Hard News by Russell Brown


Friday Music: Free and Legal

Imagine if public libraries provided free music of all kinds to their members, to keep, in an orderly, accessible and thoroughly legal fashion. Well, you don't have to imagine it: that been the case at Auckland Libraries for the past year, since the adoption of the Freegal service.

Freegal Music allows members to download up to three songs a week from the very large (three million items on 17,000 record labels) Sony Music catalogue, which includes music from dozens of ethnic traditions and many audiobooks and spoken word works. Also, Beyonce. The downloads are DRM-free MP3 files and members simply keep everything they download.

But that might not be the case much longer. Among the savings proposed in the Auckland Draft Plan is that "the Freegal music download service offered by Auckland Libraries ... no longer be available."

Freegal isn't a service for me. I can afford to buy music and I'm pretty well versed in what's available for free and where. My appetite is a bit larger than three songs a week.

But Sue Cooper, the former (now-retired) Heritage and Research manager at Auckland Libraries contacted me to note that "awareness of Freegal is highest amongst Maori, 15-19 year olds, students, unemployed and those with a low household income. Use is highest amongst secondary school students and 15-19 yr olds."

As she points out, it's useful for young library members to be engaged with a service that supports and respects copyright.

Each Freegal download costs the library six or seven cents and the conceptual move from buying-once-and-lending to, effectively, reselling, is not uncontroversial in interational library services. This American blog post offers a withering assessment of the scheme -- but other librarians chip in in comments to say that the service is working just fine for them, and that their members understand and value it.

Sue's view is that the use of the service offers a substantial saving on the acquisition of CDs and attracts a very different, and younger group of users than the CD catalogue does. She wrote to me:

The library needs to keep up with the modern digital age – is the council trying to go back to the dark ages?  Also, it’s not a good precedent for the council to be telling the library what it can or cannot subscribe to – next thing it will be telling us what books we cannot read.  We expect our libraries to have popular current material and to provide free access to music, as it has always done.  Free access to music is a core library service.

This is the first I'd heard of Freegal -- as I said, I'm not its market. But it seems to me that this service needs to be considered as more than just a line item to be crossed out -- especially if there is no plan for anything to replace it.


Late last year I went to The Other Crate Record Fair and really rather enjoyed it, just as much socially as for the range of new and used vinyl there. Nice vibe. There's another one on this month, and the organiser, Arpra Jelly has asked me if I'd like to spin some platters for a while during the day. Well ... yeah!

Not sure yet what time I'll be doing that, but the details for the fair are:

The Other Crate Record Fair

9.30am - 2pm Saturday February 23

Polish Hall

1 McDonald Street

Morningside, Auckland.

Entry is $3. See you there, maybe.


 Currently number one on TheAudience, this gritty, laconic track from Auckland hip hop stalwart Louie Knuxx:

Another little chunk of downloadable mischief from The Dastardly Bounder:

More from the swelling catalogue of New Zealand roots/blues/country artists on TheAudience - Rotorua's Loop Road:

And, finally, this would seem to be the week to dish up a classic bit of Maori reggae from a group actually based at Ratana Pa:


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