Remember what you learned in Kindergarten…

This isn’t about your parent’s definition of sharing.

If you ever wanted to see an embodiment of Bob Dylan’s wisdom, I recommend a look at the art of composing. Truly, “the times, they are a changin’.” Obviously, this reflects an important piece of the puzzle we know as music.,..actually, creating it. Without the efforts of the masters (and a few mistresses) of the Middle Ages, Renaissance, Classical, and Romantic periods of our history, our performances will be, in a word, quiet. Twentieth Century composers began their creative periods in the same manner as their predecessors. With the arrival of notation software such as Finale and Sibelius, the creative processes (as we knew them) shifted. With these software programs and others like them, we developed the ability to do all of the regular tasks (sketching melodies, harmonizing and voicing them, etc.) formerly done with paper and pencil, but now on our desk or laptops. In addition to this sampling of tasks, we could easily convert these software files into pdf’s. If we wanted to send them off to someone needing them for perusal or rehearsal, easily accomplished…PLUS the added benefit of being able to send them mp3’s! The next natural step: taking a deep breath and sharing compositions/arrangements with everyone…anyone…welcoming in the age of Open Source.

In the spirit of transparency, I must admit that open source, and the mechanics behind it, was not on my radar until the past few weeks. I’m grateful for the opportunity to learn about it especially since this information has eased my anxieties about sharing music in an open forum…to an extent. Even as I write this week’s post, I realize that I’ve just tapped the wealth of information available about open source. In addition to this, I realize that information on open source is something that I should be sharing with my students. After all, Sir Francis Bacon was spot on when he said, “Knowledge is power.”

Here’s what I’ve learned so far: * * * defines open source as something that can be shared or modified simply because it is accessible to everyone. Sounds easy enough, don’t you think? Perhaps this was the case when this idea first took root. What originally dealt with software has grown to include more complex items of intellectual property and the relationships in which can be shared, such as: prototypes, formal collaborations, an equitable governance of shared knowledge or products, and so much more. * If a software program is considered to be open source, its code can be viewed or modified by anyone (I have to admit that I find this daunting). * Open source software can be used for commercial purposes. If I develop open source software, I can sell it BUT I cannot prevent anyone from buying it…even someone who would be considered “evil.”

Sharing (at least as defined by open source is not supposed to discriminate between good and evil.

In 1998, a community was established to support the sharing of unregistered intellectual property. Now known as the Open Source Initiative, this organized body is committed to promoting and protecting what has come to be known as the Open Source Definition (OSD)…the The 10 criteria stated in the OSD include guidelines for redistribution, clarity and ease of accessing the code (downloaded), neutrality towards the technology being utilized.

Open source as it relates to composers/arrangers/performers

This is what I want my students to understand. The software typically found in music studios, APMuTh classrooms, church music directors’ desktops, etc. is already in sync with open source (yes, this relates to Finale and Sibelius). If you’re not ready (or willing) to spend money for these systems, you can access free systems that will allow you to access the Musical Instrument Digital Interface (MIDI) that can share your music (now considered to be data) to a colleague in the next room or around the globe. As I researched for this week’s post, I was especially excited to read about Cardiod, a startup credited to a group of college students. The purpose of Cardiod is simply to provide a means for collaboration in the creative process. Union scale musicians + studio time = significant expenses. In addition to providing a richer creative canvas (I invite you to revisit an earlier post, “Location, Location, Location“), such a system will also contribute to decreasing the cost of producing new music.

The more I researched open source, the more I appreciated what this could mean on a two levels: (a) nurturing a richer creative community; (b) reducing costs for developing artists. I found myself getting stuck on two more: (a) the requirement that sharing be done regardless of whether or not the person/agency on the other side of the equation was going to use it for positive purposes or something nefarious; (b) what would this do to the professional musicians who are dependent upon studio work as a means of their livelihood. Santa Clara University (SCU)’s tie-in to Ethical Decision Making has been especially helpful as I’ve tried to move between these opposing levels. It helped me to pause long enough to recognize at least one of the Jesuit values in the discussion of open source sharing: seeking justice. When considering open source, SCU refers to 5 perspectives: utilitarian, rights, fairness, common good, and virtue. Finally! In the thick of all I found on open source, this was helping me to reconcile what the positives and challenges I was seeing. Was it enough to clear away any of the cognitive dissonance I was experiencing? No. I needed more assistance.

I think I found it. The Ethical Source Movement (ESM) recognizes the value and, perhaps more importantly, power of open source. With that, ESM states 5 criteria for software to be considered an ETHICAL SOURCE: (1) free distribution (including source code) at no cost – similar to OSD; (2) developed for public and accepting of revisions – similar to OSD; (3) governance by enforceable code of conduct – not exactly the same as OSD; (4) right of developer to prohibit its use in cases of unethical behavior and/or violation of human rights – now, we’re talking; (5) right of developer to seek reasonable compensation from those who would benefit from the software – now, we’re really talking!

The research for this week’s post has provided me with an interesting (and challenging) journey. I expect to find additional resources to assist me in my own determinations about the whether or not open source is ethical. In fact, here are just a few. As a kindergartener, I learned about “sharing.” I’m fairly certain that we all did. I also remember learning that with freedom and responsibility traveled hand-in-hand. While I learned much about the technical aspects of open source sharing, my biggest take away will probably be the need for it to be framed by ethics, especially for those of us in the musical arts.

p.s. Kudos to SCU for actually having an app for ethical decision making!

Published by Just call me Nan.

A musician/educator who is sustained by the love of a great family and wonderful friends. Lover of peace and animals.

12 thoughts on “Remember what you learned in Kindergarten…

  1. Nan,
    The music and music publishing angle to your post is intriguing to me, as I once worked with a client in the music publishing business, which opened my eyes to how musicians (and, in the case of publishing, authors) are paid (or not) for their work. At the time, there was great concern about downloading songs and the “honor system” of reporting to music publishers by the download services. That concern appears now to be well-governed, and downloading songs is, in my own experience, the sole way I acquire music to which I listen (I still buy hard copies of music to be played or sung). I think the challenge with open source is whether or not one gets to decide if their own work becomes open source, or if there is risk of appropriation.

    As an aside, for church music (putting the music in a service bulletin, for example), we use, which allows reprinting and copying, but also compensates the musicians and authors who participate in the program. So, it is a nominal cost (therefore, essentially open source), but there is permission and some compensation.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi, Chris…
      There are still some sources of “free” music which really isn’t free at all. When my students bring such recordings or pdf’s to me, we do talk about why music is copyrighted. For musicians/composers, royalties are a big deal. If we’re posting performances of our students on YouTube or, even FB, we’re supposed to have permission to do so. This has put a bit of a crimp in the workings of high-end, competitive marching bands. I agree that anyone working in the music field should be able to determine whether or not they open source their work, especially if there is a risk of being appropriated.

      Here is some info on licensing (direct and open source) from ASCAP
      I’ve been unable to find anything specific to open source licensing from BMI. is a Godsend (pardon the pun). It keeps us honest while compensating the composers/arrangers for their intellectual property. BTW any church or school that doesn’t fear the “copyright police” paying them a visit fooling themselves.

      Thanks for your reply, and enjoy the holiday weekend!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you for your perspective regarding open sourced material as it applies to music and publishing.

    I have a friend in the film industry and requested her assistance with a public relations video supporting veteran CRNAs. While the voiceover was written by myself and a colleague, we noted that, without music, the video was, well, drab.

    Enter in open source music- we easily found a patriotic tune that could be looped without worry of infringing on copyrights of an artist. The same was done with a waving American flag at the end of the video- it was a game changer for the intended message.

    As it pertains to leadership, however, how do you view the impact of open source information? Consider the texts we have read, the ideas shared here that can alter a career or organizational success. While we do not have copyright abilities on ideas shared on this forum, we do site our sources, providing credit when appropriate. Is it similar with music?

    Open sourcing is new to me as well- so thank you for sharing your experience!


    1. You pose a fair question re leadership. I just think that we should be responsible enough to think fairly and act ethically. My apologies if that sounds simplistic. It isn’t difficult to find out if a composition or recording is licensed. If it is, just use it fairly. Just because something is out there on the internet doesn’t guarantee that it is being shared legally. Leading isn’t restricted to individuals at the “top” of an organization. I believe we are all called to make usage decisions fairly and legally. We’ve been taught to cite our sources. As musicians, we have been exposed to the concept of public domain (thank God, The Happy Birthday Song finally has this designation), and know enough to find such music. For some of us, it is a matter of taking the time to search and use it correctly. Thank you for your reply. The discussion on this topic has made the research worth it.


  3. My perhaps biased take on Open Source is that it’s great for the world! I believe that the Linux Operating System is open source. So are intellectual documents such as Wikipedia and software such as Libre Office or GIMP. These all have their monetize equivalents, but open source software provides a great value to those communities with less resources to have competitive software for their upbringing, jobs, and education. If you cannot afford Microsoft Office Suite, you can download Libre Office with has all the basic functionality (or use Google Documents, I don’t think it’s open source but it’s free to use). Open source structures has also created innovation and competition, which typically leads to more innovation. Many creators of open source software are also able to make a profit if their target audience grows.

    In regards to if it is ethical or not, it certainly has debate on both sides. I am under the opinion that if you are the creator or conservator of intellectual property, it is your decision of how you would like to disseminate this resource. If you want to privatize it and make profits you are free to do so. And if you want to share the resource, allow others to contribute to its modification and enhancement, you should be free to do so as well. Of course in this moment I am speaking strictly from a software standpoint. I don’t know enough about other industries to have an informed opinion on them yet, and honestly didn’t even realize that open source music was something that existed.


    1. Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand is over a thousand pages and agrees with ” if you are the creator or conservator of intellectual property, it is your decision of how you would like to disseminate this resource.” No one should ever assume to have a right to your work without compensating you for your time even if it is only an acknowledgement, i.e., citing.


      1. I’m in favor of fair compensation (including citations). On the other hand, if you are so inclined as to put your work out there to as many people as possible through open source and are seeking an Open Source License from OSI, you get what you get.


  4. Hi, Msmulla…
    My research did show Linux as receiving one of the earliest open source licenses. Unless I misread the Open Source Definition (see link below), the developer opting for an open source license cannot privatize their system/product or restrict who can avail themselves of it. At this point in the history of connectivity, it didn’t surprise me to confirm the amount of open source opportunities available for musicians.


  5. Hi Msmulla,

    Great insights on the open source initiative. Like many of the posts, I am battling with the balance between individuals sharing for the greater good versus seeking compensation. The ethical source movement seems to provide some additional framework for open source code. One of the items I am struggling with concerning open source, is how does the community keep subversive/criminal activity out of the open source code? One of my fears is that nefarious individuals can plant malicious script in open source code before the ethical review community can find it. Did you come across any insights in your research that states how often and to what extent the community reviews new code?


    1. Hi, Kelvin…
      I wasn’t sure if you had intended to reply to Msmulla or me, but here’s the info that I have on the review of open source codes. The Open Source Initiative (OSI) offers 3 types of review: (1) approval – requested either by the steward (originator of the code) or for a license only used by one other person/organization; (2) retirement of a previously granted license – requested by the steward; (3) legacy license – for licensing a code previously used (extensively) by a community, but without an approved license. OSI uses the Open Source Definition that I cited in my original post. Target decision dates for a new license submission are 60 days after the application has been received. Target decision dates for a revised license are 30 days after the application has been received. The link below gives additional information on how communications within the OSI community take place.

      Open source is just one of those things that I’ve taken for granted over the years. I’ve benefitted from open source software but didn’t know the mechanics behind how it was made available. This has been an eye opener, especially since working on this post raised my awareness as to the scope of open source as it relates to musicians.


    1. In my opinion, no, it is not selfish. As creators, or stewards (as identified by OSI, it is up to us to decide how we want to share our intellectual property. If we want fair returns on our investments, open source is not the way to go. If a fair return is not necessarily a priority for us, the seek the open source license.


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