Case Studies/Open Music Contest

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A music competition to promote CC licenses

Music wants to be free. — m.eik michalke, Organizer and Chief Evangelist


A handful of people, communicating mainly via a special mailing list, have organised the competition since 2004/05. Bands can enter during an announced period, with up to three recorded songs of their own, if they agree to license those under a CC license. Then, a jury (invited and moderated by the organisational team) rates every piece of music. The results are used to compile a promotional CD sampler, which is given away for free. In addition, some of the bands are invited to perform live during a concert, supporting well known headliners.

The Open Music Content (OMC) started as a project of the students union of the Philipps University of Marburg, which continues to provide infrastructure and financial support. OMC received support by numerous projects and organisations in the past, which included, amongst others, Creative Commons International & Deutschland, Chaos Computer Club (CCC),,, FoeBuD, LinuxTag, LinuxUser Magazine, newthinking, zeitgeisty, and Grüne Jugend. Since OMC#3, the competition is held under the aegis of CC founder Lawrence Lessig.

License Usage

When a band enters the contest, it must choose a license for every track, which is easily done through a web form. OMC does not demand that entries use a certain CC license because one of the goals of the OMC is to make copyright holders aware of their rights and all of the possibilities open to them.

The number of bands entering grew at a constant rate of 50% each year (from 35, 50, 76 to 109 bands in 2008). As of now, the OMC has pressed and distributed 11,000 free samplers in four years.

The majority of the bands seem to be very happy with the licenses and the competition as a whole. To some, the idea of free culture is completely new, and they want to try it out, while some have used free licenses before and were waiting for a platform such as OMC. Some bands are very interested and contact the organizers for further information. However, a few individuals still have difficulty understanding CC's concepts and process.

On the other hand, thousands of people will be exposed to CC-licensed music through the OMC samplers, be it on a CD or on the web, again many of them for the first time. A printed, multipage booklet explains the licenses and the ideas behind it. A competition like this OMC seems to be an effective way to spread the idea of free music: directly through the competition itself or the samplers it produces, and indirectly through media attention. The OMC was featured on television, radio, print media, and countless weblogs.


M.eik Michalke, initiator of the first OMC, is a longtime musician himself. Fascinated by the quality and availability of free software, but not a skilled programmer, he decided to share his own music in a similar way, and convinced his band /'angstalt/ to do so. They re-released their debut album “ex.” under the Green Open Music License in 2000. But they soon realised that freely licensed music was not finding an audience, because there was no obvious way to promote "freedom" as a special feature average listeners would appreciate and understand. Without understanding it, how could users really benefit from the given rights? This thought prompted Michalke to hold a nationwide competition to promote the idea of free culture.

In 2003, he joined the students union of his university, advocating free software, helping students migrate their computers. The union organised a large concert party each semester, providing the infrastructure needed for the forthcoming competition. One and a half years later, enough people were persuaded to try OMC, and with the release of the German Creative Commons Licenses 2.0, the timing was perfect. In the end, the OMC worked out much better than its organisers had expected.


Sampler: [1] Wallpaper: [2]


Although the students union supported the project as much as it could over the past years, the OMC has grown to proportions leading to inevitable structural changes. The competition organisers do not know exactly where the project is heading, but they are dedicated to keeping OMC alive and thriving. The OMC relies on the support of the public and private individuals, which ensures that the event can continue to grow and demonstrate the success and diversity of free music