Why risk a lawsuit? Download only music in the public domain

Nov. 6, 2003
Companies holding copyrights to popular music are up in arms over the fact that people can now share their CD collections over the Internet. When you want a particular piece of music, you no longer have to buy it. All you have to do is contact someone else who has it, and then use file-sharing software to get your own free copy.

by Ronald Khol, Editor

This obviously cuts into the revenues of recording studios. They are falling all over themselves in an effort to stop file sharing, calling it an infringement on their copyrights. Their first volley in the battle is a wave of copyright-infringement lawsuits filed against individual people who swap songs. And the music companies intend to play rough. They feel infringement won't stop until the wrath of God, metaphorically speaking, is brought down on those with the temerity to acquire music without paying for it. So the record labels are threatening to sue those caught offering or downloading free music and are intending to ask for exceedingly high damages. This definitely is a hazard for downloaders because courts say recording studios have the right to subpoena Internet services to get the names of copyright violators.

On the other side of the issue are the "peer-to-peer" swappers who don't want to give up the privilege of getting all the music they want at no cost. Their allies are companies supplying file-sharing software that don't want to see sales dented by rigorous enforcement of copyright laws. So software firms are beefing up the privacy protections associated with their file-sharing products, making it more difficult to identify who is doing the swapping. The result is a cat-and-mouse situation, with software firms trying harder to protect their customers, and recording companies looking for more sophisticated ways to overcome the protection.

Here is the thing that puzzles me. Why are music lovers stealing copyrighted works and exposing themselves to the possibility of ruinous lawsuits when there are plenty of toe-tapping rhythms in the public domain no longer protected by copyrights? As a public service to you hep-cat guys and gals out there, here is a sampling of public domain tunes you can file share with impunity.

For songs you can really blast out of your boom-box, try tunes like: "America the Beautiful," "Auld Lang Syne," "Bill Bailey Won't You Please Come Home," "Camptown Races," "Clementine," "Give My Regards to Broadway," "Hinky Dinky Parlez-Vous," "Home on the Range," "I'll Take You Home Again Kathleen," "I've Been Working on the Railroad," "In My Merry Oldsmobile," "Jimmy Crack Corn," "Listen to the Mocking Bird," "My Old Kentucky Home," "Oh Susanna," "On Top of Old Smokey," and "Polly Wolly Doodle."Want something with a head-banging Scottish flair? Then find someone to file share "The Campbell's Are Comin,'" "My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean," "Balooloom My Lammie," "Comin' Thro' the Rye," "De'ils Awa'," or "Ai the Excisemena."

What really gets me rocking, however, are the songs of work and protest, which mostly have a strong urban flair. (Caution: My source is not clear about all of these being in the public domain, so check to be sure the copyright date is no later than 1922.) At any rate, some of my personal favorites are "Anthem of the ILGWU," "Die Gedanken Sind Frei," "Down in a Coal Mine," "The Eight Hour Day," "Eleven-Cent Cotton," "Hard Times in the Mill," "Jerry Go and Oil that Car," "Low Bridge Everybody Down," "The Man That Waters the Workers' Beer," "My Sweetheart's the Mule in the Mines," "No Irish Need Apply," "The Scabs Crawl In," "Sixteen Tons," "The Song of the Guaranteed Wage," "Talking Union," "The UAW-CIO, We Are Building a Strong Union, United Steelworkers Are We," and "You've Got to Go Down and Join the Union."

These tunes are already being heard on the club scene. Best of all, every one of them has a good beat and is easy to dance to.

-- Ronald Khol, Editor

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