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New Music Copyright Based Upon “Free” Software Model

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Harvard Ph.D. candidate Derrick Ashong thinks he has a better way:

    Ashong, a Ph.D. student in Afro-American Studies and Ethnomusicology, is also CEO of ASAFO Productions, a talent agency that represents new, up-and-coming musical performers – like the funk/harmony/R&B group Ashong himself sings with, Soulfege.

    But ASAFO Productions does more than simply represent its clients. It offers them a new way of getting their music out to the public that just might revolutionize the music industry.

    ASAFO’s secret weapon is a new way of licensing music called the FAM License, an acronym standing for “Freedom, Access, Music.”

    ….The terms of the license are so liberal, they might be summed up as “steal this song.” But there is more to the idea than just anarchic generosity.

    The license allows anyone to copy and distribute the music commercially or noncommercially in a modified or unmodified form. The only stipulation is that the artistic credits for the original composition must accompany all subsequent copies.

    But why would musicians want to give their music away? The answer is simple: exposure.

    ….What people can do with music licensed under FAM is basically pass it around – download it from the Internet, burn it on CDs, send it to radio disc jockeys, music promoters, and friends around the world.

    ….And yet, Ashong insists, the FAM license does not prevent musicians from making money from their music. They can still sell CDs themselves, a far more profitable way of marketing their music than signing with a big company. They can also perform live, which is how most musicians make the greatest portion of their income, and because of the wider notoriety the FAM license will gain for them, the offers for gigs should come in greater quantities.

    And because the FAM license only licenses recorded music, not songs, songwriters will still be able to profit from their work if their compositions become popular.

    ….In designing the FAM license, Ashong and his colleagues consulted with some of the pioneers in the free software field and are convinced that the music industry, which has been losing money for the last few years, is in need of a similar approach.

    “There’s no working model right now for artists to get paid for what they do,” said David Brunton ’97, a partner in a Washington, D.C.-based software development firm, Plusthree, as well as a partner in ASAFO. “The only model is one that allows five record labels to barely stay afloat.”

    In the three and a half years ASAFO Productions has been in existence, all those involved have learned a tremendous amount about the music industry, how it operates, and most important of all, what happens next. Brunton isn’t quite willing to predict the future, but he believes that the FAM License concept has a good chance of being part of it.

    “It’s an unproven model in the recording industry, but it’s worked phenomenally well in the software industry. If it eclipses the mainstream model or just remains an alternative, it will still be a great success.” [Harvard Gazette]

We are beginning to see an outline of the future music biz come together: with income from a broadband access pool, selling their own CD’s, songwriting royalties, live performance fees, and merchandising, we could create something that doesn’t exist right now – a middle class of musicians. Right now we have a small elite plutocracy and a whole lot of peasants – no wonder the current system is rotting from the inside. No free society can exist without a strong middle class.

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About Eric Olsen

  • http://www.slumdance.com/blogs/brian_flemming/ Brian Flemming

    Here here, Eric.

    I’ve been so obsessed with the war I haven’t posted or commented on the copyright issues that have popped up often here. But I’m beginning to feel I should, especially as it is the one topic on which you and I probably agree close to 100%.

    Later this year, I plan to launch an organization called Free Cinema, which will have two rules: 1) No money may be spent on the production of the film, and 2) The film must be copylefted.

    I did an interview yesterday about Free Cinema and, as usual, the reporter just didn’t get it. “How can you make any money?” The reporter just couldn’t understand that most revenue streams available to a copyrighted work are still available to a copylefted work. It just has the added benefit of having other copies out there, virally reproducing, so as to raise awareness for the product. (There is an article on a different subject that serves as a preview of Free Cinema up at my site.)

    I’ve also “open-sourced” my movie, Nothing So Strange. Although I really have no idea if this will eventually mean anything. Experimentation with copyright is important in and of itself, I think, so we just did it to see what happens.

    I think the major media companies will fight a compulsory-license model tooth and nail. As you point out, it will democratize their industries, and that just isn’t in their interest. The film-industry creative guilds will not be much help in the overall fight, either–the DGA, WGA, SAG all support the standard line on copyright. I’m a member of the WGA, and I can’t get anyone at any functions to pay attention to me–the “protect copyright at all costs forever” dogma is simply ingrained. (“Oh, I get it–you’re a communist” is a common reaction.) And there really isn’t a desire for an open debate on the matter. I’m also a member of ASCAP. When the head of ASCAP wrote a piece in the org’s magazine praising the Supreme Court’s recent decision in Eldred v. Ashcroft, I wrote back a brief letter expressing a contrary point of view. I asked both for a reply and for the magazine to print the letter. I got neither.

    I’ve never seen the pro-freedom point of view articulated in any publication by any creative guild–not even as a tiny little sidebar, 50 token words, whatever. It is utterly absent. The assumption is that every artist agrees that a hard, Valenti-dogma line on copyright is the best thing for all artists.

    This is one of the things that distresses me the most about this battle–we’re fighting it without many of the artists’ organizations that should be our allies.

  • Eric Olsen

    Brian, Thanks for the kind words and I very much admire your putting your baby where your mouth is, so to speak. This is brave and I hope yields fruit for you. Please keep us informed.

  • http://rvguitars.blogspot.com/ VRaths

    I think we need some more information …