A cooperative web-based community for Music
PenguinSong.net is [will be -- we're just getting started!] a web-based
cooperative for musicians and listeners, based on the following
- We're all in this together.
It's a coop: everyone pays the same amount to belong. At the end of
the month the take gets totalled and the bills (i.e. copyright license
fees, ISP charges, etc.) get paid. If there's anything left over,
musicians get a bonus, and listeners get a rebate.
- Musicians should get paid for their work.
There's a standard royalty out there for songwriters and their
publishers. We also believe that the performers should get
something. But we're all in this together: any member can
post a song, including a cover of a song already in the system, and get
paid for every download.
- Fair's fair -- we believe in fair prices and fair use.
There is such a thing as fair use. Once you've downloaded a song, that
copy is yours. Copy it to your MP3 player, burn it onto a CD, give the
CD to your friend and burn another. (Don't go abusing the privilege,
though: if you burn a thousand CD's and sell them we expect to see some
royalties coming back.) There's also the idea of a fair price.
Everybody in the music world knows how much a songwriter gets paid for
each copy. That's what we want to pay, and since this is a coop
there's no reason we should charge you any more.
- Every song deserves a good home (page).
Every song uploaded into the system has its own unique ``home page''.
It includes not only the credits but the lyrics, pointers to all known
versions, fan discussions, even a chat room that includes everyone
listening to that song right now (unless they don't want to
chat, which brings us to the final item).
- Big Brother is not watching.
We're not going to keep track of what you download -- only how
much. We're not going to peer over your shoulder and count how
many times you listen to a song after you download it, or check who you
give it to -- but you'll be better off sending them a URL instead.
There will be no ``digital rights management.'' Moreover,
your personal information is yours, and we won't go passing it around
or selling your name to spammers. There will be mailing lists, both
moderated and unmoderated, but they'll all be for members only.
This is not a filesharing scheme like Gnutella or Freenet: every song is
uploaded by the rights-holders, who get paid every time that song
is downloaded. On the other hand we're not a recording company or a
publishing company, either: we're a coop, and we're in it to make money
for our members, not a bunch of shareholders (another way of looking at it
is that the members are the shareholders, with one share each).
On the other hand there will (probably, eventually) be a network
of music servers that works a lot like a peer-to-peer network,
but feels a lot different -- see this writeup.
Here's how it works [will work] in detail:
- Registration is free [or maybe not required at all].
It gets you access to all public pages, and a
limited number of free downloads per month of a very limited
set of songs (members get to chose which of the songs they put up are
downloadable by nonmembers). You don't get the ability to post
comments or music, and you don't get a member page. You do,
of course, get the ability to buy stuff: CD's, logowear, software,
whatever PenguinSong or its members are selling.
- Membership is [will probably be] a fairly low one-time fee for lifetime
membership, and comes with a reasonable amount of free music and access
to all the songs. We'll bill you if you go over. With
membership comes the ability to post comments and reviews, join chats,
post music, create a home page, and sell your stuff. We'll charge you
a commission (which goes towards paying musicians and, after that,
bonuses and rebates), but it'll be less than a distributor and retailer
would squeeze out. If you've posted music, you'll get paid for
every download -- but you'll have to agree to accept what we
can pay if we fall short. We'll try to make sure that doesn't happen
too often, but it may take us a while in the beginning to get our rates
- Ordinary membership just requires a one-time payment, and basically
gets you a share in the co-op. All members have an equal voice in the
co-op's operation, including electing the people who make the
day-to-day operating decisions and, of course, setting the membership
and subscription fees. Once you're a member, you're in for good.
- Subscribers are simply members who pay a monthly fee for either an
unlimited or a merely large number of downloads per month -- basically
it's the difference between what we have to pay in licensing fees and
what we take in from other sources. Whether it's unlimited or just
capped, or whether there are multiple levels, will be up to the members
to decide. Bear in mind that the total mechanical license fees for
music currently come to somewhere in the neighborhood of $.20.
- In order to post music, all the necessary rights to it (lyrics, music,
and performance copyrights) have to be owned by members, or appropriate
permission obtained by members. (Unless a law is passed to set a
compulsory license fee for individual downloads and we're
pulling in enough revenue to at least pay the fee, in which case we
might change our policy.) In other words, you can post a performance
provided some other member wrote it and created a song page for it.
[We need to have some lawyers check into the details; it's possible
that a member's cover of someone else's song would come under the
normal compulsory mechanical licensing.]
- ``Posting'' a song (actually, any piece of music from a song to a
symphony) means putting up a ``song page'' (the song's ``home page'')
for it, typically with the lyrics (if any) and either a sound file or a
lead sheet. The song page automagically gets a download
counter, a comment area, a chat ``room'', download links for all posted
performances, pointers to other versions (see the next item) and to
copies on other sites, and a link to the store for buying any available
- Unless you specifically forbid it (and why would you want to?), posting
a song gives other members permission to post ``versions'' (called
``filks'' in some circles) including altered lyrics, parodies, totally
different words ``to the tune of'' your song, and so on. You still get
paid -- royalties are divided fairly among all significant contributors
to a derived work -- and of course you get proper credit --
there's room on a song page to list all contributions, no matter how
small. Notice that you don't have to be a subscriber, just a member,
in order to get paid for your work (unlike, for example, mp3.com where you pay a monthly fee in
order to get anything at all back). We'll happily apply your license
fees to your subscription, if you want one, but if you don't listen to
a lot of other peoples' stuff you don't need one.
- Oh, yes: ghost pages. If there's a song you like by someone other
than a co-op member, make a ghost page for it. Point it at the song's
real home page, if there is one, or at the performer or songwriter's
page if they have one. Don't post the music or
lyrics -- that would be wrong. But other than that it looks just
like a song page. If the songwriter ever joins the coop, it
becomes the song page.
- You can also use ghost pages if you're a singer-songwriter (for
example) and you have an album with a cover or two on it. Go ahead and
make song pages for everything of yours, and ghost pages for the
The whole idea is to build a community around the music. In some
sense it's all one gigantic jam session, just like the Web is one gigantic
HTML document. The difference is that attribution is very carefully
tracked, so that everyone who deserves credit gets it: nobody's going to
get rich here, but there's no reason why you can't become famous -- or at
Initially we'll be aiming at the folk and filk music communities (filk is
the indigenous folk music of science-fiction fandom). Both are
characterized by a large proportion of amateur and part-time musicians, a
large amount of audience participation, and a tradition of song-swapping,
melody re-use, variant lyrics, and parody. We'll expand out of those
areas as more people join; ultimately it's whatever our members want.
There's another way to look at subscriptions that might be useful: the
subscription price is probably not going to be much different from the
price of a web-hosting service (i.e. the price you'd pay to someplace like
GeoCities for a home page with no popup ads). So you could regard
PenguinSong as a musician's cooperative subsidized by a web-hosting
service that just happens to offer lots of free music (and the ability to
link to it on your web pages) as a perk. Can't beat that, can you?
For reference purposes, here is the essay I originally wrote describing
And here's the Project Roadmap (which
includes a tentative near-term schedule).
Here are the Technical Details (currently
Here is a little on Why I'm doing this