How to protect my music?
February 20, 2008 10:48 AM   Subscribe

How to protect my music on the internet? Or elsewhere.

I've always wanted to start releasing my music through the internet but I have this irrational fear that they will be stolen or used without my permission or credit.

I'm not necessarily talking about copyrighting everything. That's exactly what I don't want to do. I know of people giving their music away through their myspace and/or website. Like this guy.

I wouldn't even care if they torrented my stuff. As long as I am given credit and people know it's my music. My friends that have my music all tell me they want me to keep composing but I don't even want to give it to them! Not because of them, but because of how easy it is to distribute digital music.

So, again, I know it's an irrational fear but I guess I'm just looking for reassurance that my babies don't get corrupted.

How can I protect my music? Or what would you say to this concern I have?
posted by theholotrope to Media & Arts (14 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I say look to darling Jonathan Coulton, who releases his music as non-protected MP3s, and offers fans the ability to pay for his songs, which they do often enough that he is able to make music full-time and support his family.

Do lots of people acquire his music without paying? Most certainly. Do lots of people pay for his music? Yes.
posted by bryanjbusch at 10:54 AM on February 20, 2008

Make sure your music is thoroughly tagged so that, when it ends up in some random music collection somewhere, iTunes can still display your name rather than "unknown".
posted by aramaic at 11:00 AM on February 20, 2008

if you're in the USA, automatic copyright applies. You'd need to go to extra trouble to make it not-copyrighted. Just because something is copyrighted doesn't mean it has DRM slathered on it.

Your concern is not irrational, in fact, if your music achieves any popularity at all, it's entirely likely that it will be redistributed without credit, with improper credit, or used in ways you wouldn't support. You need to decide whether your dread of these things happening outweighs the reward you would feel from having people enjoy your music.

If you wanted to be able to prove authorship of some random MP3 you found floating around at that had your metadata stripped out, you'd probably need to embed audio watermarks in your music before letting it loose. Beyond that, you don't have much control. DRM is pretty ineffective, and it does nothing to prevent many forms of unauthorized use (such as commercial use, or use in contexts the creator would not approve of).
posted by adamrice at 11:01 AM on February 20, 2008

It's pretty simple - if people can listen to your music they can steal your music. Whatever you do to try to stop people making unauthorised copies they can always just take the audio output from their soundcard and record it.

I'm not necessarily talking about copyrighting everything.
I don't get this - you already have copyright to it, you made it!
posted by muteh at 11:02 AM on February 20, 2008

Best answer: I think you're asking a question that no one's been able to answer completely.

The reality is that, so long as someone can *hear* your music, they can likely steal it and use it for their own purposes. Despite all the DRM labels try (and find that people hate), if you can hear something, you can record it. Naturally, quality takes a hit when you start doing things like capturing streams and such.

The way I look at it is such: Establish the music is yours. Do this by publishing it as a stream on MySpace. Make it clear that the rights are yours and that while you may offer it for download, it may not be used in any creative ways without speaking to you.

No one is going to run a commercial with a song they're no clear on the rights for. Unfortunately, that doesn't stop someone else from taking your MP3, say, and selling it as theirs. I just don't think many folks are trying that sort of fraud yet because realistically, it'd be pretty hard to stop.

My idea with the music my band is creating is to make all of it downloadable. But that's because we know we won't make money by selling it to individuals in the beginning. We're just getting started, no one's ever heard of us, so even $1 is a bit too much to ask for. At this point, the value of allowing users to download and listen to our song over and over and find that they like us, and moreover, the value to allow ANYone to hear us, including potentially people from studios or agencies or places that matter, is too great to risk having those people NOT hear us because we thought we'd get a buck. Now, a lot of people do the hybrid and offer streams on MySpace but charge for downloads through iTunes or what have you.

Establish yourself as an artist though, with a web page or MySpace and I don't think the stealing thing will be too great a concern. Tag every MP3 appropriately and let the fear go.

People download digital music all the time, sure. But they like to know who they're listening to. Make yourself easy to find by a search of your lyrics. And assume that people aren't going to, say, strip the ID3 tags and torrent your music behind your back without knowing who you are. No one knows who you are now anyway; they (strangers) don't really *want* to torrent you yet.
posted by disillusioned at 11:03 AM on February 20, 2008

Best answer: As long as you don't have physical control over how people are using to your music, you have no assurance that it's not used in ways you don't like. The Internet doesn't change this. Neither did CDs. Neither did cassette tapes. Or radio. Or sheet music.

The sanest thing you can do is not worry about the one or two that get away, and instead put good metadata/labels on your MP3s/Oggs/WMAs and know that 95% of people don't know how to change it, and of the remaining 5%, 99% wouldn't care enough to change it, and of the remainder, most would have no reason to change it.

So, relax. You can't avoid it without hoarding it, and your fears are probably unfounded anyway. Now, consider embracing it:

You have no choice about copyright. It's automatic. You can refuse to put your name on it, and you can refuse to sic the law on people who violate it, but the copyright status is already there. Now, you can license it under any terms you like, and be as free and give as many permissions as you like.

It may be a good idea, in fact. See Creative Commons licensing. It may be the way of the future.
posted by cmiller at 11:12 AM on February 20, 2008

That's great you think your work is good, but nobody's out to rip you off. Don't worry about it and release early and often.
posted by rhizome at 11:18 AM on February 20, 2008

I wouldn't even care if they torrented my stuff. As long as I am given credit and people know it's my music.

As aramaic says, distribute mp3s that you've thoroughly tagged with identifying info. The vast majority of folks who are redistributing music are doing it because they feel like listening to music (regardless of their motives re: paying for it), and they're not going to be inclined to strip or obfuscate ID3 info when that very info helps them find and organize music in the first place.

Be sure your email and website are in the comment field, so that the occasional random listeners who decides that they want to hear more of your stuff or that they want to get ahold of you can do so easily.

There's nothing realistically you can do to protect your music from folks with malicious intention other than never making it available in the first place. You have to put the stuff out there with the understanding that you're relinquishing some degree of control no matter what; better, then, to focus your energy on maximizing the upsides rather than worrying (and yes, it's largely paranoia) about the downsides.
posted by cortex at 11:19 AM on February 20, 2008

I have this irrational fear that they will be stolen or used without my permission or credit.

ID3 Tags can be altered, stripped, or overwritten. For true proof of pwnership, take a page from Aphex Twin's playbook, and embed an encoded image into the tracks themselves. Then, set the free.
posted by mumkin at 11:25 AM on February 20, 2008 [2 favorites]

THEM free. sheesh.
posted by mumkin at 11:32 AM on February 20, 2008

How can you protect your music? You can keep it to yourself, never recording it or performing it for others - which, by the way, would be sad. Aside from that, you can't really protect it.

I knew a guy who turned on the radio one day while driving down the street and heard a band he'd never heard of playing a song his band had been shopping to labels. That happened in the 60s, but if you google around you'll find plenty of similar examples (usually lifting a hook or something like that), and some of them end up in the courts.

That being said - you, as a musician, aren't a song. You're a constantly growing body of work. Actually, you're far more than that.

I think disillusioned posted some superb advice. Make sure your music is ripped at a good sounding bit-rate (at least 192) and make sure it's tagged! Add notes in the comments tag including the link of your website. Definitely get a website, and a myspace page too.

Your greatest asset isn't your songs. Your greatest asset is YOU, so get as much exposure as you can. Share your music and make it as easy as possible for people who enjoy it to find more.
posted by 2oh1 at 11:35 AM on February 20, 2008

"Audio Watermarking"--isn't this what s-n-o-o-p to the d-o-double-g does in every single song? If your full name is the chorus, you're all set!

Mind you, this seems to work better in some genre than others...
posted by Squid Voltaire at 1:06 PM on February 20, 2008

+1 to disillusioned's advice.

Make sure you establish a strong internet presence. You could do this with MySpace but it's much better to get your own domain and website.

If someone hears your song and likes it, they're very likely to go to Google and search for you. You want to own that top search result. This can also act as a deterrent to would-be song thieves. If they Google your song title and find an active website with a lively, engaged fan community built around your music, they might think twice about using your song for their evil projects. Make sure your fans are witnesses to the creation of your art.

design8r mentioned Jonathan Coulton, which is a good example. No thief could really get away with ripping off "Code Monkey" in any significant way because he'd have a Bloodthirsty Mob Of Indie Music Vigilantes looking up his home telephone number in minutes.

And finally, there are already plenty of musicians out there freely giving away their music for commercial uses to ever worry about having yours be stolen.
posted by scottandrew at 3:01 PM on February 20, 2008

As a listener, your problem isn't that I steal your music. It's that I ignore your music. Get it out there, get it heard - if people like it, you will make money off it somehow. We'll come to your gigs, we'll put money in your tip jar, we might even buy CDs. If lots of us like it, you'll be able to sell it to advertisers, if you wish. But get it out there, first of all.
posted by Infinite Jest at 5:04 PM on February 20, 2008

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