.au                http://www.xamax.com.au/

Visiting Professor in the Cyberspace Law & Policy Centre      Uni of NSW
Visiting Professor in Computer Science    Australian National University

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