Free Music For All

Irdial-Discs embraces the Free Music 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, swimming in the sea, 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 freeware, 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 record labels and musicians cannot charge for records, tapes, CDs, or files.

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 we say music, we 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 we've released, the freedom to download soundfiles of songs we've released from our servers on the Internet, the freedom to cover or improve upon a song we've released, as long as you do not profit from that copy or improvement.

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!” Also, this is an American law, and the whole world does not march to the tune of American law. The laws in your jurisdiction may or may not allow the copying of music under different circumstances. We, as the owners of the rights to our catalogue can give you permission to copy our muisic, regardless of what any law anywhere says, if that is our choice.

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 major recording industry, which exploit both artist and consumer in the interests of profit, are unethical, and we must take steps to redress the balance.

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, (this is of course only applicable to large, antiquated rock-model musicians). 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 or small label for the added bonuses of Vinyl liner notes, lyrics sheets, and packaging. Thus Free Music can be used as a marketing tool to ensure that musicians do not starve. And of course, for those forward looking and acting musicians, who do not parade around on stages like their grandfathers, Free Music is very seductive. It is a chance to reach audiences who do not adhere to the old patterns that generate fan bases, perhaps more seasoned and musically mature and ready for real innovation in music. It is these people who will more redily understand and adopt an approach where people send the label or artist a “donation”, if they found value in the music they copied, understanding the great difficulty of producing high quality mucic. This practice of donations 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. It has never been easier for people to create and sell merchandise. In fact, it can be done at no initial cost to the artist, by using services like Cafe Press.

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. In any case, the rock era, and the era of 'gigs', 'bootlegs' and 'concerts' is over, so this is not really a concern. :]

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

No, because the labels and artists will still retain all rights in order to ensure against monetary exploitation by commercial interests. Free Music can be used only for noncommercial purposes. This does not mean you cannot receive payment for commercial uses 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). No one can take your files decompress them to WAV and then release them in a compilation for sale to the public without prior consent; that would be illegal and immoral. No TV or film producion company can use your material in a production without your prior written consent. Synchronization rights are very valuable, and are an important part of an artists survival strategy under this system. Of course, these companies can download and preview your music just like everyone else, but if they desire to use it, they must pay.

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 freely expressed forms of music being released and heard by a wider audience.

Don't musicians deserve rewards for their creativity?

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.

Why are We doing this?

Our motivation has always been to provide purely expressed musical ideas to the public with zero interference from us the record label. It is a pointless waste of effort to endlessly complain about commercial radio and major labels, and for the past 25 years, people have been setting up thier own labels to make music available on thier own terms, bypassing the major label system. Now, compression and the web together give us an unprecedented opportunity to distrubute music to everyone everywhere without having to deal with the useless, non-paying, excuse making, wannabe-A&R distributors. Record distributors have been the weakest link in the independant music chain; some of them even dare dictate what records you the label can and cannot release, and depending on their enthusiasm for a particular release, your record will sell well or die a death, after which, come the inevitable excuses. Now, thankfully the era of the record distributor/record shop is over, and the new golden age of independant record labels is here.

Why do we still need record labels?

The recording of music to a high technical standard requires investment, and this investment comes from record labels. Old fashioned rock groups, large scale classical music, and all musics that require the use of expensive studios need an investment in the recording process so that musical ideas can be executed and recorded at the higest level of quality. Of course, many of the new and more interesting musics are being made at home, so these people do not need investment to record thier music. It is true however, that it is very difficult for individuals to promote themselvs and generate downloads on the web. Under the wing of a respected record label, an individual could release her music at a very well trafficed site in order to tap into a label fanbase, instead of going it alone in the wild wild wilderness (WWW). Also, record labels that have the resources will be able to promote thier artists in the traditional manner (PR, adverts and features in the printed press) generating more hits and downloads and revenues. Record labels with subpublishing agreements will also be able to collect all royalties generated worldwide from public performance and synchonization; an impossible task for the individual.

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. Finally, if you have the resources, you could support artists which have adopted the FMP by putting their sounds 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 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! Of course, you could forget making physical sound carriers altogether, and survive only on the revenues generated by downloaded files and royalties. This would be more ethical, since it does not waste the worlds resources.

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. There is no reason why the Free Music should also not produce equally excellent results.

How have you freed your music?

  1. We have set up servers on the Internet with our music; you can access the files here.
  2. We included a notice of this form with all the files that we have released*:

    Yoiu are greanted permission to copy, and distribute the musical compositions and sound recordings on this album, provided this notice is included with every copy that is made. Distribution is allowed on a noncommercial basis only. 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 included a copy of this document, which is an adaptation of the original. If you do support the Free Music Philosophy idea, and have a site on the Internet, a link back to our site would be useful. In a small sense, that statement is copylefting our music [8].

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

It will die a death. It will cease to exist. Can you say 'Pan Am'? The pimps will have their throats cut.
At last we will be able to disseminate our bold sounds unfettered.

At last we will have revenge.

The major record label's stranglehold on what kind of music gets heard by the masses will be finally broken. Music has become an institutionalised industry that churns out garbage product for the lowest common denominator. 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 the masses 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


*We used to do this, but found that it interfered with the smooth flow of files. The notices are normally detached from the files after they are unpacked. An extended ID3 format is needed to contain all the licences to properly control a track.


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?
The original version of this document.

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