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The Place Of Modern MIDI Music?

Zonk posted more than 8 years ago | from the cue-zelda-theme dept.

Music 261

-1-Lone_Eagle writes "With the free availability of literally thousands of MIDI files on the Internet, and increasingly powerful home desktop systems and software, virtually anyone can take a MIDI file and using a program such as GarageBand or Reason create a near-studio-quality rendition of their favorite song. This opens up an interesting discussion, is a remixed MIDI file an original creation? Or is it simply a copied work with the rights belonging to the original author? Is it piracy? What do you think?"

cancel ×


Are you kidding? (1, Funny)

Linker3000 (626634) | more than 8 years ago | (#14014509)

Have you heard the synthetic wave tables on my Dell laptop!? Welcome to plinky plonky land.

Do they sound like a car alarm? (0)

NRAdude (166969) | more than 8 years ago | (#14014654)

Whenever I think of MIDI music, I immediatly think of a horrible(redundant?) MIDI system used as a car alarm with Divo dancing around it. I don't think I'm "old", yet. This is an accurate portrayal [] of what I think of MIDI music.

LOL What? (-1, Redundant)

wheany (460585) | more than 8 years ago | (#14014512)

LOL What?

Re:LOL What? (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14014519)

We said, "You're worthless, GO AWAY!"

May I be the first to say... (-1, Troll)

Neuroelectronic (643221) | more than 8 years ago | (#14014513)

no one cares.

What the hell? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14014517)

Is it remixed when I move from a shitty old OPL3 synth to a wavetable midiplayer? Is it a remix when playing a midi file on a midi player piano?

More importantly, who cares?

56k Modem (2, Funny)

Jarn_Firebrand (845277) | more than 8 years ago | (#14014524)

But if they DO belong to the original owner, who would the rights for the song my 56k modem plays belong to?

Re:56k Modem (1)

harrypotter05 (930522) | more than 8 years ago | (#14014610)

I think the original authors point was: In a program like reason, say, you can import a pre-transcribed MIDI, and use it as the foundation to a new score (ie with different sounds and the like). This technique can be used to obtain the underlying beat/instrumental score, but with the end result being a new song. for instance: I wanted to make a drum 'n' bass song with a reggae touch to it, but wasnt exactly sure how to: I could import a Bob Marley song, nab the underlying Bassline, change it from a Bass guitar to a Rave sounding synth (say), speed it up, and add my other parts to it. Most of the time, the end result is completely unrecognisable from its original MIDI. I dont think there would be a legal issue with this, unless one can copyright a permutation of musical notes...

Re:56k Modem (1)

ringbarer (545020) | more than 8 years ago | (#14014686)

I wanted to make a drum 'n' bass song with a reggae touch to it, but wasnt exactly sure how to: I could import a Bob Marley song, nab the underlying Bassline, change it from a Bass guitar to a Rave sounding synth (say), speed it up, and add my other parts to it.

Or maybe just learn how to play your fucking instrument, you talentless hack.

Re:56k Modem (1)

bhtooefr (649901) | more than 8 years ago | (#14014888)

Hmm... it would belong to ITU-T, assuming that it's a v.90 modem :D

hm? (0, Troll)

cryptoz (878581) | more than 8 years ago | (#14014527)

"What do the you think?"

Apparently, you don't think.

Re:hm? (1)

Neo-Rio-101 (700494) | more than 8 years ago | (#14014557)

I'm not sure what the you think, but I'm sure what the I think.
Let's ask what the they think....

Re:hm? (1)

Zen Punk (785385) | more than 8 years ago | (#14014810)

You'd think that with all the Slashdot readers pointing out the myraid errors that pass from submission to story unchecked for free, there would be at least a few who would be glad to get paid for it - you know, what an editor is supposed to do?

Is there an free or open source version of (2, Interesting)

Travoltus (110240) | more than 8 years ago | (#14014528)

GarageBand and/or Reason for Windows or GNU/Linux?

It would be nice to know of equivalents that you don't have to pay an arm and a leg for.

Re:Is there an free or open source version of (1)

gauauu (649169) | more than 8 years ago | (#14014567)

The closest thing I've found is something like audacity [] . It's not nearly as has trouble syncing things properly with some soundcards, and doesn't really do midi at all (just audio), or automatic looping/syncing/etc. But it is nice to have a decent free multitrack recording tool.

Re:Is there an free or open source version of (5, Informative)

Shawn is an Asshole (845769) | more than 8 years ago | (#14014663)

Audacity is good for simple things (cutting up parts of a song, etc) but if you're trying to do anything moderatley complex such as mixing a song, don't waste your time. Been there. Not fun. Use Ardour [] , which is also GPL. Don't get me wrong, I use Audacity for things like recording a riff or other ideas, but for a song it doesn't come close to cutting it. If you're wanting to do MIDI, Rosegarden [] (GPL) is what you want. I haven't messed with it much, though, so I can't rate it.

Well, sorta (5, Informative)

Sycraft-fu (314770) | more than 8 years ago | (#14014568)

There are free sequencers and samplers. However that's only half the battle, I mean if you get a Creative X-Fi you have a reasonable sampler right there. The real problem is in samples. I can take a MIDI and do two renderings for you using the same software. One will sound damn near real, the other will sound cheesy. The only difference will be the samples used.

Free samples that are any good are much harder to come by. There are plenty of free soundfounts, but many are quite bad and non I've seen are near what you get with good ample packs. Also, a large number out there that are free did no checking on the legality of what they are using. So you may get a free sample you like, but it may actually be ripped off from somewhere else and not legit.

Unfortunately in the good sample arena, I'm not aware of any non arm n' leg solutions. You just seem to get what you pay for. If you pay $200 for an orchestral set, it'll be pretty good. If you pay $2000 for one, it'll sound almost perfect. If you pay nothing for it, it'll sound fake and may not even be legit.

Re:Well, sorta (1)

cbreaker (561297) | more than 8 years ago | (#14014599)

Of course, no matter what samples you use, it'll sound cheezy if you're not a good MIDI composer. I've heard some MIDI music files on my old Gravis Ultrasound that were unbelievable, and it was a 6MB patch set of consumer quality. And I've heard terrible - *terrible* MIDI renditions on a multi thousand dollar MIDI station.

But if you put the two together - great composer and great patch sets - you'll quickly believe that MIDI is still alive and strong. Not to mention it's uses as a controller bus.

Depends on what you aim is (4, Informative)

Sycraft-fu (314770) | more than 8 years ago | (#14014628)

If you are doing an orignal composition and you compose for your samples then it works well. I mean hell, the SNES songs were 64kb all said and done between music and (compressed) samples.

However it's one thing to be doing an orignal work, it's another to try and do a "studio quality" rendition of an existing peice. No matter how good a composer you are, a little 1MB piano sample is going to sound, well, fake. You aren't going to fool anyone for the real thing. without a couple hundred MB sample at least.

Both are laudable goals. I am a huge fan of music done on older technologies (espically game music, hence the remasters I do) and I have a big collection of MOD (and derivitive) files. However it's a real different challenge to try and make a rendition of a MIDI that sounds like it was done with real isntruments than to compose an orignal MIDI to sound cool using a given sample set.

It's a different kind of MIDI programming even. I find that often, some of the best sounding MIDIs on my SoundCanvas translate the worst when played with higher grade samples. They are designed with certian assumptions in mind that just aren't valid and would need ot be redone. However some of the ones that come of as cheesy end up sound pretty damn good when you throw a few GB of samples at them.

A lot of it depends how close your samples are to the ones the composer used. For example the Edirol songs sound the very best on my SoundCanvas. No supprise, that was the hardware they were composed on.

Re:Is there an free or open source version of (1)

AaronGTurner (731883) | more than 8 years ago | (#14014574)

Rosegarden on Linux has enough of the functionality required to assign parts to instruments. There are plenty of free midi players for Windows and Linux, but they give you less control over modification of instrument assignments and so on that might make the difference between an adequate rendition and one that is 'studio quality'.

Re:Is there an free or open source version of (2, Informative)

Foole (739032) | more than 8 years ago | (#14014709) []

Linux MultiMedia Studio - "...aims to be a free alternative to popular (but commercial and closed- source) programs like FruityLoops, Cubase and Logic giving you the ability of producing music with your computer by creating cool loops, synthesizing and mixing sounds, arranging samples, having more fun with your MIDI-keyboard and much more."

Re:Is there an free or open source version of (2, Informative)

Gordonjcp (186804) | more than 8 years ago | (#14014754)

You could probably do something loop-based by loading loops into a soundfont, and using fluidsynth and a sequencer like seq24.

You might want to look at DSSI [] , the Disposable Soft Synth Interface, which is kind of the Linux version of VST. It doesn't do quite as much as VST does but the programming interface is not quite as Byzantine and perverse.

Shameless plug: I've written a couple of DSSI synths, based on Xsynth-DSSI [] . One is a kind of wavetable synth, and one is a TB303-style monosynth. You can get them at [] - try them and send me any suggestions or comments. Yes, I know the web page looks crap.

Re:Is there an free or open source version of (1)

DeafByBeheading (881815) | more than 8 years ago | (#14014763)

Not free, but if you want to support good shareware, try n-Track Studio [] . It's more focused on the recording thing (n-Track as in an extension of a Four-track), but it does have MIDI functionality. For a ~$50 program, it stands up to the big boys (Cubase & Co.) remarkably well. It has more than enough power and features for most people not doing anything professional. Best of all, it's not crippled in any artificial way (number of tracks, effects, etc. is limited only by your hardware), and the author is awesome. I lost my registration key in a hard drive crash last summer, and e-mailed him. Even though it'd been a couple of years since I registered, he sent me the registration code in just a couple of days.

Mac Mini (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14014787)

A Mac Mini is a cheap way to get full access to GarageBand and all the other iLife products...

For muscians, the Mac Mini is easy to carry between gigs, and it's a mac, so it is user friendly, no problem there...

You can get the cheapest one under $500 to play with GarageBand.

Another $100 can double your storage, speed up the CPU,
and be more useful for music production.. []

not piracy (5, Insightful)

allanj37 (930520) | more than 8 years ago | (#14014529)

It's not like these midi files are going to take away sales from the artists. "Oh, no, I'm not going to buy that cd. I've already got the midi." But, if I heard a really good midi song, it might get me to buy the cd.

Re:not piracy (2, Interesting)

Sirch (82595) | more than 8 years ago | (#14014556)

Funny, a lot of people say/said that about MP3... And does the RIAA listen? No.

Not that I think MIDI is particularly worrying to music publishers... Presumably it's in the same legal area as guitar tabs (eg OLGA) and other music transcriptions? What about transcribing lyrics?

Re:not piracy (1)

cbreaker (561297) | more than 8 years ago | (#14014585)

While I agree with the sentiment, just because it wouldn't do any harm doesn't make it legal. If you duplicate a song, be it in MIDI or otherwise, it's still copywrited and not legal to distribute in any form. Of course, all it takes is a few modifications to sheet music and it's no longer the same song, but if you go for a "as close as you can get with MIDI" rendition, you're probably infringing.

Re:not piracy (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14014664)

Work is a work is a work.

There are two distinct sets of rights - publishing rights and mechanical rights.

Whoever writes the song owns the publishing rights until such time as they sign their rights away to the publishing arm of a label (which is required for most deals for a limited time, e.g. 3-5 years, or life, or beyond the grave, or whatever). These rights cover the song itself, and includes the melody and lyrics, but does not include the chord progression. The publishing rights prohibit pretty much any emulation of the work, unless it is altered significantly enough (as in some karaoke). Fake books (the books which contain chord charts for working musos and buskers) don't pay royalty to the publishers because the chord progression cannot be protected. Those books don't contain any melodies, you have to remember those yourself.

The mechanical rights are the ones you usually attribute to an actual recording. If an artist goes into the studio, and his Aunt Bertha pays for the sessions, then Aunt Bertha owns the mechanical rights. Any distribution of the work requires the consent of both the artist and Aunt Bertha. Similarly, if you remix a track, you own the mechanical rights, but you do not own the publishing rights. If you sample someone's track for a new track (like most 80's hip hop), you've then infringed the publishing and mechanical rights and have to get clearance from the publisher... you only defence I think is post-modernism, but I hear that doesn't work too well.

The artist may or may not choose to do a deal with you (sometimes they do) to release the remix, in which case the label will usually offer a one time remixing fee... I've not actually seen a remix contract so I'm not sure
hat the procedure is for the label acquiring the mechanical rights.

Both of these sets of rights are managed for performance and broadcast by a performing rights association (they're the guys that collect the royalties from MTV and send you a paycheck).

A midi file would then fall under the first set of rights, and royalties need to be paid to the publishers. Ring tones (which are midi files) incur a royalty payment to the owner of the publishing rights. As I mentioned, you need to significantly change the melody in order to avoid it, which is what you normally hear at karaoke bars, the shopping mall and in elevators.

Re:not piracy (1)

sgant (178166) | more than 8 years ago | (#14014847)

So it's like The Beatles. Michael Jackson owns the publishing rights (well, half of the publishing rights from what I understand as Sony owns the other half in some weird deal he did for cash) but the mechanical rights still belong to The Beatles...meaning the original recordings, right?

Thought I like what John Lennon said about all this: "Music is everybody's possession. It's only publishers who think that people own it."

Its by all means illegal (1)

RompeRatones (898219) | more than 8 years ago | (#14014530)

Let's sue those american idol's too while we are at it...

Studio Quality? (4, Funny)

n0dalus (807994) | more than 8 years ago | (#14014531)

... create a near studio quality rendition of their favorite song.

Maybe I've missed something big, but I didn't know such amazing vocal support was built into MIDI formats. I guess I could always put the lyrics in and let Microsoft Sam (tm) sing it for me, but I'd rather die a horrible, horrible death.

Re:Studio Quality? (1)

bezzer (916829) | more than 8 years ago | (#14014551)

I believe the poster was refering to getting a midi off the internet, changing the instruments into more convincing ones, then redistributing it as an mp3 or something similar. In that case, a person can record their own voice over the top, making a song that sounds very similar to the original (if they can sing).

Instrumental Music (4, Insightful)

cbreaker (561297) | more than 8 years ago | (#14014573)

Greetings, Mr. Noculture. There's a such thing as music without vocals.

Just FYI.

Re:Instrumental Music (1, Flamebait)

ultranova (717540) | more than 8 years ago | (#14014588)

Greetings, Mr. Noculture. There's a such thing as music without vocals.

But there are no songs without vocals, Mr. Incomprehension.

Re:Instrumental Music (1)

cbreaker (561297) | more than 8 years ago | (#14014607)

Eh. While a song may be technically defined as "music with words" in some cases, it's a very grey area and most people don't differentiate between a "song" and an "instrumental piece."

Re:Instrumental Music (1)

plumby (179557) | more than 8 years ago | (#14014701)

I'd think it was reasonably obviously a thing with singing in it, and not particularly a grey area at all.

Re:Instrumental Music (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14014729)

Poor Felix Mendelssohn with his Songs without Words ( [] ) for solo piano. He clearly didn't know what he was doing.

Re:Studio Quality? / correction (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14014579)

Maybe I've missed something big, but I didn't know such amazing vocal support was built into MIDI formats. I guess I could always put the lyrics in and let Microsoft Sam (tm) sing it for me, but I'd rather die a horrible, horrible death.

Maybe I've missed something big, but I didn't know such amazing vocal support was built into MIDI formats. I guess I could always put the lyrics in and let Microsoft Sam (tm) sing it for me, but I'd then die a horrible, horrible death.

Re:Studio Quality? (3, Interesting)

Neva (630016) | more than 8 years ago | (#14014590)

Well, actually that has been tried too. Makes some tunes even more listenable than their original high-pitched performers version ;) []

You can do better than you'd think (5, Informative)

Sycraft-fu (314770) | more than 8 years ago | (#14014602)

There are two proudcts for singing that I'm aware of that are pretty good. One is Yamaha's Vocaloid. That's for solo vocals [] for info and demos. It's pretty good, generally needs to be masked behind some kind of effects to not sound too synthesized, but still pretty impressive. The other is the EastWest Symphonic Choirs. As the name implies, it's choir samples and is geared for classical, but damn, when properly programmed I challenge you to tell them apart from the real deal. sku=EW-165 [] for info and demos.

Sorry... (1)

chris_eineke (634570) | more than 8 years ago | (#14014722)

Sorry to crush your joke, but the Yamaha Vocaloid [] synthetic singer does exactly that.

Re:Studio Quality? (1)

Centurix (249778) | more than 8 years ago | (#14014897)

Cylob did a great job with text-to-speech conversion for his Rewind. Well worth checking out.

Copyright gets confusing... (2, Informative)

Arioch of Chaos (674116) | more than 8 years ago | (#14014532)

Well, legally it is probably both. It is probably a copy of the original work, meaning that you're not allowed to distribute your remix. It is also probable that you will have a copyright in the remixed version. I.e. no one will dare distribute anything. ;-)

Vocals...? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14014536)

What about vocals? I remember seeing something about synthesized vocals a while back, but until your average person can make lifelike vocals on their PC, all you have is instrumentals. So what's the point?

It is copyright infrigement (1)

aepervius (535155) | more than 8 years ago | (#14014537)

As far as I remmember (but I could remmember false) there is copyright on all part of the song (tunes, voice, lyrics etc...). Reproducing the tune as MIDI and distributing on internet would be infrigement. Now on the other hand if you keep it for yourself (family/friends) you are safe.

Re:It is copyright infrigement (1)

Mistshadow2k4 (748958) | more than 8 years ago | (#14014658)

Do a search on George Harrison My Sweet Lord lawsuit and you will see that this is true. He lost a case that he copied the tune for his song from "he's So Fine", which was performed by the Chiffons - and that was back in the 70s.

Re:It is copyright infrigement (2, Informative)

TheRaven64 (641858) | more than 8 years ago | (#14014860)

You are ignoring the fact that there exists a few hundred years worth of music in the public domain - not to mention the more modern stuff released under liberal licenses.

The RIAA doesn't own all music, you know...

It's ambiguous enough for them to sue you (1)

Analogue Kid (54269) | more than 8 years ago | (#14014545)

I think this issue is ambiguous enough that it will be in the best interests of studios to sue independent "midi remixers". Who would be willing to risk losing enough money to retire on and a jail sentence [] by actually taking it to trial? No... settlements from this will just be one more revenue stream for the bad guys.

Isn't it obvious (5, Insightful)

kentrel (526003) | more than 8 years ago | (#14014547)

I'm not sure Slashdot is the place to even ask a question like this. No, taking a midi file of Tubular Bells and sampling in real instruments does not make it an "original creation". Really, did you think for a second it even might be?

Even if the original work is out of copyright, for example Beethoven's works, the rights to the "notation or manuscript" is owned by whoever printed or published it, since classical music can be notated in different ways according to different interpretations. This goes for any piece of music. Also, the midi file, even of an out of copyright piece of music is the intellectual property of the author. I've created my own versions of several pieces of classical music, made them available on the internet and I've noticed in the years since I've come across those files under different names. It's the same midi I made, just someone has put their own name as author\tracker in the file. It's not cool.

a few thoughts (3, Informative)

INfest8 (930521) | more than 8 years ago | (#14014548)

1. MIDI files are often not produced by the copyright owner. Therefore, the underlying song composition is owned by the copyright owner(s) (i.e. publisher and composer); 2. The arrangement *might* be copyrightable by the MIDI programmer. 3. The US Copyright Office equates MIDI files with audio media(!); 4. If anyone remembers the Negativland / U2 debacle - one of the versions Negativland produced and was sued for was in fact running from a MIDI file; 5. Copyright owners were pretty strict about people distributing MIDI files: One webmaster states she received a letter from the Harry Fox Agency in December 1999 demanding the removal of offending MIDI files. The HFA also contacted the ISP which temporarily suspended the website until the files were removed. Web Thumper's MIDI Site, a popular source for MIDI files was permanently shut down following a copyright dispute.

Two kinds of copyright. (4, Informative)

pavon (30274) | more than 8 years ago | (#14014558)

In music you have copyright on a particular recording of a song, which is what you get sued for infringing upon when filesharing. In addition you have copyright on the song itself - the lyrics, melody, composition, etc. If you look at the liner notes for a CD you will see something like "Copyright CrooksR'US Records. All rights reserved". This is the copyright notice for the recording. You often see names listed by each song, or a note to the effect of "All songs written by Your Favorite Band". This is attributing who wrote the song. This person (people) get royalties on all performances (including bar cover-bands), and recordings of the song, not just this specific recording.

This would clearly be infringing on the second copyright (on the song), but not the first (on the recording).

Re:Two kinds of copyright. (1)

G. Ratte' (628539) | more than 8 years ago | (#14014637)

Hooray, somebody knows Music Biz 101. This question shouldn't have even been asked.

Re:Two kinds of copyright. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14014794)

I will not label your bold analysis of copyright law as being completely wrong, but only because the submitter failed to mention whether they intended to perform any sort of accounting and payments to the copyright holder. Otherwise, yes, you are essentially completely wrong when you state that "This would clearly be infringing on the second copyright (on the song)...."

Shamelessly excerpted from the website of the Society of American Archivists [] :

"However, for copyright holders of nondramatic musical works, the exclusivity of the reproduction right and distribution right are limited by the compulsory license of section 115 of the Copyright Act. Often referred to as the 'mechanical license,' section 115 grants third parties a nonexclusive license to make and distribute phonorecords of nondramatic musical works. The license can be invoked once a nondramatic musical work embodied in a phonorecord is distributed 'to the public in the United States under the authority of the copyright owner.' 17 U.S.C. 115(a)(1). Unless and until such an act occurs, the copyright owner's rights in the musical work remain exclusive, and the compulsory license does not apply. Once it does occur, the license permits anyone to make and distribute phonorecords of the musical work provided, of course, that they comply with all of the royalty and accounting requirements of section 115. It is important to note that the mechanical license only permits the making and distribution of phonorecords of a musical work, and does not permit the use of a sound recording created by someone else. The compulsory licensee must either assemble his own musicians, singers, recording engineers and equipment, or obtain permission from the copyright owner to use a preexisting sound recording. One who obtains permission to use another's sound recording is eligible to use the compulsory license for the musical composition that is performed on the sound recording. The mechanical license was the first compulsory license in U.S. copyright law, having its origin in the 1909 Copyright Act. It operated successfully for many years, and it continued under the 1976 Copyright Act with only some technical modifications. However, in 1995, Congress passed the Digital Performance Right in Sound Recordings Act ('Digital Performance Act'), Public Law 104-39, 109 Stat. 336, which amended sections 114 and 115 of the Copyright Act to take account of technological changes which were beginning to enable digital transmission of sound recordings. With respect to section 115, the Act expanded the scope of the mechanical license to include the right to distribute, or authorize the distribution of, a phonorecord by means of a digital transmission which constitutes a 'digital phonorecord delivery.'"

MIDI is akin to printed music (5, Interesting)

smilinggoat (443212) | more than 8 years ago | (#14014562)

MIDI, the Musical Instrumant Digital Interface, merely sends instructions for an instrument (could be a synthesizer or a sampler or any number of other devices) to then create sound. There is no actual audio. MIDI data can be represented in many different forms, be it a list of instruction in hexadecimal, a matrix of controller values, or even as printed sheet music. Asking whether or not a MIDI "remix" or re-writing is an original creation is similar to asking whether or not someone who takes previously written sheet music and transcribes it and changes it is creating a new work.

It all depends on the level of art and interpretation in the work (think about Cage [] , for instance, and his work in creating scores from astronomical maps) and the legalities. I cannot comment on the legalities of rewriting music, as I am just a musician and an engineer, not a lawyer.

As far as I know, it is not illegal to transcribe audio into sheet music, which is basically what one does when creating a MIDI file from digital (or analog) audio.

Why not... (4, Insightful)

mrjb (547783) | more than 8 years ago | (#14014580)

If I have a laser printer and a computer, and manually copy a book by typing it into my favorite word processor, i'll be able to print a nearly equal quality rendition of the book - but that doesn't make me the author. In the case of a MIDI it's the same, the author rights of the original composition still lie with the composer.

[v]irtually anyone can take a midi file and using a program such as Garage Band or Reason create a near studio quality rendition of their favorite song
Technically, that's true. If it's going to be any good, however, *still* depends on talent, sensitivity and hard work. Never mind great soundfonts, and great software, if you don't know how to use them or lack the patience to endlessly tweak things until they sound just right, it's never going to sound as good as the original.

The people at (formerly) Media Ventures do some absolutely stunning stuff with MIDI, software and synthesizers. Ever listened to the soundtrack of "The Thin Red Line"? Some parts are MIDI/synthesizers. Some are real orchestra. Can you tell the difference? Hint: no. Can you reproduce it in equal quality? Sure, if you have the correct soundfonts, enough sensitivity, stacks of equipment and a lot of time on your hands. But it won't make you the composer of the work.

That said, unless planning to unjustly rip off the hard work of other people, I don't see why one would want to call a MIDI rendition of an original work "their own composition". Why not simply give credit where credit is due?

Open Source Music software (3, Informative)

Lord Satri (609291) | more than 8 years ago | (#14014583)

This is not a complete list, but Reason and GarageBand are not free nor open source, so these links might be useful:

- ardour, Digital Audio workstation / []
- Rosegarden, audio and MIDI sequencer, score editor, and general-purpose music composition and editing environment / []
- LilyPond, music notation / []
- MusE MIDI/Audio sequencer / []
- Audacity, music editing station / []
- Music Theory (free, not oss): [] and []
- general link: []

Cheers :-)

Yes, it's a copied work (1)

mccalli (323026) | more than 8 years ago | (#14014584)

The copyright on the piece of music belongs to the artist (or label). What you are doing is creating an arrangement of it, which still falls under the original copyright.

I couldn't, for example, pick a Radiohead track then release my smash-hit ukulele'n'kazoo remix without expecting Radiohead's label to come knocking on the door*. It's just an arrangement of someone else's idea.

(*or hordes of music fans to come baying for my blood...)


clippy mix (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14014587)

< You have a MIDI. May I add the lyrics? >
        \     ____
         \   / __ \
          \  O|  |O|
             ||  | |
             ||  | |
             ||    |

% Y

/ There she was just a-shouting to the street     \
| Singing: I want Word from Office from Microsoft |
| Snapping her keyboard and shuffling her mouse   |
| Singing: I want Word from Office from Microsoft |
|                                                 |
\ Want more?                                      /
        \     ____
         \   / __ \
          \  O|  |O|
             ||  | |
             ||  | |
             ||    |
% No, kthx.

Re:clippy mix (1)

mrjb (547783) | more than 8 years ago | (#14014606)

... and this, my friends, is how Clippy died a horrible death.

Question is hardly new... (1)

OpenSourced (323149) | more than 8 years ago | (#14014592)

...or restricted to midi files. Plagiarism is the thing called. Romeo and Juliet is not an original work, its argument is closely based on awell-known (then) Italian medieval story, using even the same names. However, we can agreee that the good old Bard polished it a bit, adding value, not just translated from the italian. Every work must be so judged to determine if the added value is big enough. Midi files are no exception. The fact that the mixing is done with programs makes almost no difference. After all, a human operator is needed to use it, select the incoming files and judge and adjust the result. You are not considered less of an artist if you use a CNC lathe for you sculpting; the same reasoning should apply. Nothing new to see here, sorry, walk along.

no way... (1)

dwehleit (930523) | more than 8 years ago | (#14014604)

it's not what I think, it's just a fact about copyrights. This is something for a forum not for /. ... what's going on ? have I been too long away from /. ?

Superb plug (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14014613)

for your new website mate. Well done!

Publishing (2, Insightful)

BrynM (217883) | more than 8 years ago | (#14014616)

is a remixed midi file an original creation?
No. Unless you wrote the song in the first place, you are simply doing a cover version. Most pop stars today don't write "their" songs either, hence the term "Performance Artist" or performer rather than musician or songwriter.
Or is it simply a copied work with the rights belonging to the original author?
Like I said, it's a cover version. The original author, label or others depending on contract owns the Publishing rights [] . When you cover a song, you owe ASCAP, BMI [] and other fees. You may not realize it, but you will automagically owe those fees under US law.
Is it Piracy?
Of a sort, yes.
What do the you think?
I try not to... especially about today's music industry.

Re:Publishing (1)

mliikset (869292) | more than 8 years ago | (#14014683)

thing about it is that you are doing about as much (or more) original work than even rearranging, which is probably only a part of what needs to be done to make a good midi output. I don't know much about midi, and I'm just barely curious. I have looked at midi files in a text editor in Linux, but seem to be unable to examine them in windows, which only adds to the apathy. Live (IMHO preferably acoustic) music is the real deal, next, analog recording, then digital, then virtual instruments. Of course my view isn't the only reasonable one, but listening to recordings is to live music, what a documentary of tahiti is to a trip to tahiti. It's in your peripheral vision, it's in your nose you can feel it in your feet, etc.

Short answer, probably should be treated as a rearrangement.

dont worry about copyright: the true test is (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14014623)

The real test comes when someone asks these MIDI "remixing" folk to play live. Most of them will have no idea how to play their songs on the keyboard (or true musical talent at that!), and the end result will be a rather shitty performance...

Legal (2, Interesting)

Mr_Silver (213637) | more than 8 years ago | (#14014636)

IANAL but I did work in the mobile phone content world for a while (including ringtones) and I believe that producers who assert their rendition to the specific artist had to pay the appropriate rights society for each sale. Those that just said "this is 'baby one more time'" without mentioning Britney didn't have to.

If creating your own midi files/ringtones was illegal then companies such as, musiwave and WES would not have been able to start out.

(probably worth pointing out for the pedants that was bought by one of the big producers a couple of years ago and renamed to Arvato)

The Me Thinks... (0, Troll)

uberchicken (121048) | more than 8 years ago | (#14014648)

Shittest. Article. Ever.

Re:The Me Thinks... (1)

VGPowerlord (621254) | more than 8 years ago | (#14014696)

I don't know, I think one or all of the bazillion articles on Internet Governance lately might be shittier.

Re:The Me Thinks... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14014720)

...featuring the Sh*ttest Comment Ever [] .

What are the odds??!

You may not have any interest in music, but some of us here do. If you don't like it, you don't have to read it. Considering the price of commercial music software, music is a valid use of OSS; MIDI files you may download to use with that software may be subject to copyright which is a relevant issue, much the same way as you can download a C++ compiler but if you download other people's code examples to play with from say, Sourceforge, then don't claim you wrote them when you didn't.

Samplers for Linux? (1)

TeknoHog (164938) | more than 8 years ago | (#14014653)

This may be a little off topic but certainly related :) I'm looking for a way to use custom samples with my keyboard, and I basically have two options. I either need a software sampler, or a way to make Akai S-1000/S-3000 programs, on Linux. Has anyone here faced a similar situation? Any help would be greatly appreciated :)

FYI (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14014665)

midi is dead.

Let's apply this to karaoke. (1)

t0qer (230538) | more than 8 years ago | (#14014669)

I've been buggin slash editors on several karaoke / tech related stories for a while now (yes I know, grousing about rejected submissions, blah blah) Still sort of ontopic, but the karaoke twist makes it more fun.

Our bar pays Ascap/BMI/Sesac for the right to use backing tracks in a public/business enviroment. It's not just backing tracks we're paying for, we're paying for the rights to the composition.

These 3 licensing agencies started years and years ago during the advent of the player piano. A player piano was sort of the "midi" file of it's time. You could faithfully reproduce any artists rendition of their compilation if you had the reels. Artists started feeling robbed when player piano companies started basically, selling their compilations without their permission.

Back then, artists got paid to play, but if someone could just buy a player piano reel, what was the point?

Fast forward to today and my problems with karaoke.

I stream video live from the bar I work at. If you have winamp, or mplayer windows running under wine on linux you can check it out here. []

My problem is this. If someone sings over the original artists compilation, is it still the original? Why should I have to pay a licensing agency for something that is totally different from the original (once someone has sung over it)

The closest I can find to why I shouldn't is a special section of the US copyright law that deals with parody and derivitave works. []

So summarizing, I don't think the license agencies will see it any different for midi files. They don't see it any different for karaoke, despite some of the singers being so far off tempo and key, that it could be considered a parody.

Re:Let's apply this to karaoke. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14014783)

Parody doesn't mean someone doesn't own the rights to the music and has to pay.

It just means they can't be PREVENTED from doing so (as long as they compensate the original composers if there is a statutory compensation).

Change the lyrics -- the music is still the same. Add some heavy bass and compression -- the basis of the music is still there (and if it wasn't the basis of the music, then it could have been pulled out and the new work could have stood on its own).

And for something to be considered parody, it truely has to be a parody...just being a bad version doesn't count. Lots of people think there is parody where there isn't...for instance, a dumb ass was recently trying to sell parody A Prarie Home Companion t-shirt as a Prarie Ho' Companion. Ha Ha...I guess its parody if you are 13 years old. Whats its commentary? To be parody, there has to be some sort of commentary on a subject or its not (which is why a lot of parody artists ask for permission to do their works before doing so -- Wierd Al routinely shelves songs because artists don't want them parodied...because if push came to shove, how is he going to prove that his work is truely a commentary on the original...this is subjective and what one may see as such, others might not).

But back to your original of Karaoke -- seriously, look up the law and stop trying to submit articles...its not that hard (though I see a lawyer above using the term 'PROBABLY' describing something that IP 101 would say is maybe it is)...just because something is poorly performed does not make it a new work from the arrangement area and thus subjective to performance licensing...if this were the case, no one would have to pay to license a song when they transpose from one instrument to a drastically different one (I know my own songs get performed completely differently if they are on acoustic guitar vs. piano vs. full band...but its recognizably the same work).

Again, its really not too hard to understand (except for folks looking for a way to get around what it plainfully explained and they don't want to accept it).

Performance Rights (1)

design.sound (913825) | more than 8 years ago | (#14014671)

You need to pay the publisher (ASCAP, BMI, etc.), for performance rights. Costs are based on the number of copies you'll sell, and is negligable if you're small-fry.

About 15 years ago when my band did a cover of a popular eighties song, we contacted ASCAP and was told that if we didn't think we were going to sell more than 10,000 copies of our album, then not to waste their time with it -- kinda don't-ask-don't-tell.

Labels have become much greedier recently -- especially with things such as ring-tones (which are basically midi files), so attitudes may have changed.

Is Sky the Limit ? (1)

kivanc_k (930526) | more than 8 years ago | (#14014672)

I am afraid on future of this DRM situation and everything related to this. Will next question be "Is listening to music illeagal or not ?". Are sound cards legal ? Should music instruments be used ONLY for composing one`s own songs, rather then playing other`s songs.


intmainvoid (109559) | more than 8 years ago | (#14014674)

IANAL, and hardly anyone else here is either. So maybe slashdot isn't the place to ask questions about rights ownership and the legal nuances of piracy?

Midi is essentially sheet music (2, Insightful)

The_Dougster (308194) | more than 8 years ago | (#14014675)

I use Linux with ALSA, and some large wavetable midi patch sets, and I can get absolutely great sound from midi's. Typically I author up my background tracks in midi, jack my electric guitar in analog, and jam away.

Midi is definately copyrighted because its the same as sheet music. Whatever laws apply to sheet music apply to midi files because they are interchangable. Just because windows midi players suck and most people ignore these music files doesn't mean they can't be made to sound righteous and that they shouldn't be subject to the same copyright laws as written music. Thats all it is is sheet music and your midi synth is the orchestra that is playing the music for you. The better your synth the better the overall result.

Interesting question indeed. (1)

smokin_juan (469699) | more than 8 years ago | (#14014685)

If you have the ability to create studio quality versions of published music, why waste your time on that when you can write your own music?

Publishers have sapped a large chunk of enjoyment from commercial works. Rather than a question of how good a song is you have to wonder how legal it is to posess it, or what kind of spyware they're dropping on your drive. You have to wonder how badly the original artist is getting screwed.

Or you can take your mad MIDI skillz and roll your own. It'll kill more time than browsing so-and-so's latest catalog, take money from the RIAA's clutches and ultimately, if done correctly and widely, force musicians to seek better means of distribution.

Entertain yourself. Self sufficiency is a noble cause.

Difficult to reprodude the original with midi (1)

Simulant (528590) | more than 8 years ago | (#14014690)

Unless you have the exact same samples/instruments that the original artist used, chances are your midi file playback will sound as much like the original as me whistling the tune... Not to mention vocals.

Creative sort of tried to work around this limitation of MIDI with their sound font idea but how may professional musicians are using sound fonts?

That said, I don't see why a midi file wouldn't fall under the same protection that a piece of sheet music would. Practically the same thing, no?

Re:Difficult to reprodude the original with midi (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14014866)

Creative sort of tried to work around this limitation of MIDI with their sound font idea but how may professional musicians are using sound fonts?

Soundfonts filtered down to consumer level from the professional level.
Not something Creative "tried" one day.

legal advice (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14014691)

are you seriously asking the slashdot community for legal advice?

Near studio quality rendition? (1)

Aphrika (756248) | more than 8 years ago | (#14014694)

"using a program such as Garage Band or Reason create a near studio quality rendition of their favorite song"

It's probably important to point out that while this holds true for songs that use 'real' instrument sounds - such as piano, strings, brass etc. - that are found in the General MIDI (GM) music set, it can't be said of music that primarily uses synthesized sounds as it's basis. So while you can churn out a reasonably passable rendition of Coldplay's 'Yellow', something like The Prodigy's 'Girls' ends up sounding like jazz-fusion lift music gone wrong.

Regarding the legal aspects of it, people have been sued successfully in the past for both borrowing the sounds (sampling) and the arrangements from songs, so recreating/remixing and distributing it whether MIDI or audio would almost certainly be infringment of somekind if permission wasn't granted.

That said, I have met people in the music industry who have taken classical track elements and slowed them down to use as the basis of songs, and people who have taken well known songs and either reversed or verticaly flipped music passages on the scale to disguise them. As the relationship between notes is mathematical, you still retain the musicality of the passage whilst hearing something new. Likewise, there are artists out there who rather than sampling a portion of record they hear, will attempt to recreate the original sounds, then in effect sample a portion of themselves.

All in all, there are some very creative ways of getting around copyright issues in the music industry, and a lot of them go unnoticed.

Stop the insanity! (0, Offtopic)

srussia (884021) | more than 8 years ago | (#14014698)

Repeal Prohibition! No IP!

Nine Inch Nails (1)

plumby (179557) | more than 8 years ago | (#14014710)

I'm surprised that no one else has yet mentioned Nine Inch Nails [] release of The Hand That Feeds in Garage Band format [] .

"There are some copyright issues involved, so read the notice that pops up. Giving this away is an experiment. I'm interested to see what comes of it, what issues are raised and what the results are."

Can't remember what the copyright notice said - I only tried it a couple of times. My mac was not really powerful enough for it to be much use but it was certainly an interesting idea.

nOigTga (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14014712)

EYour o2wn beer []

Free Culture by Lawrence Lessig (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14014714)

Relevant book on exactly the post's topic: "Free Culture" by Lawrence Lessig. See [] for more info, and [] for a free PDF download of the book.

Everything is derivative (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14014717)

"is a remixed midi file an original creation?"

Trace: Someone plays a song created by other people. Someone's brain interprets these sound signals. Someone's brain outputs approximations in the pitch and duration dimension, and assigns the particular sequence to some generic sound. The brain output becomes factual data/information based on the interpretations of a song, much like remembering the pitch, rhythm and duration in your head. Factual data/information is not copyrightable. (Yet.)

Normally you would have to contact copyright holder Zod, ask for permission, and then work out a license agreement (royalties for the most part). But normally you would also profit from the work, because you are not only using the work of copyright holder Zod, but you are also using the name and fame that often comes with it, for your benefit. This is not what happens on the Internet, except for taking credit for transcribing it, the interpretation is free. If you start taking money for it without some form of license agreement, you're in trouble.

There is a symbiotic relationship lost in the profit mayhem; why do musicians publish music? For other people to listen to, appreciate and enjoy, perhaps? That's why the record industry is so aggressive; they do little to nothing in the music making, but they want the most from it. They're living in the profit dimension.


Non-computer analogies (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14014728)

As usual, we have people running away scared just because a computer is involved in a situation. Just stop panicking, temporarily forget computers exist at all, and look for parallels in the non-computer world that might give some sort of a clue as to how to handle the situation.

MIDI files contain machine-readable information about what pitch note to play, how long to play it for, how loud, with what instrument sound and what special effects to apply.

Sheet music contains human-readable information about what pitch note to play, how long to play it for, how loud, with what instrument and what special effects to apply.

Fairground-organ books contain machine-readable information about what pitch note to play, how long to play it for, how loud, with what instrument sound and what special effects to apply.

So it seems to me that MIDI files are the electronic equivalent of sheet music {which has a copyright of its own, belonging to the person who transcribed it as opposed to the composer; and which would not be infringed by performing it or recording the performance, only by copying the paper onto some tangible medium}; or maybe just a more up-to-date version of fairground-organ books. I really don't know what the score is with these and copyright: can someone enlighten me? Somebody round here must have an enormous organ that they are particularly proud of ..... But as I see it, cutting a book would seem to be such a per-organ variable, that a book to play the same tune as an existing book but on a different organ might be considered different enough from the original for it to count as a new work in its own right. And I'm not even sure if travelling showmen are all that bothered about respecting copyright.

GarageBand doesn't save MIDI files (1)

200_success (623160) | more than 8 years ago | (#14014735)

On the surface, it seems that GarageBand is a nice application for recording and editing digital music. However, there is one gaping feature hole: although GarageBand can import MIDI files, it cannot export MIDI files [] ! This is vendor lock-in of the worst form. Once you work on something in GarageBand, all you can do is export it to AIFF format. It is impossible to turn it your recording into a MIDI cell-phone ringtone or process it further with other software. At least with Microsoft Word, the data format has been mostly reverse engineered. But GarageBand is as worthless as a crippled shareware trial because it can't save MIDI files. What a shame.

Re:GarageBand doesn't save MIDI files (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14014892)

Exporting to AIFF is fine for further processing - it's a standard audio format that almost all music programs can read. You could export the individual tracks if you wanted. If exporting MIDI files is the main function you need in a music program then Garageband isn't for you - doesn't make it a worthless shareware trial!

Converting an audio file into MIDI is fairly complex, and certainly not the intended use of Garageband. It's a cheap and cheerful audio sequencer. I'm not sure if any of the professional music sequencers do this out of the box without external plugins... maybe logic?

My point of view on this (1)

felaras (930531) | more than 8 years ago | (#14014739)

Some 4 or 5 years ago I was into this midi making thing a lot. Basicaly, I took a song and rewriten it in notes to a midi file by listening to it (since there's no other way to do so). It requires A LOT of work, since there is no software that could do that automaticaly. There was a huge community and lots of websites where we shared those midi files with other people and everything was very lovely until those websites started closing down... I had a website as well. I DID NOT SELL those midi files or profit from them in any way, and people who downloaded them were absolute enthusiasts who just wanted to have the notes of their favorite song or sing a karaoke with friends at some party and I could't see how this violates any law or something. But anyhow, I got this angry letter and had to close down. This letter said that apparently you can only sell those midis and pay some part of the profit to the copyright owner, which is in my oppinion plain wrong. People don't download midis instead of buying a CD, artists DO NOT lose any profit (they may even gain), you just get some extra stuff (like notes, lyrics, ability to play this song on your midikeyboard...), which, in fact, you make yourself and just share with others. It's like using a plot from a movie in your school play, you don't get charged for that do you? Anyway, if you're interested in buying full length midi files, here's a link [] . These guys are fast...

Copyright Infringment? (1)

forsonic (930532) | more than 8 years ago | (#14014788)

Sounds like an infringment to me. How do I get started?

MIDI is more than just cheesy tunes. (1)

torpor (458) | more than 8 years ago | (#14014792)

yo, .mid might just be a creative-labs driver away from chinky-chonky to you, but to countless musicians, MIDI is way, way more.

calling for such questions about MIDI as "is it just an old chiptune format" or "is it old and crufty" is pretty weak, imho. .mid files' got namespace, yo. NRPN, baby.

Re:MIDI is more than just cheesy tunes. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14014818)

Are you insulting my favourite genre? Chinky-chonky FTW!!!!!1one

IP and rendered MIDI files (1)

audioboffin (764761) | more than 8 years ago | (#14014820)

Basically a MIDI file (rendered or otherwise) is a cover version or adaption of the original. Generally permission needs to be sought and granted by the original copyright owner before the adaption can be published or publicly perfformed (unless the original owner has made some kind of public allocation or usage statement). Furthermore there may be a matter of coming to a mutually agreed form of compensation to the original copyright owner for the adaption.

enjoy, don't worry (2, Informative)

oooed (924922) | more than 8 years ago | (#14014839)

once the owner of a recorded work has had a go, anyone is allowed to cover it - but the owner (that's the creative person who had the idea, not someone who can write midi files) is entitled to their share of the proceeds. the record companies don't care if anyone remixes or covers or records/writes a midi file or writes up the dots for one of their hits - but if you make any money at it, you have to pay up. if your reworked version wakes up interest in an old hit, they are laughing too. tribute bands survive on this basis (regrettably?); the record companies just let it happen - it's free advertising for them. also! if you sit up late in your office working up a midi file on reason with a view to taking over the scene from teenage DJs, Propellerhead (and owners of the samples you downloaded) will come down on you before Sony do on the other hand, I just did Birdland for banjo, bouzouki and sitar (and acoordion of course) over a few d&b beats - had a ball - and how long would I have to wait for Joe to do that? have fun, forget the consequences of the unlikely event that you get famous doing it! besides, it's better not to do something you love doing for money - you'll soon get to hate it FAQ answer about Remixes (1)

mikey573 (137933) | more than 8 years ago | (#14014850)

I'm the founder of the Videogame Music Archive [] , one of the largest online midi archives. We have a FAQ page which has an entry addressing this issue. For your reading pleasure:

"What is a remix? What is this site's policy on them?" []

A remix is any song that is intentionally altered to sound dramatically different than the original. An example of a remix would be the theme to Super Mario Bros. redone into a Death Metal/Techno song. Usually a remix involves changing notes, inserting new music in the middle (Or music from another game), or a major change in style. Music redone to take advantage of the MIDI format, such as a song from the original Final Fantasy sequenced to be played by a full orchestra, probably wouldn't be considered a remix, as long as the song itself remains intact (But rather would be considered an "Arrangement").

We'll accept well done remixes. It is entirely up to us to decide what is a well done remix. It must be musically coherent and flow well, and it must be more than a simple changing of instruments and addition of a drum beat. The ZHQ Zelda Dance Remix is a good example of the type of file we're likely to accept (Although that particular song is one we will not accept, so please, STOP UPLOADING IT!).

To reiterate, since people don't seem to grasp the concept, adding a drum beat, changing an instrument, and slapping a lame title (As in "TiWanaKu TapF00t Remix") on it DOES NOT MAKE A REMIX. Don't send us garbage like that. Got it? Furthermore, the word "Intentional" in the first sentence is an important one. The dramatically different sound cannot be a result of your musical incompetence. If you have to call a song a "Remix" to justify the criminal action you've taken against the melody, then your file is not welcome here. Come back when you can tell the difference between a C# and a G.

If you care to discuss this topic further, check out the VGMusic Forum. []

Answer... (1)

Anita Coney (648748) | more than 8 years ago | (#14014872)

It's a derivative work, but unless you have permission from the copyright holders saying otherwise, full rights go to them.


xigxag (167441) | more than 8 years ago | (#14014895)

This topic is just a stealth advertisement for the poster's crappy own "musichax" website. I'm not particularly opposed to someone trying to drum up some enthusiasm for their own project, whether it be a program or an interesting site, but for cripes' sake, show some honesty and integrity while doing so. Instead of just saying, "This opens up an interesting discussion" and trying to secretly lure us with one of your links, be up front about it and say, "I'm starting a new website with remixed midi tunes. What do you think of the legality or ethics of this?" Or put a disclaimer in, such as [NOTE: I am the webmaster of the site in question].

But as things stand, you're an ass for trying to slip one in on us, and Zonk should be beaten with a wet ethernet cable for not doing the slightest bit of investigation regarding the links you submitted.

I have some thoughts about your site but I won't elaborate since I don't think you should be rewarded for your sneaky behavior.

Piano Roll (5, Informative)

glowworm (880177) | more than 8 years ago | (#14014903)

The law on MIDI files directly draws on Piano Roll legislation. In particular the Compulsary Mechanical License.

The original composer of the music holds all rights to the music until he signs it away to a music publisher. The original composer is important because copyright lasts for the entire life of the composer plus an additional 70 years. (Thanks to Disney and Sonny Bono)

At this stage the Piano Roll maker is not allowed to transcribe it into mechanical (digital) form until he gets permission from the publisher - or - someone else performs it first.

Once the copyright owner of a musical composition records and distributes the work to the public, or allows someone else to do so, anyone that wishes to record and distribute that same work may do so without permission (subject to certain limitations) by issuing the copyright owner a notice of intention to obtain a compulsory license. After that the only legal requirement is to pay a compulsory mechanical reproduction fee of 6.95 cents per copy to the publisher or their agent (Harry Fox - who license from 1,000 copies upwards).

So, how does this apply to MIDI? Those "free" MIDI files you can download off the internet are only legal if someone else performed them first and if the creator of the MIDI file pays 6.95 cents for every download made.
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