Why I can't play Kodo One Earth Music

Why I can't play Kodo One Earth Music

Update 210425

I received an email from Yuta Sumiyoshi saying that Kodo is changing some aspects of the license.  No changes to the license on the website yet, but there's hope!

Original post

One of my friends recently shared her excitement about learning Shunpuu, a piece by Kodo created for use by others.  I was intrigued to find that it's written by a composer I respect, Yuta Sumiyoshi, and that this is the first of more pieces to be shared with the taiko community.  Yay!  The taiko world really needs more, high-quality music and Yuta is amazing.

Unfortunately, this piece and the One Earth Music repertoire to come are being released with restrictions that severly limit creativity and make it all-but-impossible for serious taiko players to utilize.  Here's why.

Kodo One Earth Music is using the tagline,

"We'd like it to be easier for people to play our music. Anyone, anywhere, any time."

It should include...

"As long as it's not for pay and you don't change the song in ways the composer didn't intend and you don't have an original idea that you want to incorporate."

Before the (more restrictive) legaleze, the One Earth Music website lays out the limitations.

Users can not

  • change the title
  • make or perform arrangements that do not maintain the original integrity of the piece, or alter the score to reflect such arrangements.
  • perform Kodo One Earth Music at a paid performance or recital comprising only of Kodo pieces.
  • edit or reuse/repurpose the audio or video recordings of Kodo One Earth Music shared on this webpage.

The Terms of Use go on to say,

... Users, except in the circumstances of the section below, shall not use Kodo One Earth Music for profit, and shall not collect any nominal compensation nor accept any remuneration even in cases of not-for-profit use.
(2) When performing Kodo One Earth Music at a concert or other event, and the programme of the aforementioned concert consists of both Kodo One Earth Music and other compositions, users shall be able to accept remuneration in the following situations:
a) The presenter of the aforementioned concert sells performance tickets or similar as compensation for the entire concert.
b) Users accept money for the purpose of compensating for necessary expenses for carrying out performances at the aforementioned concert or event, such as actual transport costs.

All of this boils down to two major restrictions: no creative adaptation and restricted commercial use.  Here's why these are deal-breakers.

You can study but you can't create

Let's say I learn and practice the piece and I fall in love with it, but I think the nagado rim hits aren't bright enough so I want to add a wood block.  According to the license that's a no-go.  (No changes to instrumentation.)  I think the fue melody is too obvious and want to make it less repetitive.  Nope.  I think the shime and the chappa are basically doing the same thing and am inspired to write a replacement chappa part.  That's not allowed.  I can't join Kodo in creating, I can only play the notes as given.

Oh, unless I can't handle them.  The One Earth Music license allows "unavoidable arrangements due to users’ performance skills."  Wow, that's condescending.

You can't make money, except as outlined in Article 3, section 2

I understand why people use non-commercial licenses.  It seems intuitive that a composer might want to release music for others to use, except for making money.  But if that's how they feel, then they don't actually want to share.  After decades of experimentation with this type of license, free culture advocates understand that non-commercial works are of limited use.

In the free software world, we've learned to treat non-commercial as "non-free".  "Non-commercial" is a vague term and its boundaries have to be decided by courts.  This uncertainty is a massive barrier to free use.

Some examples.  Your group learns Shunpuu just to have fun and try something new.  It goes well and the members love the song.  Great!  You get a gig to play at a wedding.  Shunpuu would be a perfect fit, but if the wedding planner only wants one piece, then you can't use Shunpuu.  That would constitute a restricted "performance of all-Kodo music".  If they want two pieces then it's okay.  Oh wait, this a wedding, so they aren't selling tickets, so it's off limits again.

Another situation.  You're performing at a ticketed show and the presenter says, "Ticket sales are great!  We'd like to add a meet-the-artist reception where you play a few more pieces.  We'll pay an extra $1000."  As far as I can tell, you can't use Shunpuu there either because this instance is not "compensation for the entire concert" or "compensation for necessary expenses".

Can you teach this piece if you're compensated for your time teaching?  As far as I can tell, no.  But who really knows?  The license is vague and confusing.  Worse yet, Kodo can change the terms any time they like.  What?!  That means NO ONE can put any stake in this piece.  And who's going to re-read the license every time they're considering using it?

Commercial-use is an essential freedom for artists.  This license is a dumpster fire.

Handle with care

Don't be fooled, this is not free culture music.  This is not a gift for "anyone, anywhere, any time."  You are not free to use it as a launching pad for your own creations.  You can't tweak it to better represent your taste.  You have to carefully consider the details of a poorly-considered license every time you use it.

I'm sad that Kodo went to the trouble and expense of adding another non-free license to the world.  They could have just used the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives license.  It too, is not very useful, but at least it's clear, international, maintained, and non-revokable.

Most frustrating is the way Kodo is vastly over-stating their generosity.  They're stating, "You must try to play it like us, but without the full freedoms we enjoy."  I would argue it's not possible to ever play the piece at Kodo's level with the restrictions they have imposed.  The license necessitates a kind of artistic servitude that really rubs me the wrong way.

So what is this license actually giving the taiko world?  A tiny increase in the freedom to make money in certain circumstances, in exchange for a heap of other restrictions.  In many ways, this license is more restrcitve than standard copyright.  With standard copyright, you're already completely free to use all of Kodo's repertoire in private.  You can study and play anything you want within the confines of your dojo.  And you can perform that music anywhere you want, for pay, without asking Kodo permission, as long as the performance rights licenses are paid.  I find Kodo in the ASCAP ACE Repertory so they get royalties for this kind of use.  (With licensing fees already paid by many venues.)  With standard copyright, you can alreadly take an existing work, chop it up however you want, make a "cover song", and perform that for pay, all without asking permission.  Only if after all that tweaking the piece is still "substantially similar" to the original, would you need to obtain the "mechanical license" to do this, a fee set by Congress, not the artist.

So proceed with caution.  Learn Shunpuu if it's fun and instructive.  But know that it's tainted.  Be careful every time you use it.  Be careful falling in love with it.  You don't own this piece, and its license doesn't trust you to be a creator, only a consumer.  For free culture, it's copyleft, or nothing.


ps - The more I read the license the more it upsets me.  It says, "In the event of using Kodo One Earth Music, users must not be defamatory toward Kitamaesen and the taiko performance group Kodo."  What is that!?  Kodo... you're stronger that this!  How about something like this, instead?

"Here everybody!... I just finished a new piece called "Shunpuu"!  I want you to be able to use it so I'm releasing it copyleft.  Thanks to copyleft, you can confidently use it in performance, teach it, record it, for commercial and non-commercial purposes, forever.  The only rule is that any additions or changes you make are also free to others.  If you make changes, please change the name, ("ShunTwo, based on Shunpuu by Kodo"), and let people know that yours is a revision of the piece.  And please include a link to the original and tell others about the copyleft license so that they too are free to use and create.  Be empowered!  If you love it, use it!..  Add to it!  If you hate it, tear it apart and make the opposite!  Help us build the pool of free music!"

Kodo, you're badass and brave enough to do this.  Please free this piece from this restrictive license!