One Man's Mission to Set Chopin Free

Friday, September 13, 2013

Frederic Chopin's music has been a staple of movie soundtracks for decades.

Often regarded as one of the greatest piano composers to ever live, Chopin's music depicts everything from heartbreak and tragedy (as in the soundtracks of "The Pianist" and "The Curious Case of Benjamin Buttons"), to morbid humor (consider Chopin's Funeral March, which has appeared in "Beetlejuice," "Looney Toons," and "Abbott and Costello," just to name a few).

But while Chopin's music is abundant on the big and small screen, the price to use his music is anything but accessible. While all his compositions are part of the public domain, the many recordings of his music are not.

Aaron Dunn is on a mission to change this. His new Kickstarter campaign is called "Set Chopin Free." If successful, it will allow him to record all of Chopin’s music with the world’s top musicians, and then release all the music free to the public and to any filmmaker who wants to use it.

Dunn is the founder of Musopen, a non-profit devoted to creating free, public-domain music resources, including recordings, sheet music, and educational materials. He joins The Takeaway to discuss his campaign.


Aaron Dunn

Produced by:

Kristen Meinzer


T.J. Raphael

Comments [7]


John's statement the the "Chopin estate" gets paid when someone uses a recording of Chopin's music is simply not true! The artist who recorded the work gets the royalty. They are professionals. They played it. That sounds fair to me.

Sep. 16 2013 05:14 PM


"We are raising money to pay pianists to record music the music of Chopin"

Didn't you say in the interview that you had musicians lining up wanting to play this music for free? So, if you're paying musicians to play Chopin's recordings, and put them out royalty free, really your mission about depriving talented musicians of royalty pay?

We need more support for musicians and artists to be able to work, not less money for them when you basically get scab-labor to come in and work royalty free. For degrading the work of professional musicians, you should be ashamed.

Sep. 16 2013 12:20 AM
Tom from New York City

As an under-30 classical musician living in NYC, I think a project like this exemplifies the worst in the "information should be free" movement. Chopin's scores are already in the public domain; no one is setting Chopin's music free. What this project does is ask artists to basically forfeit the future rights to their performances, performances that require a whole constellation of life experience and decades of training to attain. And artists, I think shortsightedly, will submit to this because of the technological and economic rubric that governs digital life.
I understand that the performers are paid a one time fee for the recording, but it's simple fairness that if you use something that belongs to someone else, that you pay that person to use it. The "onerous" royalty fees that this project is seeking to circumvent ensure that performers are justly compensated for their work when it's used by some one else; in short it ensures them a life of dignity and allows them to support themselves with their art.
Why not create a project that creates a marketplace for micropayments to artists who record these works, in the manner that Jaron Lanier has written about? That would be truly innovative, and would do far more ensure the viability of quality performances of Chopin's work.

Sep. 15 2013 01:46 PM
Mike McCornack from Eugene, OR

I think the story as presented muddled the issue. Chopin copyrights are not the problem musopen is addressing. Neither Chopin nor his estate are entitled any financial benefit for use of his work at this point. The applicable issue is performance rights for contemporary performers who record Chopin's music. If I want to use a Horowitz recording of a Chopin Nocturne in a movie, I need to pay Horowitz' estate for the right to use that performance. If there is a free public domain performance that I wish to use, I can chose that, and not have to pay for any performance rights. This is where the museopen project will have an impact. Open source recordings will be a boon to many. If a teacher wants to distribute a performance of a Chopin piece to music theory students, the Horowitz performance would require payment; the open source performance would not.

Sep. 14 2013 01:24 PM
Aaron from San Francisco

@ Tony, to clarify, Chopin's sheet music is in the public domain so his estate no longer makes money. So currently the people who primarily benefit are recording studios selling new recordings of Chopin's music. I hope that answers your question.


Sep. 13 2013 02:17 PM
Aaron from San Francisco

Aaron here (Musopen founder).

We are raising money to pay pianists to record music the music of Chopin. So I suppose the answer is, the musicians we hire are getting paid.

Sep. 13 2013 01:59 PM
Tony Bratton from Fall River, Ma

You have poked me in a pet peeve. After listening to your interview with Aaron Dunn about getting Chopin's music into the public domain, even though your first question was 'who gets paid?' I still have no idea who gets money on behalf on a guy that's been dead for 164 years. I know it's common in politics to not answer the question you're asked but this seemed like an easy one. Please, please, PLEASE at the very least acknowledge the question was not answered. If reporters responded with "that's not an answer" then at least you make their non-answer a part of the record. Ok I'll calm down now.

Sep. 13 2013 12:39 PM

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