The Free Music Philosophy (v1.4)

and the Free Music Movement that arose in part from this philosophy.

What is the Free Music Philosophy (FMP)?

It is an anarchistic grass-roots, but high-tech, system of spreading music: the idea that creating, copying, and distributing music must be as unrestricted as breathing air, plucking a blade of grass, or basking in the rays of the sun.

What does it mean to use the term "Free Music"?

The idea is similar to the notion of Free Software [1], and like with Free Software, the word "free" refers to freedom, not price. Specifically, Free Music means that any individual has the freedom of copying, distributing, and modifying music for personal, noncommercial purposes. Free Music does not mean that musicians cannot charge for records, tapes, CDs, or DATs.

The above definition of Free implies that any tangible object cannot be made free. However, something that can be copied arbitrarily many times, like music, should be set free. When I say music, I mean the expression of ideas (in the form of a musical composition or a sound recording) on some medium, and not the medium itself. Thus you have the freedom to make a copy of a CD I've created, the freedom to download soundfiles of songs I've created from my server on the Internet, the freedom to cover or improve upon a song I've written, but you are not necessarily entitled to free CDs.

Why must we Free Music?

Music is a creative process. Today, when a musician publishes music, i.e., exposes it to the outside world, only a privileged set of individuals are able to use the music as they please. However, the artist has drawn from the creativity of many other musicians and there is an existential responsibility placed upon them to give this back unconditionally, so creativity is fostered among people. As a dissenting opinion in the Vanna White vs. Samsung case [2], Judge Kozinski writes:

All creators draw in part on the work of those who came before, referring to it, building on it, poking fun at it; we call this creativity, not piracy.

Isn't free copying of music infringing copyright law?

The Audio Home Recording Act (AHRA) [3], states:

No action may be brought under this title alleging infringement of copyright based on the manufacture, importation, or distribution of a digital audio recording device, a digital audio recording medium, an analog recording device, or an analog recording medium, or based on the noncommercial use by a consumer of such a device or medium for making digital musical recordings or analog musical recordings.
A literal reading of the law indicates that individuals can make copies of music recordings for personal noncommercial use and cannot be sued for copyright infringement (at least as far as those devices listed above are used). The message we get from this law is "Music listeners, start copying!"

Why is the Audio Home Recording Act of 1992 inadequate?

It is inadequate because the entire ethical basis of copyright law with respect to music has been perverted---free copying, and other uses, of music is ethical even if it is not legal. The main motivation for the law being passed is due to a tariff that is imposed on blank Digital Audio Tapes (DATs). The tariff goes back to the music industry in order to compensate the supposed loss of profits that arise as a result of unauthorised home taping. But the majority of the funds collected goes not to the creators of the music, but to the record companies! See Richard Stallman's The Right Way to Tax DAT for more information [4]. Thus it makes sense to follow the Free Music Philosophy and encourage direct reimbursement to the artist rather than go through a bureaucratically-entangled and unbalanced system.

Why is freeing music the ethically right thing to do?

First, limiting your creativity to specific audiences, especially based on monetary reasons, is shirking existential responsibility and destructive to society as a whole; today, when people create, they're creating by standing on the shoulders of giants. Second, it's fair that people pay for music only if they like it after listening to it first; the present system does not allow for this for all forms of music. Third, in order to prevent "illegal" copies from being made, a tremendous burden (restricting legitimate expression) must be placed on all individuals to circumvent what is human nature. This is a rather impossible task and is probably the reason the AHRA was passed in the first place. Fourth, the derivative works clause prevents the incorporation of your own ideas to enhance other people's expressions, and this is abridges the free exchange of ideas and information. Finally, the current practices of the recording industry, which exploit both artist and consumer in the interests of profit, are unethical, and one must take steps to force changes.

What about the intellectual property rights of the individual?

Intellectual property and other such "rights" have essentially existed to benefit society rather than the individual. The U.S. Constitution, for example, states that the purpose of Copyright is "to promote the progress of science and useful arts." The Free Music Philosophy ensures that both society and the individual benefit. The individual's creative freedom is completely unabridged. This freedom is more important than any "right" society could give. To quote Stallman [1]:

"Control over the use of one's ideas" really constitutes control over other people's lives; and it is usually used to make their lives more difficult.

Won't musicians starve to death if they freed their music?

Musicians currently make money through a variety of sources: sales of records, merchandise and concert tickets, and royalties from commercial airplay. Freeing music will certainly not be detrimental to the sales of merchandise and concert tickets, nor will it affect compulsory or performance royalties. If anything, it will improve sales since people will continue supporting artists they like by going to their concerts and buying their merchandise. Profits from record sales will also not be affected because people will be encouraged to buy directly from the artist for the added bonuses of liner notes, lyrics sheets, and packaging. Thus Free Music can be used as a marketing tool to ensure that musicians do not starve. An approach where people send the artist a "donation", if they found value in the music they copied, is another way to make money in a direct fashion. This could become an ingrained practice in society, like tipping, where even though there is no enforced requirement to tip for various services, people do anyway.

What about copying music at concerts?

Copying music at concerts, at least for personal noncommercial use, should not be restricted. Chances are, most recordings that people make at concerts are not going to be of high quality, but some will be. These recordings can then be collected, assembled, and released by the artist, much the way the Butthole Surfers have bootlegged themselves. Here, there is some sort of a selection pressure for the best songs recorded live and it is a great way to obtain low-cost material for a future live album.

Won't record companies exploit musicians who make Free Music?

No, because the artist will still retain enough rights in order to ensure against monetary exploitation by commercial interests. Free Music can be used only for noncommercial purposes. In order to have total freedom, music must be free for commercial purposes also. This does not mean you cannot receive payment for commercial uses of your music. This means that you have no control over the nature of the commercial use of your music. Fortunately, with respect to music, there already exists some of this freedom (in the form of compulsory mechanical licenses and the public performance model). While there could be more freedom in music in this regard, I have left this as an optional issue.

Won't talented and dedicated musicians give up music because there's a possibility they won't be multi-millionaires?

Consider the fact that except for a few hundred musicians who are on top of the billboard charts, the chances of making a living by record sales in the present system are very low. This system cannot be worse for most musicians. In fact, this is an excellent reason to justify the statement that most musicians perform and record with creativity as the primary motivation---any money-minded person can easily use their talents in other fields to increase the probability of actually making some. Thus the source of talented music will never dry up. What we might actually see is more creative and self-indulgent forms of music being perpetuated.

Shouldn't musicians deserve rewards for their creativity?

The greatest reward musicians should have is their own music and nothing else. According to a study reported in the 19, January 1987 issue of the Boston Globe, Alfie Kohn reports on a psychological study that shows that creativity diminishes if it's done for gain [5]. He writes: "If a reward - money, awards, praise, or winning a contest - comes to be seen as the reason one is engaging in an activity, that activity will be viewed as less enjoyable in its own right. With the exception of some behaviorists who doubt the very existence of intrinsic motivation, these conclusions are now widely accepted among psychologists." It follows then that the best music I've heard to date is from artists, who are struggling to make ends meet working two jobs, who are doing their music with an inherent passion and a desire to share it with people, and not because they have a contract to do so.

Shouldn't musicians ask rewards for their creativity?

Sure they can. As a musician, I'm happy when someone appreciates my creativity and shows it in some form. But I also do not believe that musicians should want rewards in ways that restrict the spread of music. As Stallman writes [1]:

the desire to be rewarded for one's creativity does not justify depriving the world in general of all or part of that creativity.

But the above question is worded wrong. It should be: Should record companies, controlling people's activities in order to achieve monetary gains, make every music lover pay them in the name of musicians as long as they give back a small fraction of what they make in order to justify the charade?

I think not.

Why am I doing this?

My personal motivation is to see more self-indulgent and noncommercial forms of music spread around so creativity is enriched. Why should corporate labels and commercial radio decide what we get to hear and make millions of dollars by exploiting artists? Why not let the people who love music decide for themselves?

What should you, as a musician, do?

If you are a like-minded independent artist not wanting corporate controls interfering with your creativity, and would like more freedom in society, then this is a way to spread your music widely. If your music is different and you don't think it has much chance of being spread on commercial radio then you can try the Free Music Philosophy. If you are tired of commercial interests controlling what is heard by the people and you want the people to decide for themselves, this is one path you can take. Finally, this way you could be on a major label or an indie and your integrity isn't compromised since you're giving your fans what they want.

What should you, as a music fan, do?

If the freedom of copying and using music appeals to you and you would like the idea spread around, then when you copy a album of anyone, regardless of whether they follow this philosophy or not, send them a donation to enable them to continue their making of music. What you contribute should be dependent on what the music was worth to you. You could also go to the artist's concerts or buy releases and merchandise directly from the artist. Finally, if you have the resources, you could support band(s) which have adopted the FMP by putting their music on the Internet. Support the music you like in some way! (This is independent of the notion of Free Music.)

Why will the Free Music Philosophy work?

In this digital age, the quality of home recordings have substantially increased, to a point where "perfect" replicas of audio recordings are made easily. Recordings can thus be spread around without the need for major distribution. If the music is good, it will spread far more rapidly, in an almost exponential fashion, rivalling the distribution power of a major record label. Further, the Internet allows for a even greater distribution. If you consider the approach that asks for donations, listed above, you could, in theory, make more money than by being on a major label, and still retain all the creative freedom possible. You will be eliminating all the middlemen and be able to provide CDs for prices four times cheaper than what they are sold for, and still make more profit per CD sold than you would by being on a major label!

The freeware idea in terms of computer software, which operates under similar principles, has worked [6]. Consider the fact that the best written pieces of computer software are also software that can be copied without restriction (this includes Linux, and all the GNU software, and various software related to making music like sound format converters, sequencers, and multitrack recorders). Further, there is a thriving commercial sector based on the distribution of free software. I see no reason why the Free Music should also not produce equally excellent results.

How does one go about freeing music?

  1. Set up a server on the Internet with your music, or deposit your soundfiles in a Free Music Archive (FMA) where people can access your music over the net. I am currently compiling a list of sites that will let you store your music files [7].
  2. Include a notice of this form with all records, tapes, CDs, and DATs you sell/give away:

    Permission to copy, modify, and distribute the musical compositions and sound recordings on this album, provided this notice is included with every copy that is made, is given for noncommercial use. If you obtained this by making a copy, and if you find value in this music and wish to support it, please send a donation based on whatever you thought the music was worth to the address given on this notice.

    and include a copy of this document if you wish. If you do support the Free Music Philosophy idea, and have a site on the Internet, a link back to this site would be useful. In a sense, that statement is copylefting your music [8].

The donation request is an optional one. Restricting it to noncommercial uses is also optional (see below).

It's easy for you to say all this, but are you a musician? Do you realise the difficulty of maintaining a day job and making music at the same time?

Yes, I consider myself a musician (though some may debate classifying what I make as "music"). I am indeed consistent with the philosophy I've outlined above. The name of my band is TWISTED HELICES and my music can be copied off of the Internet without restriction [5]. I don't use copyright law to restrict commercial for-profit copying and use without requiring payment which results in greater freedom for the music I create (though even if I required payment, the freedoms I speak of in this manifesto will still exist). I make music by sacrificing many things, sleep being primary among them. There is definitely more of a sense of fulfillment when you do something because you love it and not because you are obligated to. It is not as though I have a great day job and I'm preaching to you all. It's completely to the contrary. I am completely existential in this regard (I would not copy other people's music if I minded them copying mine). Write me personally if you want me to justify this more to you.

What will happen to the music industry in this digital age?

You, the artist, will have more power with your recordings with this approach. You can be as creative as you want and spread your music around and no one can stop you, as they did with Nirvana's In Utero, and say that you need to change the production on this album because it won't sell as is. Perhaps we can then see individual music instead of music for the masses. Given the nature of how you can spread your music around the Internet, you will be enriching the amount of information in the net as well as reaching audiences in ways you've never dreamt of before!

In a more futuristic sense, the major record label's stronghold on what kind of music gets heard by the people will be broken. Music has become an institutionalised industry that churns out musical product. The music industry restricts copying and other uses of music in order to maximise profit, but this comes at a great cost, that of abridging the spread of creativity. This will change. It is now possible for performers to spread their musical message directly to fans via high-technology, thus enriching the artist and the music world in all possible ways. Music is about creative and passionate ideas. Not product.

That ideas should freely spread from one to another over the globe, for the moral and mutual instruction of man, and improvement of his condition, seems to have been peculiarly and benevolently designed by nature, when she made them, like fire, expansible over all space, without lessening their density at any point, and like the air in which we breathe, move, and have our physical being, incapable of confinement or exclusive appropriation.---Thomas Jefferson


The GNU Manifesto by Richard Stallman.
2. White vs. Samsung Electronics America, Inc., 971 F.2d 1395
See dissenting opinion by Judge Kozinski.
The section in title 17 (copyrights) chapter 10 about the prohibition of certain infringement actions.
The Right Way to Tax DAT by Richard Stallman.
A Boston Globe Article problematizing the notion of rewards.
The official GNU/Free Software Foundation www site.
List of sites where you can free your music (and those that support it).
What is Copyleft?

Free Music || Ram Samudrala ||