Deadmau5 roars, and FL drops all melodic content? Hey, whatever – FL users stay loyal to their app and it’s now BYO sample time. Photo (CC) iamdonte.

The FL Studio community was rocked earlier this month as producer Deadmau5 claimed the use of his samples was “stealing,” even though these samples were bundled with the software and assumed by most to be licensed royalty-free. FL Studio developer Image-Line has not responded to a CDM request for comment, but they did talk to Managing Director Jean-Marie Cannie told that site:

We’ll remove all melodic loops from FL Studio to avoid this kind of stuff in the future but that won’t change a lot I’m afraid. Our demo material has been stolen 1000s of times in the more than 10 years we have been doing this. The difference here is that this time it was stolen from a user that made it big.

I’m going to ignore for a moment the question of how “that won’t change a lot” – people will be able to steal demo content even when it’s not there? That aside, there are two odd things about this story:

1. Image-Line seems to helped create the problem by shipping sample content in software without being clear which license covered that content and which is which, then responded with the inexplicable argument that that sample content was supposed to be for “demo” purposes only (with nothing that I can see to back up that statement, and evidence that precisely the opposite was the case). No one is angry enough to dump FL, because it’s an excellent tool, but I sure hope Image-Line learns from the experience.

2. Many users are nonetheless responding “good riddance” to the loss of sample content.” For a lot of people, the bigger question here really is artistic, and maybe it’s time for computer musicians to draw a line.

“Demo” Samples – or Sample Content?

Let’s go back in time to the samples themselves, before the user DirtyCircuit produced a song with these samples and before Deadmau5’s response. If we give Image-Line the benefit of the doubt, there are two ways they could have avoided trouble. One would be to label what they call “demo material” so that it’s clear it’s not supposed to be used. The other would be to include an explicit license prohibiting certain kinds of use – I’m no fan of legalese, but then they’d be legally covered.

The problem is, they did neither. Image-Line and Deadmau5 seem to have entire fabricated the idea that this is “demo content,” as many FL users and CDM readers have noted.

(highlight mine)

The content is listed under a section called “Packs” in the default content included with FL, in sections called “Loops > Drum Loops” and “Loops > Melody Loops.” Claiming this is “demo” content is downright disingenuous, because the same section includes individual notes of samples of drums and instruments for keymapping and even synth and plug-in presets. To say it was “stolen” has to be one of the oddest comments ever made by a software developer. It almost implies that making any use of default parameters is intellectual property theft, which, while I suppose it’s ideologically pure, would be absurd. Image-Line almost went out of their way to make this content accessible to its users.

These sample packs aren’t mentioned in the documentation, but downloadable sample packs are one of the selling points of the program, and that is in the marketing materials. As near as I can figure, Image-Line actually made up the idea that these were demo samples because they wanted to make Deadmau5 happy.

What Rights You Get with FL

Updated: if this were demo content, it would be covered under the End User License Agreement for FL Studio. The license is explicit in that case:

“The Software and the Demo Songs, in its entirety and each part of it, are protected by Belgian copyright laws, international treaty provisions (Convention of Bern) and European Directives.

You acknowledge and agree that the Software, including but not limited to the source code, the structure and organization, and the Demo Songs in its entirety and each part of it, are proprietary to IL and/or its partners and that IL and/or its partners retain exclusive ownership of all right, title and interest in and to the Software, Demo Songs, documentation and trademarks. As producer(s) of the databases contained in the Software and the product package of the Software IL and/or its partners retain all sui generis rights in the content.

Notwithstanding the foregoing, IL shall in no event claim ownership rights to new and original music made by using the Software.”

EULA for FL Studio

Furthermore, that has been communicated in plain English by Image-Line support:

* You can not use or sell any of the songs/loops that come included with FL Studio. If you want to use parts of it, you can contact the original creator and discuss this issue further with him.

* You can not license, copyright, sell or distribute in any way the individual samples & sounds, or make samples packs out of it.

Of course, you’ll notice an inconsistency here:

1. Image-Line never does make any included sample content royalty-free, which is unprecedented in music software. (The loops that come with programs like GarageBand, Ableton Live, and every other app I can think of are explicitly made royalty-free.)

2. The EULA says only “demo songs,” and is entirely mum on the question of sample packs.

3. The support FAQ says “loops,” but that’s never made clear by the EULA.

It would be correct to say that the Deadmau5 samples would be off-limits if they were part of a demo song. The problem is, what are they doing in the “Packs” section, where it appears to be among other royalty-free samples? Unlike the demo songs and samples, those are free to use in your own songs – you just can’t resell them on a sample disc, for instance.

Here’s what Image-Line says about the samples they provide free when you buy the product. They’re available as a separate download, but then, that doesn’t make this make much more sense.

All samples are royalty-free, which means you can use the samples in your own compositions and songs without paying any further royalties. You are not allowed, however, to resell or redistribute any or all of the samples as a sample pack or sample CD.

The thing is, the demo songs are a completely different part of what ships with FL. You can find various demo songs in a folder called “Cool Stuff.” (You can try all of this out with the FL8 demo.) “Faxing Berlin” is indeed a Deadmau5 song, but
the loops from the song just show up in the Packs. There is a Deadmau5 demo song included with FL, but it’s a different song (“That’s not true,” which is oddly appropriate for this situation.)

It’s obvious, then, that Image-Line fumbled the way these samples were distributed and labeled, the way the license was expressed in the user agreement and support, and in their reaction to the whole affair after the case. It’s possible Image-Line didn’t communicate adequately with the artist, that the artist signed away rights without examining the consequences, that the samples actually got put in the wrong folder, or some combination of all of the above. We haven’t gotten clear communication from I-L, though, explaining what the heck happened.

Obviously, the fix is pretty easy:

1. Artists, be careful with your samples, or assume your fans will be able to differentiate. (In fairness, the actual Deadmau5 track is to me obviously superior to the DirtyCircuit “remix.”)

2. Developers, be explicit, both in legal documentation and in communicating to your users.

In the meantime, I’d like to see future versions of FL that are clearly labeled and clearly licensed, and I don’t think there’s anyway to argue in this case that they were. I’d also like to see a clarification from Image-Line of what, in the current EULA and software, actually is licensed to the users, because this isn’t typical of competing packages.

Artistic Response: Presets, Begone!

Some people are, predictably, upset by the whole affair – and I think they have the right to be frustrated with Image-Line for being apparently incapable of handling content that ships with their own software.

The surprise is, a lot of people are actually glad to see the “Loops” out of the Fruity. You can read endless responses from forum members who say this kind of sampling is bad for the perception of the tool, because it overshadows the genuinely creative work a lot of people are doing with it. Once you get out of the legal and developer-specific issues, you really do get into the question of the artistic merit of the sample use. In my view, using a sample – any sample, regardless of license – as the basis of a song without significant modification amounts to plagiarism. It may be perfectly legal, but if you aren’t placing that sample in a new context, and you’re claiming it’s “your” work, you’re doing something dishonest. Now, we can debate all day about where to draw the line, but the problem isn’t sampling, it’s, say, taking a couple of samples, looping them endlessly, and calling it a song. Odds are, you won’t even have to have a debate about that, because a lot of people will simply lose interest musically.

Among many users of a program with “Loops” in its name, and among readers of this site who are themselves often fond of sampling, a lot of people would like to be done with sample content in general. On a simple, practical level, samples you don’t need from other people’s songs can get in the way of your work. A number of readers of CDM said they’d be happy to be done with this sample content and demo songs just to save room on their hard drive. (Happily, some installers give you a choice; I know Cakewalk’s SONAR 8 allows you to uncheck the sample projects on install, only because I just installed it.)

You can read the extensive comments on the previous story, but these two lines from wi_ngo pretty much sum it up:

I LOVE the Grey Album.

I HATE factory patches/loops/presets.

In other words, sampling is fine. Preset content is boring. Sampling without doing anything with those samples is playing a track, not really sampling.

So, most of the frustration at the moment seems to be that Image-Line not only botched the release of these samples in the first place, but isn’t communicating clearly in the aftermath. (I think the latter is the real problem, even more than the former.)

But all fruit, no loops? That sounds just fine to most. And none of this seems to be dampening enthusiasm for Image-Line’s flagship music tool.

Final score:

Deadmau5: 1. More publicity for Faxing Berlin.

DirtyCircuit: 0. The original is better.

Image-Line: 0. Totally muddled the situation before, during, and afterward.

FL Studio: 1. Happily, people still like your software.

Preset content: 0. You’re gone. No one will miss you.

Samples, unmodified, as the core of a song that’s not a “remix”: 0.

Community policing: 10. See also: Crystal Castles. Forget the license, forget the law – in the Web age, music fans have become the final arbiters of what matters – and artistic value matters.

Xfer Sample CD, Anyone?

I had almost forgotten – on top of this comes the oddly-timed news that Deadmau5 will be releasing his own sample CD – yours for a hundred bucks (US). Friend Steve Duda hand-coded some DSP, as well.

Stranger and stranger – Duda says:

“we saw a niche for one geared towards building blocks of EDM with a twist – this one is royalty-free, so it can be used in original productions with no fear of legal repercussions from the original artists who often are sampled on other CD libraries”

Well, unless I missed something, the only legal repercussions I’ve seen from sample libraries are the Deadmau5 FL Studio libraries. I don’t know of any other sample libraries that have uncleared samples on them, as that’d indeed make them worthless. So, no chance this is related to the separate FL issue, is there?

I’m also trying to wrap my head around this one:

One thing for certain, the sounds of the XFER Sample CD will be featured on dance tracks for decades to come.

I enjoy Deadmau5’s music, but to me the idea that this particular sample library will be featured in dance tracks in 2040 is not “for certain.”

(I imagine I’ll still be getting bizarre spam comments on posts I’m writing now on CDM after I’m dead, but that’s another matter.)

In case you’re planning your dance tracks for when you’re 64:

Deadmau5 Xfer Sample CD-ROM presale