Free Classical Music For Everyone? Why That's Just Plain Old-Fashioned Communism!

I get a lot of calls to my radio show asking if someone can use “classical” music in a film or podcast or something without permission since it’s so old. Seasoned listeners to Barely Legal Radio know that you can use the composition because it is in the public domain if it is from the classical period (1550 to 1900?) but you must get permission to use copyrighted recordings of these, or any works, regardless of whether they are in the public domain. Somehow this doesn’t sit well with some people.

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According to Richard Esguerra from The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), a group is “doing something about this “problem. The organization “Musopen” is raising money from “philanthropists” to create high quality digital recordings of works from masters such as Beethoven and Brahms so that they can “generously” donate these recordings to the public domain so that no one will have to worry about licensing recordings of them ever again.

Does this sound nice to you? If it does, you are forgetting one thing.You are forgetting that if these recordings have some commercial value it creates a market for them which not only employs musicians, it encourages better and better recordings and orchestrations that benefit all of society. Destroy their commercial value, and you destroy a lot more than you realize.

Is it that offensive to these people that musicians should get paid for mastering their chosen instruments and making the sacrifices necessary to become a professional? Or is it crazy if someone gets a return on an investment to undertake the enormous task of recording a 100 plus person orchestra? Carried to it’s logical conclusion, someday all classical recordings will be in the public domain so this faction of the recording industry can just shut down. Now you can tell your kids not to waste time learning the cello, because there’s no way to earn anything from the sacrifice, so don’t go to orchestra practice. It’s a waste of time.

Esguerra laments that everyone can’t freely do things like use classical music in films because it has to be licensed. So we should let people make films and sell them and keep all the money instead of giving some to the musicians and encouraging their pursuit of these arts? Esguerra writes, “It’s too bad such seminal, cultural works have been effectively buried by copyright interests — despite their age, ubiquity, and importance.”

Can you believe this? Why not hire sound alikes to record all the works of the Buena Vista Social Club so we can get around paying those suckers. We can avoid paying at least 1/2 of what we used to have to pay to license their works. They’re seminal, why not? Esguerra actually calls this a “creative solution” to the problem of having to pay for the rights these musicians have obtained by sweat and talent. Does he also agree that waiting until midnight with a brick in your hand is a “creative solution” to the problem of having to pay for a plasma TV as well?

When my late Uncle Frank used to hear stuff like this he used to blurt out, “That’s just plain old fashioned communism!” That may be naive but it’s all I can think of to explain the lunacy. My band played in communist East Germany once. I see a bland world of music coming if those ideas make a comeback. I still have nightmares about the “boiled wheat” they served us to celebrate our musical triumphs there.

And please don’t confuse this with the concept of “music should be free” because we’re in a “new era,” etc. It is nothing like that. My band The Vandals allow many unauthorized uploads on YouTube and other places as a measure of good will, we don’t run around and bust infringers routinely. We get it, they listen, they might come to a show or push some kind of demand for us. Musopen is not a part of that movement, make no mistake. They are extremists trying to deprive honest working people of what they already earned to spite them for having the audacity to charge for their services.

The EFF calls for “music lovers” to support them with their wallets. This isn’t for music lovers, it’s for music killers. I actually used to have respect for EFF. I thought they were an important part of the debate but this is off the deep end. They’ve officially lost me, and the Barely Legal Radio program. I’ll be talking more about this on Sunday’s KFWB show. I’d love to know what the Big Hollywood readers think about this.

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