Enjoy Free Music without getting in trouble
by downloading the legal MP3s that many musicians provide
as a way to promote themselves.
Link Update in Progress Friday, March 12, 2014
You don't need to worry about getting sued by the Recording Industry Assocation of America or arrested by the Federal Bureau of Intelligence if you download legal music. Many independent and unsigned musicians offer downloads of their music in hopes of attracting more fans. Here's some music from my friends Oliver Brown and Rick Walker's Loop.pooL as well as my own piano compositions.
If everyone started downloading legal music instead of violating copyright with the file sharing programs, we would make short work of the RIAA, because people would start buying CDs directly from the artists and seeing their shows instead of enriching the major labels by buying CDs from the bands the labels have chosen for us to listen to. The RIAA would also have no cause to complain - these music downloads do not infringe copyright because the artists give you permission to download them.
It should be mandatory reading for anyone commenting on the future of music.
-- Hal C. F. Astell
I decided to write this article after a friend told me in all sincerity that the money she paid to purchase Kazaa went to compensate the artists whose music she downloaded. She had no idea she was violating anyone's copyright.
I figure that most peer-to-peer file traders, while probably aware they are violating copyrights, aren't much more clued in than my friend. While I have your attention I feel I should also explain some of the legal and historical issues around copyright, and suggest steps you can take to make file sharing legal.
If you don't think that violating copyright by downloading music with filesharing programs like Kazaa, Grokster, Morpheus, Madster, eDonkey, Direct Connect, OpenNap, iMesh, or Gnutella could get you in serious trouble, then you need to read RIAA Obtains Subpoenas Against File Swappers and House Bill to Make File-Sharing an Automatic Felony.
The RIAA is using the Digital Millenium Copyright Act to force internet service providers to turn over the names of file traders. They can determine your internet protocol address by connecting with your peer-to-peer client over the Internet. Using your IP address and the time you were connected, the ISP can determine your name. If the RIAA finds you this way, they will sue you.
When you are the defendant in a civil lawsuit, you don't have the protection against self-incrimination that the U.S. Constitution grants criminal defendants. You will be required to give a deposition, in which the party suing you will be able to ask you anything they want, while you will be required to give truthful answers under oath. In addition, your friends may be subpoenaed and compelled to testify as witnesses against you.
In civil lawsuits, there is a process called "discovery" that allows the party suing you to use the force of law to require you to turn over any evidence they ask for. In particular, they can seize your computer and forensically examine your hard drive (so that they might even recover files you've deleted), read any logs of email you've saved, obtain your telephone records from your phone company and obtain the log files from your ISP as well as the log files from any Web sites you've ever visited.
The RIAA has had limited success at suing the publishers of file sharing software. Some systems, like Gnutella, are so decentralized that there is little hope of finding anyone to sue. So now they are coming after the individual file traders - meaning you. The article above says the RIAA has already obtained subpoenas against 871 file traders, and will likely have obtained many more by the time you read this. They are asking for $150,000 in damages from each file trader for each song whose copyright they have violated. What will they use the money for? Suing more file traders, of course.
If you lose one of these lawsuits, the only recourse you will have will be to declare bankruptcy. If you're a juvenile, your parents will have to declare bankruptcy.
While simple copyright infringement is a civil offense where the copyright holder's only recourse is to sue you, especially egregious offenses are already criminal violations for which the law enforcement authorities will arrest, prosecute and imprison you. Remember the FBI warning you always see at the beginning of movie videos? It is common for large-scale software pirates to be arrested. File traders are next in line.
You can avoid all of these problems by enjoying music from the tens of thousands of talented musicians who offer legal downloads of their music. And you can tell the RIAA to kiss your ass.
You may ask how musicians are able to earn money if they offer free music downloads. The simple answer is that they will make money as they always have, by selling recordings, playing live concerts, and selling such merchandise as T-shirts.
While one might be satisfied by listening to downloaded music, many people report that they often purchase a band's CD after hearing their downloads. I can easily tell that compact disc recordings sound better than most MP3 files, and it's nice to have a labeled CD, package and liner notes.
There are some who advocate that all music ought to be freely available and sharable, and suggest that musicians be supported through tips. Only a small fraction of those who download a given song need to contribute for most artists to make a comfortable living. The Street Performer Protocol is one method proposed for paying for many kinds of works, not just music. The non-profit organization musiclink collects tips from fans and distributes it to musicians with very little overhead.
It's difficult to find music that's actually worth listening to. Although many bands offer music on their websites, there's no real way to tell if it's any good without actually downloading it. The labels do serve the (somewhat) legitimate purpose of picking out the good from the bad. But we can do that ourselves with legal downloads by using collaborative filtering, for example by downloading our music with iRATE radio, which you'll find at http://irate.sourceforge.net/:
iRATE radio is a collaborative filtering client/server mp3 player/downloader. The iRATE server has a large database of music. You rate the tracks and it uses your ratings and other peoples to guess what you'll like. The tracks are downloaded from Web sites which allow free downloads of their music.
As of July 2003, the iRATE server has 46,000 tracks registered.
The way iRATE works is that it downloads a few tracks at random at first. It downloads them directly from the artists' Web sites after finding them in its database. (The author of iRATE is careful to register only legal downloads.) After you listen to and rate the tracks, your ratings are sent back to the server where it uses statistical analysis to correllate your ratings with the ratings given by other users. If you like the same kind of music I do, then iRATE will send you all the same music I like. Conversely, if you hate my music, iRATE won't send you the music I like.
One nice thing about iRATE is that you can set it to download continuously while playing, so you always have fresh music without having to go hunt for it. You just have to click a button from time to time to rate new songs.
iRATE radio is a cross-platform program, with natively compiled clients presently available for Windows and Linux. There is a Java WebStart client that works on Mac OS X and likely on other platforms that support Java.
The music iRATE downloads to your hard drive will sound better and better the longer you use it. iRATE's statistical analysis is more effective when more people use it, so be sure to tell all your friends.
iRATE radio is a young project which welcomes contributions from java developers. Anyone at all can help out significantly by testing the development snapshots and reporting bugs. Graphically talented people may enjoy submitting mockups for iRATE's upcoming user interface redesign.
Another way to find music downloads worth listening to is to let others do the work by reading the music reviews several web sites offer. One such site is Fingertips, which calls itself "An intelligent guide to free and legal music on the web".
Each week Fingertips reviews several free music downloads. Rather than trying to be an exhaustive source of music downloads, Fingertips tries to select a few of the very best.
In the email with which Fingertips author Jeremy Schlosberg introduced me to his site, he said:
At Fingertips, my emphasis is on quality music, and whatever trouble I may have with the record industry at large, I also have a whole lot of trouble with the idea that anyone with an instrument who wants to upload music to the web is worth listening to.
Another music review site is Gods of Music: "Music Reviews for the Independent Music Scene". There are many reviews on the site: their Hall of Fame lists the very best, and their Dungeon lists the worst.
Gods of Music accepts requests from artists who wish to be reviewed. In return, the artist is asked to place Gods of Music banner on their page. The artist must agree to certain terms to get a review. One is that the artist must be willing to live with whatever review is written, even if it is bad. On the other hand, a good review can be good publicity.
There's more at the site than just reviews, so it's well worth your time to check it out.
Here are some other web sites that provide reviews of music downloads:
(I'll be posting a couple other review sites here soon. Send any suggestions you may have to email@example.com)
[top] - Updated January 31, 2007
There are many legal music hosting services that allow one to find a lot of free music all in one place. Be aware that the fact that a website offers free music does not imply the files are licensed for sharing - many sites forbid sharing in their terms of service.
At one time the largest free music repository was MP3.com. Thousands of independent artists hosted their music there for free download. But when Vivendi sold MP3.com to CNet, the largest music library in the history of humanity was taken offline. While it was compared by many to the burning of the ancient Library of Alexandria, most of the work was not lost to civilization. It just became harder to find. MP3.com now offers only paid music downloads, but many free music sites sprang up in its wake.
The Narcopop Independent Musicians Directory lists the websites for many artists and provides preview samples for many of them.
You can download free music from many sites. Some of them allow you to buy the band's CD from the same page as the MP3 download. Among them are:
Would You Like Some Free Software?
If you know other sites I should list here, please let me know by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. I offer reciprocal links to individual artists' Web sites at the end of this article - if you offer downloads of your own music, I will link to your site if you link this article in return.
Ogg Vorbis is a new audio compression format. It is roughly comparable to other formats used to store and play digital music, such as MP3, VQF, AAC, and other digital audio formats. It is different from these other formats because it is completely free, open, and unpatented.
(The Ogg Vorbis format was created because the owners of the MP3 patent forbid the free creation and distribution of Open Source MP3 encoders.)
Ogg Vorbis players are available for many platforms - WinAmp will play them on Windows. VLC Media Player is a cross-platform player that works on Windows, Linux, BeOS, BSD, QNX, Solaris and Mac OS X. iTunes on Mac OS X supports Ogg now. There are open source Linux ogg players and encoders, even an open source fixed-point decoder called Tremor for embedded applications. Also for embedded applications, there is also an electronic design for a low power Ogg Vorbis decoder chip, so that we are sure to soon have inexpensive portable Ogg Vorbis players.
There are also peer-to-peer applications for distributing legal music. In some cases they use digital signatures to ensure the legitimacy of the files. See Furthur Network and konspire[2b]. Monotonik provides BitTorrents: zip files containing 60 to 100 MP3s apiece, available here. You will need to install the BitTorrent client to download them.
Unfortunately, musicians are often not very good Web site designers, so poor usability is a significant obstacle to getting music directly from artists' Web sites. If you're a musician, and you'd like to know how you can improve your site design so more people will download your music, please read my article If Indie Musicians Wanted Their Music Heard....
At first I was reluctant to even mention paid music subscription services, not so much because I object to paying for music, but because of the problem of digital rights management, or copy protection. I consider DRM a nuisance best to be avoided, and didn't want to contribute to the problem by urging anyone to take advantage of the services that use DRM.
However, there are paid subscription services that don't use DRM, and there are those for which the DRM is not onerous. The advantage of these services is that one can obtain music from artists who don't offer it for free, so you're likely to find music from more well-known bands than by taking advantage of the completely free downloads.
A reader named Hal C. F. Astell who reviewed my drafts urged me to mention EMusic. The files EMusic provides are standard MP3 files, free of any copy protection. You can copy them to any computer or MP3 player, burn them to any CD and back them up without fear of losing any kind of authorization key.
EMusic also has a very active message board. I understand it is a nice community to be part of.
If you use a subscription service that employs digital rights management, you should choose one that offers you these capabilities at a minimum:
One should have all of these capabilities simultanously; many digital rights management systems transfer the authorization key as one moves the music files from one device to another. For example, one could not play one's music on one's computer and portable player simultaneously.
The only DRM-based subscription service I know of that satisfies a significant number of these criteria is Apple's iTunes Music Store.
While it is presently available only for U.S. residents who use Macintosh computers, it is expected that eventually it will be offerred more widely, and may be available for Windows as well.
The digital rights management that iTunes uses is sometimes referred to as "soft DRM" to indicate that most users don't find it objectionable. One can play the music on up to three computers as well as an Apple iPod portable player, and burn standard audio CDs.
The iTunes Music Store has done well so far. Users praise it, and a large number of downloads have been purchased in the short time since it went online. The AAC audio file format used by iTunes is more compact and sounds better than MP3. The iTunes Music Store is likely to be a long term success.
However, iTunes doesn't solve the problem that artists receive very little of the money from the sale of their music.
Competing services that rely on much stricter copy protection have not been so successful. The launch of BuyMusic was a disaster largely due to the way the DRM prevented anyone from actually being able to listen to their music unimpeded.
While the major record labels have been criticized for failing to take advantage of the potent marketing opportunity presented by the Internet and the MP3 audio format, it is now taking small steps towards selling the music downloads that fans want. The labels should be applauded for doing so.
While the labels are rightly criticized for requiring copy protection of their content, we should take heart from the history of the early personal computer software industry.
At one time the copy protection for many PC programs was quite severe, employing such strategies as floppy disks pierced with laser holes or applications that could only be run from boot disks provided by the publisher. But eventually software copy protection subsided in importance because software purchasers simply purchased competing, non-protected products rather than deal with copy protection. The compromise for many products has been to just require a simple serial number.
The soft DRM employed by the iTunes Music Store is a similar compromise. We can expect the labels to experiment with subscription services that employ a variety of copy protection techniques until one is found that is profitable to the recording industry while being unobjectionable to the purchaser.
Other paid download services include:
Let's Keep File Sharing Safe and Legal.
Sixty million Americans use peer-to-peer applications to trade files. That's more people than voted for George Bush. If we work together, we can shake up the government so profoundly that sharing music - anyone's music - is no longer illegal.
Many, many millions more people share music around the world - if your country is democratic, you can change your laws too. If your country is not democratic, I can certainly appreciate the difficulty you're in. But if you have courage, political change is still possible, although more costly, but worthwhile for reasons a lot more significant than making it legal to swap music.
If you don't think this can happen, consider Slashdot user Quizo69's comment Illegal becomes legal if YOU change it, in which he points out that that although it was once illegal to be homosexual throughout the United States, the gay community worked together to fight sodomy laws. Through their efforts, state after state repealed their laws until the Supreme Court of the United States recently ruled the last sodomy laws unconstitutional.
Spread the Word!
Encourage others to read this article by linking to it from your website, your weblog, or message boards.
If the gay community can fight millenia of hatred until they can live without fear of criminal prosecution, you can overturn the copyright laws. If you don't think you have the political power, consider that there aren't as many homosexual people in the U.S. as there are file traders.
In the United States, copyright is not a Constitutional right, like freedom of speech. The Constitution grants Congress the power to create copyright, but doesn't require it to do so. From Article I, Section 8 of The Constitution of the United States of America:
The Congress shall have power to... promote the progress of science and useful arts, by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries;
No form of "intellectual property", also including patents, trade secrets and trademarks are a "natural right". The concept of intellectual property has not existed for very long in history at all. (While trade secrets have existed throughout history, it is only recently that they have enjoyed any sort of legal protection.)
... was founded to spread awareness of how today's copyright system hurts artists and audiences alike, and shackles the Internet to a distribution model designed around the limitations of the printing press.
Our founding fathers didn't grant Congress permission to make copyright legal because they felt is was any sort of natural right. They did it because they thought it would be a useful thing to do to stimulate the economy of a young nation: "To promote the progress of science and useful arts". Copyright and patents encourage authors, artists or inventors to openly publish their works by giving them a temporary monopoly. In return for this grant of monopoly, the work is supposed to eventually go into the public domain, so all may benefit from copying it. Let me make it explicit:
The purpose of both copyright and patents is to make it worthwhile for authors and inventors to release their writing, music and inventions to the public domain, rather than keeping them secret.
But that's not the situation today. Because the copyright on Mickey Mouse was due to expire in 2004, Walt Disney lobbied Congress (with the aid of prodigous campaign "donations") to pass the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act, extending the copyright term to ninety-five years, not just for new works, but for works that were copyrighted before the act was passed. The law applied even to work about to pass into the public domain, so Congress rode to Disney's rescue to keep Steamboat Willie safe.
(If any of Mickey Mouse's cartoons ever entered the public domain, it would not have diluted Disney's trademark on the character, but it would have made it possible for others to use Mickey Mouse in ways that did not dilute the trademark.)
With the current ninety-five year copyright term, you cannot expect that you will live to see a copyrighted work created today ever go into the public domain. The creators of copyrighted works are not keeping up their end of the bargain that the framers of the Constitution offerred them. Because the copyright term was extended even for works whose copyrights were about to expire, no reasonable person can consider that the requirement that copyright be granted for "limited times" has been obeyed by Congress.
A brilliant young law professor named Lawrence Lessig, who has an understanding of technology issues quite unusual for an attorney, led a lawsuit to overturn the Sonny Bono Act. The closely watched Eldred v. Ashcroft case quickly reached the Supreme Court. Yet in an astonishing rejection of Constitutional principles, the Court ruled against Lessig. Read the Court's opinion. (Supreme Court opinions are often surprisingly readable for legal documents - it's worth your while to take a look.)
Sucks, don't it? What can you do about it? Well, let me tell you:
If there's something going on that you don't think is right, you ought to say something about it. Say it to anyone who will listen, and wherever anyone will let you speak or write. Do your very best to say it as well and as convincingly as you can. It helps to speak your mind repeatedly, honing your message with each try.
Practice, practice, practice: The ancient Greek statesman Demosthenes had a speech impediment so he was not able to speak convincingly. To overcome this, he went down to the beach, put stones in his mouth and shouted his speeches at the roaring waves until he could make himself understood.
Do you think I wrote this article well? You don't think I just sat down and wrote it, do you? No, I put time and effort into it. At first my message evolved from a series of Slashdot and weblog comments, and after the idea began to gel in my mind, I sat down to write the first draft, posted it on my website, then asked for help. After revising it, I asked for help again. It took time, a lot of work, and many revisions to write this article as well as I have. That's what you need to do if you want to speak or write convincingly.
You may find helpful discussion points among the winners of the WIPOUT intellectual property counter-essay contest, which was held in response to a World Intellectual Property Organization student essay contest which asked the question "What does intellectual Property mean to you in your daily life?" The WIPOUT winners page states:
the competitive aspect of our contest was always secondary to the purpose of giving a platform to the voices who disagree with the constant expansion of Intellectual Property protection: these voices are very rarely given the opportunity to speak.
Check out Robert Nagle's piece on why music can be shared. It comes with some tips on how to share music.
There may be times you find that your speech is unwelcome, that you are ashamed of what you have to say, or you face unpleasant consequences for saying it. To give you courage, I ask you to read these words to live by: John J. Chapman's speech Make a Bonfire of Your Reputations. His words ring out as powerfully today as they did one hundred three years ago.
If you are so convinced that your vote doesn't count that you don't even vote, then you have already lost. The only way your vote doesn't count is if you don't cast it. You should be aware that a strategy candidates frequently use it to convince their opponent's supporters that their votes are pointless, so that they don't bother to go to the polls at all. Keeping voters at home is one of the objectives of negative campaign ads.
If I'm not able to convince you to vote, you might ask Al Gore why he thinks your vote counts.
Of course you must be of legal age to vote. However, anyone can do the other things in this list.
Your legislators do pay attention to the letters they receive. I'm sure if all sixty million American file traders wrote a letter to each of their Senators, their House Representative and the President, and pointed out that their vote hinged on the action they took regarding file sharing and copyright, substantial action would be taken.
Don't bother emailing them. They all get so much spam they have long since stopped paying attention to email. If you don't want to write them, you can call them on the telephone or send a fax, but because of the investment in time it takes a constituent to write a letter, politicians pay more attention to snail mail.
U.S. residents can find the addresses of their representatives at Congress.org.
During election seasons, also write to each of the candidates who are running to represent you to explain to them how they can win your vote.
Politicians who are opposed to entrenched corporate interests have a hard time raising money to pay for the advertising and travel expenses required to tell voters their message. While you may not have the money to give that, say, Disney does, there are far more of you than there are big corporations. If all sixty million American file traders each donated the price of a compact disc to a politician, and included a cover letter explaining why you were donating the money, Congress might become considerably less responsive to the corporations.
After you're done writing your letters to your congresscritters about file sharing, write another letter urging them to support campaign finance reform.
The reason Congress is in the pockets of those entrenched corporate interests I mentioned above is because the big corporations bribe the politicians. Let me be blunt - there is no other word for what they do but bribery, and don't let your representatives claim they're not on the take if they accept corporate campaign donations. As evidence of this, consider that many corporations donate comparable amounts of money to both the Republican and Democratic parties. Businesses don't do that to affect the outcome of elections. They do that to ensure that both parties, regardless of who wins any elections, represent the interests of the business.
Personally, I find it unfathomable that corporations are allowed to make campaign donations at all. No one but an individual, natural person ought to be allowed to do that.
The root of this problem lies in some established legal precedent which makes a corporation the legal equivalent of a person, so that corporations, and not just the people who work for or invest in them, are now granted the same Constitutional rights as living human beings. I think that the threat corporations pose to our fragile democracy could be eliminated by adding an amendment something like the following to our Constitution:
A corporation is not a person. No one but a natural person may donate money to a political candidate, political party or elected official.
The solutions to many of the difficult problems our country faces would be solved by eliminating the political influence of corporations. If the power of corporations is allowed to continue to grow unchecked, the threat to our nation will one day be as great as it was in the days of the Civil War.
The EFF is the nation's premier technology law civil rights organization. They have been at the forefront of legal battles to declare the Digital Millenium Copyright Act unconstitutional, to have computer program source code declared constitutionally protected free speech, and to preserve the right to be anonymous. They were instrumental in the legalization of export of cryptographic software to other countries from the U.S.A.
They are also working to defend both the publishers and users of peer-to-peer filesharing software from the RIAA lawsuits, as you can see from their Let the Music Play campaign. For example, they successfully defended Streamcast from the RIAA's lawsuit against them for publishing Morpheus.
If you do nothing else, join the EFF. It costs a lot of money to fight a lawsuit. They need your support to do it.
I assert that it's worth your while to join EFF even if you don't live in the United States, for the simple reason that it will help to stop the United States from pressuring other countries to adopt ill-advised laws like extensions of copyright terms, software patents or adoption of their own versions of the Digital Millenium Copyright Act.
one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws.
King practiced civil disobedience to give such civil rights as the right to vote to black Americans. Mahatma Gandhi practiced civil disobedience to free his country from British colonial rule and found the modern nation of India.
Civil disobedience means the nonviolent refusal to obey the law. While both King and Gandhi succeeded in fomenting revolution, they did it without firing a shot. King said, "Nonviolence is not sterile passivity, but a powerful moral force which makes for social transformation."
Civil disobedience serves several purposes:
Because any protests are nonviolent, the ferocity of the backlash of the state and the corporations against the peaceful protesters will eventually shame the oppressors into giving in to the protesters demands. Thus it is important for protestors to have unquestionably upright moral standing.
Civil disobedience is especially important in the United States (and countries with similar legal systems) because the Supreme Court does not give advisory opinions. That is, you cannot simply ask the Court to strike down an unjust law. Instead, you must actually violate the law, get arrested or sued for your crime, then defend yourself in court until your appeals reach the Supreme Court. If you can convince the Court that the law is unconstitutional, the law will be struck down.
It's a risky strategy - you might lose, and spend years in jail. You will unquestionably spend years fighting expensive and exhausting legal battles. But the payoff is quite valuable - neither Congress nor the President can overrule the Supreme Court. The Court can reverse itself, but this is very rare.
Another purpose civil disobedience serves is to make society so ungovernable that the authorities must give in to restore order. That was the case with the Vietnam War, where such acts of civil disobedience as burning draft cards and massive street protests so galvanized public opposition to the war that the United States Government was finally forced to withdraw.
I'm not saying that if you think the law sucks, you should use p2p so you can get yourself some free tunes. I'm saying that if you feel the law is so unjust that you're willing to risk your freedom to change it, then share files and be prepared to carry on your fight by facing the consequences. Invite the RIAA to your door.
Individual acts of civil disobedience don't have to be violations of the law that spend years winding their way through the courts. Simple street protests will do. For example, you could email ten thousand of your closest friends and ask them to meet you at the headquarters of a major record label. Or you could ask a million of your buddies to march on Washington with you, or the capital of another country.
When the police arrest you for blocking traffic, or gathering without a permit, don't fight back - that would be violent. Instead, resist nonviolently, by letting your body go limp, so they have to drag you off like a sack of potatoes. Ten thousand limp protestors being dragged away by the police are sure to get attention to their cause, or at least make their city ungovernable for the day.
Particularly helpful would be to install an unsecured 802.11 Wireless Access Point on your network so anyone in your neighborhood can share files with complete anonymity.
Some have suggested that it's inappropriate of me to invoke Martin Luther King's memory in defense of peer to peer file sharing. They make the reasonable argument that one cannot compare a life-and-death struggle for basic human rights to an effort to get music without having to pay for it.
My purpose is not simply to enable people to listen for free, but to enlist the aid of a group of people who have so far been inactive politically, yet who are potentially very powerful because of their considerable numbers. I feel that politically empowering the file traders will solve other, more significant problems as well.
As I said previously, I feel that the awesome political power possessed by the large corporations is the greatest challenge my nation faces. I think it is fair to say the United States is no longer a democracy, at least not effectively so. The ability of the corporations and the fabulously wealthy to purchase the favors of the politicians, and the politicians' abilities to mold public opinion with advertisements paid for by those donations concentrates my nation's political power in the hands of a very few people - a very few unelected, mostly obscure people.
In addition, the news media in the United States is owned primarily by a few large corporations who have so far demonstrated little pretense of unbiased reporting. Reports of any events are cast in a light that is favorable to the corporations, while news that doesn't support the corporate interest is not reported at all.
Reforming or even eliminating copyright is an effective first step to take towards returning power to the hands of the average voter. How much political power would AOL Time Warner or Disney have if there were no longer any legal foundation for intellectual property?
In Renegade Networks - The Grapevine Manifesto, Stephen Blackheath makes the case that the power of today's corporations stems not from their ability to manufacture useful products but from their intellectual property:
When you boil it all down, what they basically own is a large pile of intellectual property, and stack of cash up to the ceiling to defend it with. Cash + ownership of brand name + ownership of technology = Power.
The fact that people aren't already dying in the streets in the struggle against the corporations and their intellectual property is not because the struggle is not one worth dying for, but because most people have not yet awakened to the problem.
To practice civil disobedience is not a choice to be made lightly. It carries tremendous risks. Tremendous rewards too: it's the sort of thing that gets you into history books. But while King and Gandhi will forever be revered as champions of peace and justice, they both met the same awful fate: assassination.
There are many people, notably the Free Software Foundation's Richard Stallman, who feel that the chief benefit of computers is that they enable digital information to be copied completely faithfully and without significant cost. They feel that such copying, which was not possible before computers were invented, is of such great potential benefit to society that it outweighs any benefit that might arise from our founding father's legalization of copyright to "promote the useful arts and sciences".
Stallman (or RMS as he prefers to be called) is a masterful computer programmer, and began his effort to eliminate copyright by turning copyright on its head with the creation of "copyleft" - software licenses that not only allow copying, but require it. The most well-known such copyleft license is the GNU General Public License. The GPL is the license used for the Linux operating system kernel and many of the programs that run on it.
Stallman calls copylefted computer software Free Software. "Free" is meant as in "freedom", not "without monetary charge". An unfortunate problem with the English language is that we use the word "free" to represent two distinctly different concepts. Spanish doesn't have this problem, where "Free Software" is translated as "Software Libre" rather than "software gratis".
There are "Free Documentation" licenses for writing as well, for example, the GNU Free Documentation License.
Stallman was a lone voice crying in the wilderness when he published The GNU Manifesto in 1985. The Free Software movement has grown to the point that there are now over fifteen thousand programs that are licensed with the GNU GPL listed at Freshmeat. Microsoft, the world's largest software company, and whose Windows operating system runs on 90% of the world's desktop computers, has named Linux as its number two risk (second only to the ailing economy).
To understand why Stallman's philosophy is relevant to this discussion, apply his software ideas to digital music. It is easy to argue that the primary value of digital music is that it can be copied completely faithfully, and without cost, by computers. One could even say that the benefit to society of the computer's ability to copy music this way far outweighs any benefit to society of giving creators the temporary benefit of copyright.
There are, in fact, "Free Music" licenses, such as the EFF Open Audio License. You can find music licensed under the OAL at the Open Music Registry. The Creative Commons licenses can also be used for music. You can find some at Creative Commons' Get Content page.
Lest you think that musicians would stop creating without copyright, consider that making and hearing music is a basic human need. Many musicians could no more give up playing or singing than they could breathing. Music has existed in human culture for tens of thousands of years, as long as we've been able to sing or play primitive drums. Nearly all of the great classical composers devoted their lifetimes to their art without benefit of copyright. I see no reason to believe that any less music would be played if copyright were repealed entirely.
I discuss this in more detail in my article Modern Technology and the Death of Copyright.
While copyright in its current form has outlived its usefulness to society, I don't think it ought to be eliminated entirely. I think the copyright term of fourteen years provided by the United States' first Copyright Act is about right. That would allow artists and writers to profit from their work, while the shorter term would allow you to legally share music from your favorite bands of your younger days while you are still able to enjoy them.
If you feel as I do that what I have to say here is important for others to understand, then I ask you to please help get the word out. You can do that by linking to this article from your weblog or website, posting the URL to online community message boards, and emailing the URL - http://www.goingware.com/tips/legal-downloads.html - to anyone else who you feel might benefit from reading it.
It is my objective for this article to noticably affect the outcome of the next United States federal election. I want each of the sixty million American file traders to read this article by November 2008. While many people have read it so far, and are reading it in increasing numbers, not enough people are reading it yet for it to influence the election. To get each American file trader to read this article in the two years until the election, I would need about 86,000 people to read it each day. Presently the article has about 500 readers per day, so I have a lot of work left to do.
Copying this article to your own site or community websites will encourage people to read it who might not follow a link. Posting it at web communities will also encourage followup discussion, which I'm not presently able to provide from my own site.
I would also like for every file trader in the world to read this article eventually, but most people around the world don't read English. If you are fluent in another language, you can help out your countrymen who don't read English by translating this article. I feel that my discussion of U.S. history and law are relevant even to people in other countries because of the global reach of the RIAA as well as the pressure that the United States puts on other countries to harmonize their laws with misguided U.S. ones.
The article has already been translated to Romanian.
The Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs license I have chosen for this work doesn't permit derivative works. Unfortunately a translation is a derivative work. I chose the NoDerivs option because so much of this article is an expression of my deeply held personal opinions. However, if you contact me at email@example.com I can grant you a separate license to do a translation.
You are probably able to tell that, while I recommend against sharing copyrighted music, I have no love for the Recording Industry Association of America. I feel that way not just because of their legal harrassment of those who publish and use file sharing software, but because the major record labels who make up the RIAA rip off the musicians who are signed with them. They're ripping you off too, every time you buy a CD.
When compact discs first appeared, they were much more expensive than vinyl LPs because there were only a couple of factories in the world that could manufacture them. The equipment to make CDs was very expensive, and the factories' production was very limited, so the cost was justified. But years later, although the cost of pressing a "glass master" compact disc has dropped to a few cents, the retail price of CDs has not dropped at all.
The RIAA sheds crocodile tears over the way the file traders rip off the musicians, but you should pay no heed to this. The musicians don't get as much money from compact disc sales as the RIAA would have you believe. In no case does the musician make significant money this way - on the average, musicians make 41 cents per CD, but do not get to keep even that until they have paid back their advance, as well as the marketing and promotion of their album. Someone just starting out may make nothing at all. The record stores only earn a couple dollars per CD. Instead, the record labels reap enormous profits.
The chief benefit of signing with a label is that the resulting publicity enables attracting more fans to live performances. Even big-name bands aren't able to just sit back and collect royalties from compact disc sales. They make their living the same way garage bands do, by living on the road - a hard, lonely life - and playing live concerts. That's why a number of top artists have announced their support for file sharing. Offerring music downloads is at least as effective at attracting fans to concerts as compact disc sales, quite possibly more so. Many top artists would love to make legal downloads of their music available on their Web sites. The reason they don't is that their record labels won't allow them to.
Allowing musicians to sell their music directly to fans, via direct sales of compact discs that the bands pay to have manufactured themselves, as well as live performances advertised through file downloads, is the greatest threat to the record labels' continued existence. They don't fear the loss of revenue that results from people downloading MP3s instead of buying compact discs. They fear the loss of their control. They fear being cut out of the picture entirely. And personally, I think we would all be better off if the major record labels were eliminated.
If we all downloaded legal music, we would no longer have to deal with the menace of the RIAA and the tedium of ClearChannel. There would be greater hope for the legions of unsigned musicians, many of whom are hardworking, talented people who live on the fringe economically, sometimes desperately so, so they can devote themselves to their music.
Our lives would also be richer for it.
See below for how to get your band's website listed.
Note: March 14, 2014 - Did you submit your link only to find I didn't list your band? I had some problems with my old email - I get boatloads of spam. If I missed your request, please send it again to my new email address firstname.lastname@example.org. I'll make sure I post your link right away.
My link goes first 'cause I wrote the page. So there.
I will give your band a free link in the above section if you offer so much as one single legal music download.
It's totally copacetic should you charge money for your track but it must be a complete song and not just a preview.
Please include the words "Legal Music Downloads Reciprocal Link" in the subject of your eMail so I will be sure to pick it out among the torrents of messages I get every single day.
Here is some sample HTML code you can copy 'n paste right into your page:
It's important that your description be brief, so that it can fit along with the name of your band on one line of text without wrapping. I expect to collect a lot of links, and don't want the page to get too big. You need an elevator pitch for your band anyway, so you might as well compose one right now.
Reciprocal linking can drive traffic to your website, which will get more fans to discover you. I discuss this in How to Promote Your Business on the Internet.
To see how a link from this particular page can benefit you, see this essay's Statistics and Keywords report. Besides being popular, it ranks highly in the Internet Search Engines for many, many queries having to do with music downloading.
I am that afraid my work keeps me very busy, so please allow a few days for me to post your link.
Copyright © 2003, 2004, 2005, 2007, 2014 Michael D. Crawford.
This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs License. To view a copy of this license, visit http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/1.0/ or send a letter to Creative Commons, 559 Nathan Abbott Way, Stanford, California 94305, USA.
Voting for Solving the Software Problem at The Programming Pages will encourage more people to read these essays.