Eschew the RIAA

The Recording Industry Association of America considers you a criminal. They sue people for sharing music online, sometimes using questionable legal tactics. They also consider it illegal for you to copy music from a legally-acquired CD to a computer or MP3 player. If you run a radio station, you have to pay licensing fees to play commercial music on the air. That’s a 180-degree change from the old days, when the record companies would pay you to play their music. If you have a business, and want to have music playing in the building, you have to have a license, because some people will apparently hang out at your place of business to listen to music rather than buying a copy for themselves. The same is true if you want to have hold music on your phone system. I know I regularly call up technical support and ask them to put me on hold so I can listen to the latest tunes from my favorite artists. If you want to broadcast music over the Internet, God help you.

GuitarSome artists have figured out that the RIAA/ASCAP road is not for them. With the changing music industry, artists make more money from live performances than they do from recordings. Getting their music out there and being heard is more important than the dime they would get from an iTunes download. This has led some artists to move to Creative Commons licensing for their music.

For the uninitiated, Creative Commons is a set of licenses that allows the content creator to determine what people can do with a work. You can, for example, allow non-commercial use of a work with attribution. That means that anyone can use it for non-commercial purposes, as long as they give you credit. Different options exist for commercial use, derivative works, and restrictions on licensing of derivative works.

So, if you’re a teacher and you want to use a Creative Commons song in your class, you can. You can also put it on your web site, or include it in a podcast. You can play it in a Powerpoint presentation. You don’t have to worry about whether it’s fair use. You don’t have to go through the ridiculous guidelines to determine whether you’re going to go to jail. You can just use the work.

Where do you find this music? Well, there are close to 8,000 albums on Jamendo. That might be a good place to start. Podsafe Audio also has quite a collection of Creative Commons music. There’s also a smaller collection on Opsound. CC Hits is a Digg-style site where users rate Creative Commons music. And the Internet Archive has a pretty large collection of CC audio, including quite a bit of music. If that’s still not enough, you can also download four years’ worth of music showcased at the annual South by Southwest conference.

It occurred to me that I could download a bunch of this music, and then use it in my district. We have a public access cable channel, for example, that doesn’t have any audio. We could use the CC music there. We could also use it as the hold music for our phone system. There are lots of places where it’s nice to have some music available, and even nicer when you can do it without going to jail. I could even stream this stuff, and then anyone could access it.

But I don’t need to. There are already streams available. Musopen has a stream of CC classical music that would be very nice for these applications. ISG also has a stream of CC music, though it mixes all of the genres together. I’m sure there will be more of these springing up as the quality and selection of Creative Commons Music continues to improve.