Business Proposal: Free Musak

7 October, 2005

I had a good idea for a business tonight. It's actually close enough to what my real business does that I'm almost afraid to mention it in public. Almost, but not quite. What's the idea? Building and selling a music library for restuarants and businesses out of Creative Commons-licensed works.

With more than 50,000,000 Creative Commons-licensed works out there, there is a lot of music, and amongst that music, at least some of it is under the Attribution No Derivatives license, or a weaker one. The Attribution No-Derivatives license "allows for redistribution, commercial and non-commercial, as long as it is passed along unchanged and in whole, with credit to you."

That means that anyone can use music licensed "by-nd" in any commercial enterprise they want as long as they don't allow anyone to alter the music. The weaker licenses (Attribution Share Alike and Attribtuion) even allow you to change or remix works and still use the results commercially. This would make it free of (non-labor) cost to accumulate a library of songs which you could then package and sell to businesses like restaurants and clothing stores and malls. Since these businesses seem to be relatively "quality insensitive" when it comes to the music they play, being able to dramatically undercut the professional Musak services on price might be all that's needed to win some of the market. This proposition might be especially desirable to small businesses (like the pastry shop where I work) that have been sent nastrygrams by BMI or the other major label toadies irrationally cracking down on normal people listening to music they like. Since the legal fees in even a frivolous lawsuit are such a devastating threat to small businesses that survive from rent payment to rent payment, a cheap and safe music service might be quite appealing after reading a letter from a record label lawyer.

This would also be a total win for the people applying these licenses to their music. Artists pick such a license out of a desire to see their work heard as widely as possible. I don't think I've ever gone up to a clerk to inquire after the great song I'm hearing over the piped-in Musak, but I would definitely be pleaseantly surprised to find myself doing so.

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