Many musicians actively promote the copying of their music.
AGNULA Libre Music is an archive of
music that is not just free to share, but
free to change - the tracks must have the
Creative Commons Attribution-Sharealike
or EFF Open Audio License to be hosted there.
What sort of DVD Audio format would AGNULA's
musicians like to distribute their music on? (AGNULA stands for "A GNU/Linux Audio Distribution", Free Software tools for music recording, production and composition.) How about DVD disks that are optimized
for copying, whether it be through burning physical copies or sharing on the Internet?
What I envision is a disk format that is rigorously specified so that it will work
reliably in the simplest embedded devices like car dashboard and home stereo players,
but with completely unprotected Free Lossless Audio Codec
files on them.
The reason a formal standard is needed is so that bit-for-bit perfect
copies of such a disc could easily be collected off the file sharing
networks, even if no one individual was sharing their whole disc.
Realize that DVD-R discs hold 4.7 gigabytes, so not many people
are going to leave their entire music collections on their hard drives.
There needs to be a standard so that it's completely unambiguous just
what one means when one says "Copy Optimized DVD Audio disc". It's that
clear specification that will make embedded players and perfect
peer-to-peer network copies possible. A disc containing such files could
be popped into your home stereo DVD player and made to play, copy and
share with no more user intervention than hitting a button.
A DVD can store a lot of music in FLAC format if it's just 16 bits, but
FLAC can store samples up to 32 bits. The greater storage capacity of DVD
will not only allow Copy Optimized DVD Audio music to sound better than CDs do,
but allow more channels than stereo's two, to provide surround sound or a separate
channel for each performer. They would sound like one had front-row seats to a live concert, including the faint echo off the back wall of the concert hall.
(I just discovered
how to make cue file backups with FLAC so I can also back up my collection in a way that enables me to recover damaged CDs faithfully.
I've lost several CDs to bad scratches and even a couple to my dog who likes to chew things
that shouldn't be chewed.)
While most people can't hear the difference between 16 and 32 bit audio, higher-resolution samples enable one to edit audio tracks without loss of fidelity. Mixing audio tracks and applying acoustic effects loses numerical precision each time it is done. Starting with larger samples enables the final product to retain a true sixteen bits of real precision. Thus artists could encourage other performers to mix themselves into a track in such a way that it still sounds good.
But here's the key: each file will be named in a way that's optimized for file sharing,
with artist, album, title and track number right in the filename, and with all the right
metadata already embedded in the file when the album was mastered at the studio.
To share Copy Optimized music you just direct your peer-to-peer filesharing application to your
DVD drive so it will share what you're listening to, have your friends copy
the tracks onto their computers' hard drives, or else burn them copies of the whole DVD.
But wait: there's more! The DVD disk itself will have a metadata file in its root
directory that will specify the contents of the entire disk. My idea is that one
could make a bit-for-bit reconstruction of the whole disk just by grabbing this one
metadata file and then looking for the tracks on the file sharing networks. This file
would be one or two kilobytes of XML that would have each track's metadata as well as
its Secure Hash Algorithm checksum so it can be uniquely identified over the net.
Music labels that offerred such DVDs - and there are
music labels which encourage copying -
would host the metadata files for each of their albums on their websites in much the same way as
many Free Music sites now host Bit Torrent files.
(Don't have Bit Torrent yet? Download it right now.)
The music labels wouldn't have to offer music file downloads if they couldn't supply the
bandwidth or technical expertise, because those who possessed the DVDs could supply the actual bits.
It is extremely important that the Copy Optimized DVD Audio format be rigourously
specified in a technical document that has passed through an extensive review process.
That will encourage embedded player manufacturers to support it, just as
they have begun to support the
Ogg Vorbis format. Perhaps all the aspects that have to do with
networking, like the contents of the disk-spec metadata and a standardized way
to share Copy Optimized DVD Audio disks over the Internet could be specified
by the Internet Engineering Task Force.
Importantly, the disc and file metadata would explicitly specify a license, even
if it's just "All Rights Reserved". Creative Commons already explains
how to mark an MP3 with its license.
Most musicians don't know that if they don't explicitly supply a license, they
implicitly forbid others to share their music. It's important to make the
terms of music licenses just as rigorously clear as they are for Free Software. Easy to use
Software tools for marking and verifying music file licenses are provided by Creative Commons.
Many audio players already offer networking capability, for example to stream Internet radio. Imagine if you will: the Copy Optimized DVD Audio Format would enable networked audio players to recognize the license of each track and, if it permitted copying, share it on the peer-to-peer networks as long as the disk was inserted.
Now, imagine what this would do to the copy-protected form of DVD Audio. On the one
hand, you could get very high quality recordings of all the top pop stars that way.
On the other hand, if you wanted to listen to the same tracks on your portable player
you would have to pay separately to download copy-protected files from a commercial music
download site, or maybe there would be some process of obtaining a license online that
could transfer a low-quality file from a DVD to a player in such a way that Warner Records'
intellectual property rights could be preserved.
Or, you could listen to indy bands who really are a
lot more creative and
forward thinking than the tedious crap that the big record labels
and the Clear Channel Radio Monopoly continuously
force upon us, and you wouldn't have to deal with any expensive hassles to listen to it
on your portable player, in your car, to burn to regular CDs for your antique players,
or to share with your friends or over the Internet.
I assert this would prevent copy-protected DVD Audio from succeeding in the
marketplace. Maybe the industry consortium behind the present standardization
efforts wouldn't supply the metadata to discourage copying, but I expect they wouldn't get
very far if no one would buy their damn copy-protected discs. In the long run I expect
they would remove the encryption so they have some hope of selling anything at all.
I'm very sorry but I have an awful lot on my plate and I simply don't have the time
to organize and run a standards committee. I could help, but I also don't have the background required to write a proper standards document: technical standards are notoriously difficult to get right, with the cost of failure being products that don't always work reliably, often leading to disastrous failure in the marketplace. (I can promise I will write a CD ripper that's a lot better
to use than any that I've tried so far, and place it under the
GNU General Public License. Frankly I cannot comprehend what anyone finds
appealing about iTunes, it drives me bananas and is buggy as all get-out.)
On Eating One's Own Dog Food
I want to explain why the Copy Optimized DVD Audio format is important to me
personally. You see, I am a musician. Not a professional one, not yet, but
that is my goal. I feel I must make my music as free as the wind.
If you like piano music, you can download my album
Geometric Visions. It's just in MP3 format but now that I finally have an Ogg Vorbis toolchain
set up I'll go make Oggs, maybe they'll be there by the time you read this.
I once had a very proprietary license notice on my music but I spent over a year contemplating
copylefting it, ever since I discovered AGNULA Libre Music. It was a painful decision,
but I finally took the plunge just this very moment: while working on this proposal I
took a break to place my entire album under the
Creative Commons Attribution-Sharealike 2.5 License.
I've been learning Lilypond so I can publish the
scores soon. I'll be copylefting them, the source code to my music, as well.
I'm not the only one who feels this way. For example, Kuro5hin member
Dac Chartrand is a Montreal music producer who owns the new record label
Trotch. Dac's a pretty forward thinking guy as he
offers free downloads of some of his label's music and actively encourages those who
purchase his CDs to share them. Trotch's launch party
is on September 8th at Sapphir's Mix Thursday at 3699 St-Laurent, Montreal if you're in the area.
The band Fitehouse published the
Fitehouse General Public Music License (PDF) that was inspired by the GNU GPL in that it requires
one to supply the source to recordings along with any copies. In this case the "source code" is
the raw, unmixed studio tracks from which the recording was created, so that one could mix one's
own version of a song.
The first FGPMLed song is "Running Scared" which appears on their EP
The Bomb. At the bottom of that page
are links to ten uncompressed WAV files of about fifty megabyes apiece, being the original
studio recordings from which Running Scared was mixed.
A Call To Arms
I feel, and many musicians agree, that to copy music isn't wrong. What is an awful crime is that Music, the very heart and soul of our culture, has somehow become the property of a few huge, faceless corporations who use it only to serve their own greedy ends. We must work together to free this beautiful creature, our Music, from its chains.
Michael D. Crawford
Tilting at Windmills for a Better Tomorrow.
Copyright © 2005 Michael David Crawford. This work is licensed under a
Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.5 License.