Frequently Asked Questions
Questions from Listeners
- Is the music on this site free?
- No. The rights-holders get paid every time a song is downloaded.
Royalties come out of a combination of membership fees and other income
(like advertising and sales commissions). If there's enough other
income to cover royalties, members get some or all of their membership
fees rebated. But somebody is paying for it.
- But there's a penguin on your site! Doesn't that mean the songs are
open source and I can do anything I want with them?
- Which part of ``no'' didn't you understand? The software (on
penguinsong.org) is open
source (and hence free). Musicians like to get paid, even if it's not
very much. The penguin is also the mascot of the Linux community, and
we like to think of PenguinSong as a community of musicians. There are
a lot of similarities.
- Why are you using this wacko Ogg Vorbis format instead of good old MP3?
- MP3 isn't free. There's a patent on it, and depending on the whims of
the patent holder you might just get stuck paying a fee every time you
encode a song in MP3. Ogg Vorbis is free, and it gives better
- Are your files copy-protected?
- We call it ``use-restricted'', and the answer is NO. You can make as
many copies as you want for your own personal use.
- Does that mean I can download songs and give copies to my friends?
- Well, yes, but we'd rather you gave them a URL instead. If you give
them a URL, that encourages them to become members (which gives
you a referral bonus). Besides, URL's take a lot less
bandwidth and are easier to remember.
- Does it mean I can download songs, burn them onto CD's, and sell them
without paying royalties?
- HECK NO! Don't even think about it! Do it, and the songwriters and
performers will sue you for copyright infringement. We'll help. On
the other hand, if you pay royalties and clear it with all the
rights-holders, we'll even help you sell them.
- How about putting songs on my website?
- If you want to put links to a PenguinSong song page on your website,
go right ahead! If you want to download a copy and put
that on your site, yes but only if you pay royalties through
BMI or ASCAP -- and even then we'd rather you didn't. Besides, linking
uses less of your precious space.
- What if they're my own songs?
- That's different, of course. But we pay royalties.
Questions about Membership
- Do I have to become a member?
- No. Of course, if you don't you'll (eventually) see some ads, you'll
get far fewer free downloads, and you won't be able to contribute.
- Do I have to become a paid subscriber?
- No. Subscribers get a lot more options for customizing their pages,
though, and lots more downloads.
Questions from Musicians
- I see a penguin on your site. Does that mean I have to put my songs
- Of course not. The software (on penguinsong.org) is free.
You get paid for your music.
- So why the penguin?
- the software is free
- we're aiming for a community sort of like the Linux
- it's memorable
- the penguin images look cool on T-shirts.
- What license do you use?
- We don't. It's plain, ordinary copyright. Someone downloading your
song gets no rights in it other than fair use. Songwriters get paid
at the statutory rate for mechanical licenses.
- What does your contract look like?
- [not written yet] -- it's basically a non-exclusive contract for
distribution. We put your stuff up for download. You get paid.
The main unusual points are these:
- You agree to accept less than the standard mechanical license fee
if we don't bring in enough money during an accounting period.
- You agree to allow us to distribute your music without use
restrictions (Digital Rights Management / copy protection).
- Optionally, you agree to allow other members to post
versions of your songs (you split the royalties if their version
has more than 25% new content) or post new lyrics to your music
(you split the royalties 50-50). Think of it as a kind of jam
- What if there's just one version or one performance I don't like?
- You have two options for anything that uses one of your
songs. You can deprecate it, or you can ban it. If you deprecate it,
people can still get to it but they'll see your deprecation notice,
too. It just means that you don't like it, and you can say why if you
want to. If you ban it, all they see is your notice -- but
you have to explain it, and the other party can comment.
- If I ban something can they still post the lyrics?
- Yes. Parodies and lyrics ``to the tune of'' other songs are protected
free speech. [=== need citation ===] But you can prevent them from
recording their version if it uses your music and isn't a ``real''
parody, i.e. one that comments on the original.
- Can I post my music somewhere else, too?
- Of course: it's a non-exclusive contract. We'll even let you
put links to other sites on your song pages -- in fact we want you to.
Just don't expect us to pay you for downloads from somewhere else.
- If there aren't use restrictions on my music, isn't that encouraging
- Not at all. If somebody takes your music, burns it onto a CD, and
sells it, or puts it on their own web site, that's copyright
infringement and you can sue them for it. We'll help. On the other
hand, if somebody wanted to copy your CD they could just buy one and
dup it -- happens all the time. What the lack of use restrictions is
encouraging is people becoming members because they can do more,
for their own private use, with unrestricted files than with
- How else do you discourage piracy?
- Mainly by encouraging members to pass URL's to their friends instead of
copies of songs. URL's are small and easily e-mailed. The
friend can download a few songs for free, but in order to do it they'll
have to register -- then we've got them hooked.
- Can I sell my CD's and T-shirts on your site?
- By all means! We'll charge you a commission, which gets applied to
song royalties, but it's probably less than what most retailers would
charge you, never mind selling through a distributor.
Questions About the Site
- Where do lyrics and sheet music go?
- Under the songwriter's page in
/c/. Of course, every song
page is cross-referenced to every album and track that it's on.
- Where do performances (tracks) go?
- Under the performer's page in
/p/. Of course, every track
is linked to both the corresponding song page and the album page (if it
exists, of course -- nothing keeps you from posting an unreleased
- Where do albums (CDs, tapes) go?
- Under the publisher's page in
/t/. Of course, every
songwriter and every performer has a ``discography'' list that points
to all of the albums they have tracks on.