Proposal for a Free Musical

An idea I had some time ago would be for a free (as in speech) musical (or play). It could be licensed under the GPL or something like it (the GNU Free Musical License, GFML, perhaps?). For example, think of the scripts and music scores as the “source code” for the musical, where these documents must be provided to ticket-holders upon request in digital form, such as on a CD, or printed. Just like free software, we are mostly concerned with preserving the freedom of the user/audience. These are free musicals.

Have you ever watched a great musical and your skin tingled at the orchestra’s crescendo during the hero’s solo? Or perhaps you choked up at a dramatic scene? These moments should not be locked up so that they cannot be shared. Free musicals would be another step towards a free culture where these scenes are not lost, where everyone is free to share his or her own culture. This freedom does not exist fully today. For instance, I can write a story about vampires but I can’t write one about Jedi.

Just as free software developers don’t have to starve, neither do free musical composers and writers. The word free refers to freedom, not price. A free musical author can distribute the musical to a producer for any price he or she wants.

You see, I was involved in my high school musicals growing up and I remember how they had to pay some steep royalties to put these shows on. One year, to help pay for the show we had collected spare change from students during lunch periods. Even for all this expense, we weren’t even permitted to make copies of the music and scripts as needed for use in the production (these cost extra). We were being dominated by the musical’s publisher.

This, of course, did not stop these extra copies from being made. It’s just another bad law which should have been and was ignored. Remember, the act of breaking laws itself is not wrong. You get to decide right and wrong for yourself. No one, especially a politician, can do this for you. I would wager that, in the US at least, just about everyone breaks some law at least once a month. Okay, back to free musicals.

If there were free musicals from which to choose, once a high school (or anyone) obtained a copy of a musical’s source code they would be free to put on a production without paying any special or additional per-seat or per-ticket royalties. They could make as many copies of scripts and scores as needed without having to break any laws. They could even send copies to other schools.

Let’s say a choir teacher (or whoever is directing things) goes out and sees a free musical somewhere. She enjoys the show so much she wants to have her students perform it as the next year’s production. As a ticket-holder, she requests and receives the source code for this show. That’s it! She can put on this show for the cost of a single ticket. In other cases, someone might be feeling generous and make the source code available to anyone at no cost to anyone who asks.

Since I have had the idea, I have dreamed of writing a free musical. Unfortunately, my writing skills are poor and my music skills are even worse. I have arranged music for a marching band in the past, but have done no serious composition. Maybe some day I will be good enough to write one. I would like to learn GNU LilyPond sometime and writing a free musical would be good practice.

Of course, an existing musical could always be liberated (expensively, without doubt) and turned into a free musical.

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Chris Wellons