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We recently had the pleasure of catching up with Robert Kaye, “lead geek” at MusicBrainz, a community music database that “attempts to create a comprehensive music information site.” Kaye fills us in on what is happening at MusicBrainz, including extensive background on the project, how they use CC licenses, and their goal to add broader support for classical music.

Where does MusicBrainz fit in the open content ecology?

MusicBrainz plays an important role in blazing the path for open databases. We know how to play with open source and music, and we have few examples of how to work
with open structured data. We work hard to make our data useful and available to people, as we believe that Metcalfe’s law also applies to data. Thus, getting lots of people to use our data makes MusicBrainz vastly more useful and valuable. With that in mind, we want to be the de-facto standard for music metadata in the open content ecology.

How does Creative Commons licensing work for MusicBrainz?

We have a lot of data that is in the Public Domain, but some of it is creative output of our community and thus copyrightable. These copyrightable bits are placed under a CC non-commercial license, which then opens the door for licensing this content for commercial use. The CC data bundled with the Public Domain data gives us a package that we license for commercial use. In this case we do not license the Public Domain data, but we charge for convenient and timely access to the data. The CC licenses make it possible for us to operate with this new business model because people have vetted the licenses and are comfortable working with them.

MusicBrainz predates wide awareness of the power of community contributed content. What have you learned from the current crop? What sage wisdom can you impart to community leaders who want their
projects to last?

The community is the project! If you anger your users or don’t keep them engaged then the value of your project plummets. Your software and hardware is worthless if you can’t keep your users happy. Its crucial to get feedback from your community any time you plan to expand features or change the terms of service. Your community can punish you ruthlessly for not listening, or worse, for listening but not following the advice. And you must be careful every step of the way, since one misstep is all it takes to waste years of hard earned credit.

What’s next for MusicBrainz? How can people get involved?

We’re continuing our major push in 2009 for extending our schema and incorporating much better support for classical music. This effort should take us much further down the road to becoming a comprehensive music encyclopedia. Wikipedia for music, if you will. As usual, people can get involved by creating a free account and looking up their favorite artists to see if we’ve done a good job collecting the data for that artist — there is always more data to be added. And if you have a messy music collection that you’ve been meaning to clean up for eons, we can help make that process much easier!

MusicBrainz Logo, Robert Kaye | CC BY-NC-SA

Posted 28 October 2008