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The Open Music Archive is situated within the current discourse surrounding notions of authorship, ownership and distribution, reanimated by a porting of Free/Libre and Open Source software models to wider creative contexts. The Open Music Archive concerns itself with the public domain and creative works which are not owned by any one individual and are held in common by society as a whole.

Under copyright law, a music recording has two automatically assigned property rights: A musical composition has a property right and a recording has a separate and independent property right. These property rights are limited by term. In the UK, the term of copyright in a literary, dramatic, musical or artistic work is limited to the life of the author plus 70 years, while the term of copyright in a sound recording is limited to 50 years from the date of recording. The archive attempts to gather recordings and information about recordings whose proprietary interests have expired and make them accessible to a wider public.

Artists Ben White & Eileen Simpson have initiated this project following a series of projects which involved researching and gathering music which has fallen out of copyright. Much of this music, although legally in the public domain, is tied to physical media (for example gramophone records) and locked away in archives or private collections which are not widely accessible. The Open Music Archive aims to digitise as much of this music as possible in order to free it from the constraints of a physical collection.

The project aims to share the existing resource and to build a larger archive in open collaboration with others. The archive aims to distribute this music freely, form a site of exchange of knowledge and material, and be a vehicle for future collaborations and distributed projects.

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