Should We Set Chopin Free? A Campaign Looks To Set Music of a Romantic-Era Composer Free From What is Calls “Copyright-Shaped Shackles”
A recent Kickstarter campaign titled “Set Chopin Free” was created to set free the music of 19th century Romantic composer Frederic Chopin from what it describes as its “copyright-shaped shackles”. Although Chopin died over 164 years ago only printed copies of his sheet music are available to the public for free. The recordings of Chopin’s concertos, chamber pieces, sonatas, waltzes and all of his music are copyrighted. An article by the Huffington Post states that this is with very good reason because charging for this music allows the musicians who perform on these recordings to make a living. However, the founder of the “Set Chopin Free” Kickstarter campaign, Aaron Dunn, believes that by copyrighting classical music you restrict the free use of it and are therefore restricting access and exposure. Dunn is part of MusOpen a non-profit organization focused on improving access and exposure to music by creating free research and educational materials. MuseOpen states that their core mission is to “set music free”. MusOpen provides recordings, sheet music, and textbooks to the public for free, without copyright restrictions.
Dunn and MusOpen are only a few representations of many who think that cultural works like those of Chopin should belong to the public, especially when the author or composer had died almost two centuries ago.
The Kickstarter campaign has already surpassed its fundraising goal of $75,000 and states that it intends to hire professional musicians to record of all Chopin’s works and will make them freely available to the public for downloading. MusOpen has already done work like this through other Kickstarter campaigns, including a 2010 campaign that raised more than six times its goal that resulted in providing free classical music and making it easily available on the organizations website. Completed last summer this campaign resulted in the public-domain recordings of significant classical compositions such as Beethoven’s third symphony, all four Brahms symphonies, Bach’s Goldberg variations, and many more.
According to an article in The Atlantic Dunn said that MusOpen’s recordings have since been used on TV shows, commercials, Wikipedia pages, as well as less conventional locations like hold music on phone calls and played in waiting rooms (including possibly the New York State assembly). Dunn believes that the support for his campaigns has not come from the traditional classical music base but instead from a younger generation like USC film students who otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford to pay for music licenses.
Dunn says that he hopes to foster an appreciation for classical music amongst the younger generation. He says that “[a] young person just starting to explore classical music, without even knowing if they like it, would have to spend close to $100 or more on CDs to get the equivalent of what we released for free”. The Daily Dot quoted Dunn as saying that “[Musopen] want[s] to celebrate this incredible music” and that “making it free makes it more approachable to non-classical listeners to try something new.”