A group of classical music lovers have successfully appealed for funds to release copyright-free versions of symphonies by four famous composers. The money will pay for an orchestra to record the music on an “all rights basis”.

The project, Musopen, aims to deal with a problem caused by the way copyright laws work. Although the actual symphonies written by composers in, for example, the 19th century are long out of copyright, there is separate protection for every individual performance by an orchestra. That means that in most cases, the only recordings currently in the public domain are very old performances generally recorded with poor quality equipment and plagued with hiss and crackle.

Musopen aims to build a library of copyright free performances, allowing site visitors to do legally do everything from burn them to CD to use them in movies. In some cases this involves simply persuading copyright holders to donate their performances to the project, thus opening them up to the public domain.

The most recent appeal, however, went a step further. While the group has previously hired orchestras to record sets of music that are relatively low-key in terms of scale and personnel (such as piano sonatas), they recently decided to aim to record the complete symphonies of Beethoven, Brahms, Sibelius and Tchaikovsky, with an estimated price of $11,000 to cover an orchestra’s fees and recording facilities. They also wanted to use a lossless format rather than compressed audio such as mp3.

To get the money, the group appealed via Kickstarter, an online fundraising site that allows the public to pledge a donation, but only collects and hands over the money if the entire target amount is pledged. As part of the pledge process, donators were offered rewards ranging from a data CD containing the recording files (in return for a $25 donation) to a sponsorship of a particular symphony recording plus an iPod containing all the recordings (for a $1,000 donation).

The project has now exceeded its target, eight days before the deadline set for donations. The group says that for each additional $1,000 it raises by then, it will record another set of compositions such as Mozart’s violin sonatas.

This article originally appeared in Tech.Blorge.com on September 6, 2010.

Old Archives Online appeal sets classical music free