An End to Sharing, or Home Taping Is (Still) Killing Music

From its inception, one of the key features of 5:4 has been my desire to explore music that is not widely heard or available or understood. That exploration has in part taken the form of plundering my extensive archive of off-air radio recordings, an archive that i began while i was still at school (originally on cassette, being part of the generation the BPI decided were ‘killing music‘), and which continues to expand all the time. In the dozen years since, that archive has become, if not the backbone of the blog, then at least a primary source for the 5:4 musical journey, shaping both the broad scope and the individual details of my explorations. Unfortunately, it seems that this aspect of the blog needs to come to an end.

A couple of days ago, i received an email from ‘BBC IP Litigation’ asking me to remove an off-air recording i was sharing on 5:4, of a work premièred during the 2016 Proms. Obviously, i complied with this request immediately. It’s by no means the first time i’ve removed a recording from the blog. Usually, i’ve done this when a professional recording becomes available, as it’s not my intention to impinge on sales, particularly as many if not most labels devoted to contemporary music struggle to make ends meet. However, it’s the first time – in 5:4‘s entire 12-year lifespan – that the BBC has contacted me about this, and while they didn’t explicitly acknowledge the existence of any other recordings on the blog, they did request that i refrain from making recordings available in future. i wouldn’t want their polite request to escalate into something less palatable. So with immediate effect i’ve begun removing all the links to download the recordings i’ve shared on 5:4 over the years.

Of course, the written content of the blog is completely unaffected by this. Furthermore, sharing recordings in this way has never been the primary purpose or focus of 5:4, being just one aspect alongside my writing about concerts and festivals, new releases, as well as ongoing series like The Dialogues and Mixtapes. Nonetheless, from my perspective, this is not a minor change in the way i regard and write 5:4. Going forward, it will require a different approach taken when critiquing newly-premièred compositions – presumably linking instead to the BBC’s own streaming service, BBC Sounds – but more significantly it will make my regular explorations of older works – which aren’t available to buy or stream anywhere – such as those featured in my annual Lent Series or the recent series of articles at the start of winter, impossible to continue in the same form as previously.

Ultimately, i hope that the main attraction of 5:4 is my writing, and that this matters more than simply being a repository for audio downloads. That being said, i’ve always believed my writing is at its most effective and meaningful when presented hand-in-hand with the ability to hear the music being discussed. However, it wouldn’t surprise me at all if there’s a subset of my audience (hopefully, a small one) who comes to the blog solely for the downloads and couldn’t be less interested in my words about the music.

i realise i’ve not intimated thus far how i actually feel about this. As matters of a legal persuasion are all about what’s black and what’s white, i’m not sure feelings come into it, but strictly between you, me and the blogosphere, i’m quite heartbroken.

i know there will be a a lot of you – not least many of the composers and performers i’ve written about over the years – who will be as depressed about this as i am (i’ve already received my first email from one such composer; i expect more). i can only hope that you understand the situation and why i’ve come to the conclusion that 5:4 needs to change somewhat. The blog will of course continue – onwards and upwards and all that – but i do need to reflect on the whole way i go about writing about new music, and my future goals and aspirations for 5:4. This may need a little time to work out, so i hope you’ll bear with me.

Posted on by 5:4 in Announcements

13 Responses to An End to Sharing, or Home Taping Is (Still) Killing Music

  1. Matthias Weber

    I am sad to hear that. Let me say, however, that your writing about contemporary music is what has been attracting me to your blog. As an amateur-listener, it has been a wonderful experience to be able to actually hear what you find words to describe.

  2. Steven Loy

    another invaluable resource lost to corporate lawyers, especially since many BBC streams are not available outside the UK. Why is there no one within such organizations who understands that they lose more than they gain by interpreting the law so blindly? My condolences, Simon, I know you must be crushed.

  3. SocraticGadfly

    I don’t think it’s just this musical issue; rather, this musical issue is a sign of the Beeb slouching further toward Gomorrah.

  4. JCM

    I wonder if it might be worth polling your readership about whether it’s worth fighting this or looking for loopholes or removing only content that would annoy the BBC in particular.

    You’re a great writer, but I don’t see the point of writing about invisible objects. I read your writing to see what you can open up for me in a piece, to decide whether to listen to a piece, and to get recommendations. I can do none of these if I don’t have access to a recording: I can’t compare my experience against yours, and I can’t chase up your recommendations. So what then is the point? To read criticism as an end in itself? This is tempting, in general, but it’s not actually a good way to spend one’s time (except in rare cases – I have in mind John Berger – where the criticism is really only a starting-point for more general reflections, which from what I’ve read of you is not your style!).

    In other words, I doubt people come here solely for your recordings, but without them, your fine words lose their anchor in reality.

    Your recordings are a superb and important service to a community where musical recordings are very hard to get hold of. We as a community need it.

    • JCM

      (I should moderate this: I don’t read everything you write (not by a long shot – though I’ve really enjoyed everything I have read, and I’ve gotten some great leads and perspectives for which I’m deeply grateful). So what I get from your site might be idiosyncratic. This is why I say a poll might be the thing.)

  5. thesecretorganist

    I’m really sorry to hear this Simon – terribly sad news. I would echo the above comments – personally I’ve had my horizons broadened exponentially by being able to listen to the works you write about.
    It’s such a shame that the BBC don’t make recordings of these premieres available commercially themselves. It may be a niche audience, but it’s sad to think that these pieces will sit mouldering in a BBC archive somewhere, never to be heard again.

  6. jack53

    Why not make the recordings available for a set period e.g. 90 days? The BBC were objecting to a recording that was four years old.

    Like the others I find the music an essential complement to your essays.

  7. Chris Ryal

    Simon, by coincidence, just this week I’ve been revisiting my copies of the pieces you posted from the November 2014 HCMF, which was my introduction to Anna Thorvaldsdottir. Her work is now a valued part of my collection, and I’d never have come across it without your writing. Yes, an important part of that writing was illustrated by radio broadcasts that will no longer be available. But she’s also been the subject of a Dialogue, and explored in your reviews of recordings and concerts. The broadcast recordings were wonderful, but still: one resource among many. I have confidence that you’ll find an effective way to get music like hers to our ears, and always glad to support your efforts. And Happy New Year! I look forward to what we’ll discover in 2020.

  8. Tom Armstrong

    Yeah I’d echo Chris Ryall on this. I’ve downloaded quite a few of the flacs but not consistently so. I get as much from the very vivid writing, playlists and dialogues. And I’m fine about using Spotify so I’m often able to find things you discuss there (such as the above-mentioned composer). I certainly hope the blog continues as I find it an absolutely invaluable aid to keeping up with contemporary music in many styles and genres. Given that I write AND teach music it has become a pretty essential part of my ‘research’.

  9. Spiros Bousbouras

    Sad news. I enjoy your writing as much as I do the downloads so I hope you will continue with the writing (and your mixtapes).

    “this clearly also applies to the parallel copies of these recordings on YouTube, which have been deleted.”

    Are you sure it applies ? I have seen many copyrighted pieces on youtube and I think youtube operates some kind of licensing scheme. I don’t know how this works but you might want to look into it. In any case , if a copyrighted work is on youtube and not appropriately licensed , the copyright owners will ask youtube to remove it rather than go after the uploader so I don’t think you’ll be running any risk keeping the works on youtube.

  10. Phillip

    Hi, I am commenting from the US. This website has been an invaluable resource for discovering new music. Here in the US our public arts endeavors are all balkanized amongst states and municipalities and its really hard to find something like 5:4 for new music with full recordings. You would think that recordings of music broadcast publicly would not be some sort of IP violation.

    I will continue to regularly read this website.

  11. Richard Hering

    I’d like to echo Spiros’ point above. I don’t think this can apply to your YouTube account, as YouTube has its own licensing system with rights holders. I myself have had a YouTube account (Contemporary Classical) for five years sharing copyright content (about 150 videos) very similar to yours without a single “copyright strike” (the kind that endangers your account – three strikes and you’re out!). In most of the content I post, the rights holder merely collects ad revenue on views. In very rare cases (two only – a Birtwistle and a Xenakis) the post is made private, and in one more a region restriction applied. Where a recording has been mis-identified, I have appealed and won. The disappearance of your channel is tragic, and I think quite possibly unnecessary.

  12. Jolon Dixon

    There’s a lot of resources the German and Dutch radio to link to, perhaps? Needless to say, it’s very sad to not be able to share the recordings – it’s very helpful to composers and anyone interested to hear brand new works, some of which will never be available as album releases. And of course, it’s good to listen and then reflect on your thoughts about them.

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