Monthly Archives: June 2009

Who Controls Music?

teru from a comment on Lucas Gonze blog:

“I do however find it slightly hypocritical that on one hand old model record labels are condemned for taking away musicians rights but on the other forgoing their rights completely for the good of the Commons is admirable. To me, it seems to sends out a conflicting and confusing message. Especially when trying to explain to those who are not yet familiar with CC.”

This is exactly the type of perspective us “experts” could stand to hear a lot more often.

Perhaps it would help to spell out the range of goals that liberal licensing, the free culture movements and Creative Commons specifically are trying to address:

1. The creative process itself is hindered when artificial rules and manufactured scarcity are in the way. Because art builds on the past, it suffers under these conditions. The art is better and culture flourishes when there is free access.

2. Restricting access to artistic and cultural material and tools spills into even more fundamental issues of free speech. Freedom of expression is hindered when you are forced to restrict yourself to state (or corporate) sanctioned methods. Many of us in the free culture movement can’t tell the difference between a society in which the state owns 100% of expression and four corporations own 95%.

3. Most artists are interested in getting the product of their work out there in the most efficient way possible. Those exact same artists are also pretty keen on keeping control of their work, even once it’s out there. Finding this balance seems daunting and contradictory, but some kind of combination of these forces is what artists are saying they want.

Note how #3 sticks out from the first two. When it’s laid out like this you have to wonder how in the hell we ever tied these issues together.

Boyle and Lessig have spent a lot of energy recently making the case for how the no-controls-gift economy and the whole capitalist thing feed each other and the organization they founded, Creative Commons, is bent on providing a philosophical backbone (not to mention real tools) to tie it all up.

I don’t want to over-emphasize the tension between these issues because there really is a huge overlap between them once you dive in. For example, you could make a similar list out of enviromental issues:

1. Scientists are convinced the world is dying. 25 years left, max.
2. Oil is the root of all evil, causes war, etc.
3. People love cars, will never give them up and want really, really cheap fuel. In fact, free would be great.

I suspect that if I was running site called ccHybrixter where people came together over ways of spending less on fuel and using their car battery to power monster speakers in the back seat, many regulars would get upset if I blurted out the idea that they should consider leaving the car in garage on Saturdays and walking 10 miles for the sake of balance.

Creative Commons is a hybrid solution. ccMixter’s simplistic facade on the issues notwithstanding, it’s a complicated, conflicting and contradictory affair that requires a multi-faceted approach. Guilty. If the issue was only about who has control over music then things would get simpler, because artists controlling their work would be the prime directive. Dios mio it would be a whole lot easier to recruit musicians to CC if everything revolved around control.

The solutions for all three issues, however, don’t always overlap neatly and cleanly. The case for CC0 is a clear case where it does not overlap at all. In that light: giving up control to an entity, like a record company, that is fighting you on all three issues is an act worthy of condemnation. On the other hand, giving up that control in a way that benefits the first two issues, even if it runs counter to the third, is worthy of praise.

The stakes are high. Charge the confusion to my expense account.

Consider: Zero

An open letter to musicians:

Earlier this year Creative Commons formally introduced a license waiver called CC0 (CC Zero). I urge musicians, as strongly as I can, to consider using this license waiver for the audio samples they put into the Commons.

Audio samples licensed with CC0 with a CC0 waiver are the most flexible and least restrictive. Put another way, they carry the most freedom. Isn’t it hard enough to be creative? Isn’t there is enough to worry about at the times we summon the muse and create something that expresses who we truly are, the sum of our individual and collective experiences? If you’ve ever been stopped in the midst of a creative project by non-creative issues then you already know what non-freedom looks like.

James Boyle, in his brilliant book “Public Domain“:

“The vast majority of [the material at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C.], perhaps as much as 95 percent in the case of books, is commercially unavailable. The process happens comparatively quickly. Estimates suggest that a mere twenty-eight years after publication 85 percent of the works are no longer being commercially produced…Yet because the copyright term is now so long, in many cases extending well over a century, most of twentieth-century culture is still under copyright—copyrighted but unavailable. Much of this, in other words, is lost culture.”

In other words, according to these estimates, if a book was published in 1981, there is an 85% chance that the publisher is no longer interested in making any more copies of the book because they can’t make any money with it. But because the copyright could extend out to 2081, doing anything with that work, artistically or otherwise, even in an “amateur” settings, is a federal crime. That work is lost.

No matter how highly I consider my musical work on my best days, I would like to think there is balance between my personal desires and choking off my great granchildren’s freedoms to speak creatively.

If you, as a musician, feel the need to make a separation between the work aimed at furthering your career from the work you wish to put into the public sphere in order to further our collective culture, then I can understand how you came to that conclusion. Of course, I don’t agree with you because there is plenty of evidence that if a fan or fellow musicians wants to share your work or wants to remix it, they’ve already done it, “legal” or not. There is plenty of evidence that by making your sources available for unfettered re-use and derivation, by making your works available for the widest (free-est) possible sharing and by establishing a relationship of trust with your audience, you are doing your career far more good than by hoarding your work under restrictive, criminalizing and unrealistic protections.

Most of us remember a time when our samples came from the likes of the pre-Sony Sonic Foundry ACID libraries. This would give us access to vast amounts of sound beds to our compositions in exchange for a relatively small fee. The popularity of those libraries sprung from the fact that they required no commercial royalties and no attribution. The library vendor retains ownership of the source material, but the consuming musician owns the resulting, derivative work. This is, rougly, the audio version of “Free Beer: $2.00 each” — once you give us $2.00, you are free to do whatever you want.

The rationale I’ve heard for putting audio samples into the Commons under Attribution-NonCommercial is that it maps a new world order of sharing to this old world business model. A similar rationale is used for putting audio samples into the Commons using an Attribution license with the twist, as I pointed out in my ccMixter memoirs, that many musicians consider attribution, itself, a form of currency. All of this assumes there is a long-term, viable business model (a fancy way of saying “a way to make a few bucks”) by exchanging either money or attribution for copies of audio samples. Somehow, you, sitting in your garage, will find a way to convince people there is value in manufacturing scarcity through restrictions in a post-scarity world.

Even if you are unswayed, in the face of these arguments, that clinging to unrealistic restrictions only damages your career, I still appeal to your sense of the Bigger Picture. Yes, attribution is an important part of building an old world resume and certainly, critical when real money is being distributed through a royalty system. But the stakes are very high and the larger cost, to the currency we call freedoms of expression, seem overly steep compared to the potential, and I claim often misguided, short-term wishful hopes of one person.

ABOUT CC0: http://creativecommons.org/about/cc0

CC0 FAQ: http://wiki.creativecommons.org/CC0

CHOOSE CC0: http://creativecommons.org/license/zero