August 25, 2010 | By Richard Esguerra

Musopen Wants to Give Classical Music to the Public Domain

Music lovers take note: the classical music archive Musopen needs your help to liberate some classic symphonies from copyright entanglement. Museopen is looking to solve a difficult problem: while symphonies written by Beethoven, Brahms, Sibelius, and Tchaikovsky are in the public domain, many modern arrangements and sound recordings of those works are copyrighted. That means that even after purchasing a CD or collection of MP3s of this music, you may not be able to freely exercise all the rights you'd associate with works in the public domain, like sharing the music using a peer-to-peer network or using the music in a film project.

To fix this, Musopen is asking backers to join an effort to hire a world-class orchestra to record sublime digital performances of the symphonies by the composers mentioned above. Musopen will then relinquish all rights to the recordings, giving the public the freedom to experience these works in full: to download, share, derive, and remix without limit. The fundraising campaign is taking place on Kickstarter, a site where users can pledge money to various creative projects. (Users pledge an amount towards a project, but the money doesn't actually go to the project unless the specified funding goal is reached. Kickstarter has a great explanation for their "all-or-nothing funding" design on their FAQ.)

It’s too bad such seminal, cultural works have been effectively buried by copyright interests — despite their age, ubiquity, and importance. (Note problems like this are exacerbated by discrepancies in international laws that create different "public domains" that copyright owners can exploit to stop online archives.) The Musopen campaign presents a creative solution that could help ensure that such essential music is preserved and shared for generations to come. Music lovers and copyfighters — vote with your wallet and support Museopen's work!

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