Category Archives: Licensing

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.




RiP: A Review

Last night I went to a screening of “RiP” at UnionDocs, a kind of film makers’ urban commune in Williamsburg, a neighborhood in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. This was the first time I’d seen the film and I had mixed feelings going into it.

I’ve seen a lot of documentaries about free culture, many of them featuring the usual suspects, Doctorow, Lessig, GirlTalk, etc. and I was worried this would just be another diatribe. But “RIP: A Remix Manifesto” is a very special piece of work. Folks at ccMixter are familiar with the project and I’ve known the director, Brett Gaylor, for several years. (Disclosure: for some reason Brett mentions me in the credits but I’m pretty sure I’d be psyched about the film even if he hadn’t done that.)

Brett is a fantastic story teller and his choice of Girl Talk as a centerpiece for the movie gives the whole thing a big energy pump-up. It’s no wonder this thing lights up every festival that screens it. The good news is that the documentary is very focused and never strays off message. The bad news is that it is very focused and never strays off message. For example, Lessig is featured prominently but if you’ve ever seen him talk you know that there’s always two parts of his message: one is that the current system is “fucked” and the other is that there is an alternative pool of art being created that ignores all that (e.g. 100,000,000 CC licensed pictures on flickr can’t be insignificant.) Brett ignores all of the second part and cuts all that stuff out of Lessig’s talks. I totally understand why he did that, I agree, artistically, with the decision — it’s a better doc for it. I guess it just means someone has to go out there to make the super-high-energy go-gettem doc about what’s happening in the free culture movement besides civil disobedience.

The film was followed by a talk session hosted by Steve Holmgren of UnionDocs and featured Aram Sinnreich, professor of copyright at NYU, Fred a.k.a. the hip dude at CC and Brett via Skype video.

Aram is a Big Brain guy, the kind you’re happy is working on your side and not for the other guys. You may remember him as the Napster-is-good-for-business-you-idiots guy. While the rest of us are running around fueled by emotion and the injustice of it all, he’s actually crunched the numbers and gives the whole free culture movement the academic cred we suspect is there, but then are too dim to recognize it in the data without his help.

I have no idea why, as of this writing, RiP is not available for download from Brett’s sites. Whatever, here’s a divx torrent from The Pirate Bay (there are several others in case that one isn’t alive when you try it.)

[UPDATE] Here is a pick-your-price download page.

From left to right, Steve, Aram, Brett (on screen) and Fred.

Radio, Fees and Old Flames

CDM has got yet another discussion going about the proposed bill to pay performing musicians for radio play (currently only composers are supposed to get paid for radio plays.)

That discussion is focused on what’s “fair” between the different contributors to a music recording. It seems the bill may die regardless because as it turns out, surprise, the system used for composers’ compensation is already broken and unfair so adding performing musicians into the current system would only make it equally unfair for everybody. (So in that sense it would be “fair.”)

But it’s difficult to have any discussion about what is fair in the music business when the foundation is so shaky. To me the whole thing is colored dark grey by what commenter Music Fan calls the RIAA checklist.

Billy Corgon and Don Henley are not “artists.” They are barely “people.” They are icons, brand names, in a word: celebrities. That is significant because it is as celebrities, not musicians, that they have broken through the norm and re-re-re-negotiated their enslavement deals with the big labels and actually have a shot at seeing a penny or two if a law like this is passed. Having these guys testify in Congress on behalf of “musicians” is like assuming Coca-cola represents liquid. Mere mortals who are signed to record deals have given away 100% of their rights already just by signing up with the loan-shark big labels so they would never, ever see a penny of radio performance royalty. The only reason session musicians don’t sign away 100% of those rights on the records they play on is because there’s nothing to sign away. If this law was to pass, signing away those rights would be the cost of doing business – i.e. getting to play on the record in the first place. The business practice of big-labels follows the money, not the principled or “fair” or right thing to do.

By way of analogy: unions make sense to me. Workers rights is a gravely important issue. But when unions were 90% mobbed up then the whole discussion was tainted by that. Ignoring those kinds of underpinnings are not doing the workers any good because you want to focus on what’s “fair” for them in one, small technical sliver of a contract negotiation.

A point of interest in the article at CDM was that the key spokesperson they used in favor of the law, is an old buddy of mine, Celia Hirschman, late of KCRW. Celia and I first met in the record industry about 25 years ago. At the time I was very impressed with her and we spent a fair amount of time hanging out. At one point, I was very close to asking her to marry me, or at least move in with me. We hadn’t had any contact with each other in over 20 years when our paths crossed last year and we got together for lunch. The meeting was tenuous, a little awkward (and chaperoned) because, as it happens, she still, as I write this, has no fucking clue who I am — basically, zero recollection of me whatsoever. (fwiw, this is no slight on her — this is all about what an unmemorable, geek I was/am.) But, I digress…

Celia did, and still does, represents the best of the “old” business. She still thinks about artists as people, even if only temporarily on their way to being celebrities. She’s worked (a lot) with second tier recording artists who are big enough to get on the radio, but not big enough to earn any money for themselves while paying the label’s vig on their deal. It’s a lotto culture where she’s at and unfortunately, the system really is corrupt, pretty much, all along the way. This kind of “performance royalty” is supported by the loan sharks in the RIAA because it’s nothing but a win-win – it’s another stream of pure revenue (having to actually pass some of that money on to celebrities like Corgan, Henley and Jay-Z is a small tax) from the radio syndicates they control through barely-legal means of payola and gives them an opportunity to squeeze out the pesky independent radio stations they don’t have control over. Bankrupting those indie stations would be a blessing for the big labels. “Exposure” is only worth it if you control it.

We can talk about “exposure” or “fairness,” but let’s not pretend we’re in a vacuum where musicians, you know, artists, would make a living if only it weren’t for those free-riding radio stations that balk at shelling out.

Warning: Sanli Collection Rip-off

One of the pitfalls of allowing sharing of content freely on the Web is that there will always be a crook that takes advantage of your generosity.

One of our a-list producers over on ccMixter, who goes by loveshadow is now reporting that a remix he licensed properly (for money) to a fashion web site has been lifted improperly by another web site which is using the sounds and images from the original video without permission.

This kind of thievery is particularly ridiculous considering how much fantastic music and images are out there that is perfectly legal to use for this kind of thing.

Loveshadow has made several attempts at contacting the offending site (Sanli Collection) without any response. He is perfectly within his rights to start legal proceeding but we can only imagine what a hassle that is. This kind of case is below the radar for the EFF but if anyone out there knows a lawyer who’d be willing to send a C&D on his behalf that might be all it takes to do the trick – just check with loveshadow first as I have no idea if he even wants to take it in that direction.

Fruity Gone Batty

For the most part, a programmer who is good at algorithmic back-ends can’t be trusted with user interface. There are fantastic examples of exceptions, where there is an overall aesthetic that permeates the programmer’s approach to both coding and interface.

Unfortunately, FL Studio is not one of those exceptions. The back end stuff is as good as it gets: hosting all plugins, overall stability and clean mixer output. This, plus an unbeatable pricing model (lifetime upgrades for free) made it somewhat more palatable to overlook the painful, unusable, un-standard, ever-changing-without-a-direction user interface. Of course, this will incur the wrath of the cult-like following the overtly arrogant makers of FL have gathered over the years. (I finally had enough and dropped using FL completely after the rewrite of the Ableton rendering engine in version 7.)

I’m not generally bothered by a little arrogance. If the folks at Image-Line didn’t have at least a little arrogance they never would have conceived of Fruity Loops or continued it’s growth over the years; in a crowed field such as music software, you have to think you have a better way of doing it than everybody else. But theirs is a somewhat special brand that always struck me as an object lesson in humility that went something like “just because you had 3 good ideas in a row, doesn’t mean you’re next 7 won’t suck.”

It started when Deadmau5, a “big” recording artist I guess, noticed that someone else had released a song on iTunes, for sale, that sounded almost exactly like some tracks he had licensed to Image-Line to include in FL Studio. The tracks were marked as ‘demo’ but, you know, it shipped with FL Studio so, you know, you can use ’em.

Or not.

Turns out that was never part of the deal according to Deadmau5 and he’s holding Image-Line responsible and everybody’s pissing over themselves and copyright and looping and sampling and ain’t life grand.

As Peter over at CDM is reporting the Image-Line folks are now saying “We’ll remove all melodic loops from FL Studio to avoid this kind of stuff in the future…”

To say that none of this was thought through with a modicum of intelligence is an insult to modicums. According to this logic there are two paths: Including all rights reserved samples in FL studio OR remove all “melodic loops” all together.

I can’t begin to parse the lameness running throughout this. I’m pretty immersed in copyright/copyfight stuff and there’s a world of esoteric stuff that makes my eyes glaze over when serious CC or GPL people start yammering away. But how ignorant of artists’ rights issues do you have to be to come to any of these conclusions. And how arrogant do you have to be to flaunt it.

Any wonder I’m on Ableton.

MixMatchMusic Responds, Explains, Digs….

Avid VT reader Alan Khalfin (jk, he’s got GoogleAlert set to DefCon 5) writes in response to my side missive on MixMatchMusic‘s biz model:

“Our service helps musicians collaborate on, engage fans with, and profit from their music online. Our widget is free for artists to use to host remix promotions on their various websites.

There seems to be some confusion about when we charge people to download music, so let me see if I can’t clarify a bit. Our widget is free for any artist to use, and the artist has the choice of selling stems or offering them for free download; so, we leave it up to the artist to decide how they want to run their remix promotion. Any remixes posted on the widget can be shared for free online, and fans without music software can make remixes in our online music sequencer.”

Setting up a backend licensing royalty system for sampled music is something I’ve been looking into what with the pending hand-over of ccMixter. It’s a hard problem but somebody’s got to do it. Actually everybody’s got to do it, but somebody has to be first and if it’s Alan, great.

There’s a couple of things to keep in mind though – it will never work unless that royalty back end system is completely open, I mean the technology, certainly the protocol. We do not want to be competing for who has the best self contained royalty system. Music sites must be able expose and share what samples they have and who they belong to with what pricing model. Biz consumers must be able to post back a royalty payment, etc. In other words, a piece of music from Alan’s site must be able to include a sample from Jamendo or BeatPick or Magnatune and have the royalties funneled to those other sites. Otherwise the whole thing is just another lame ass silo and we’re back where we started.

But before we can get any traction on any of that:

“…non-contributing members have to pay to download audio they’ve made”

This shit needs to stop. This is bad.

All of a sudden: Attribution

Tracking an attribution tree, including across sites, has been something we’ve been playing around with for a few years now on ccMixter.

The biggest problem with attribution is that it takes work, even when you want to “do the right thing,” knowing what to say and where crosses a line that most people don’t want to: it involves thought.

Molly Kleinman is now becoming famous for spelling out in human terms what this means to bloggers and other content consumers. No doubt she is providing an invaluable service (seriously). Just this morning the PlayTheWeb group is hashing out the implications of nested attribution with Lucas chiming in explaining how the XSPF playlist format handles derivation.

Maybe because my background in software is in development tools and call me Abraham Maslow but this problems looks very much like a nail to me.

Attribution, on both ends, has to be brain dead simple. We’ve simplified it as much as we could at ccM (given my limited imagination for such things) with a search function during the content submission process. (In fact, the ‘Submit’ button is inactive until the artist posting the remix has attributed somebody ;))

We’ve been using a simple api called the Sample Pool to communicate with other sites (freesound, magnatune, etc.) so that when a remixer is using a sample from one of those sites they select that name from known Pools that are searchable instead of ccMixter. The search results are offered as checkboxes. Again, that’s as simple as I could think of. When I say the api is “simple” I mean we invented no markup. We have a URL calling convention and all return values are RSS 2 feeds.

In order to be a Sample Pool, you need the following:

1. an RSS feed with a *.license element per entry
2. a way to search the feeds

It turns out that WordPress can be tweaked to do (1) with a few lines of code and already does (2). Just this morning I’ve confirmed we’ve successfully managed to convert a WordPress music blog called Audio Cookbook into a Sample Pool with 3 lines of mod_rewrite. (I’ll be publishing exactly how we did it on the CC Wiki in the next few days.)

To be a Sample Pool “client” you need to be able:

1. Construct an url
2. Ping a website
3. Parse an RSS feed

There is an implementation buried in the ccHost code but I’ll be the first to admit, I’m probably the only (non-masochistic) human who could easily extract it. Now that the WP-Sample Pool bridge has been crossed outbound, I’m definitely inspired to do this and then wrap it as an WP plugin so that when you are doing a post of content, you can search for the content you derived from and the proper attribution will be automatically embedded into your post.

My overall walkaway point is that attribution, in the real world, won’t happen until it is at least this easy for content creators and consumers alike.

BTW, the api does not track attribution further than one generation. We handle this on ccMixter by having users follow links. I have found, after nearly four years at ccMixter that there are only two classes of people that care about attribution further than one generation: commercial entities looking to clear samples and geeks. The second category includes the people I work for and other curious types. The artists don’t care about the larger attribution tree and the amount of UI flooding a typical song page is already crowded enough, thank you very much.

The first class, people who make a living clearing samples or looking to distribute royalties should have an easy way to expand the attribution tree and that might be necessary on my next job, but for this one, a non-profit remix hosting site, it just wasn’t called for. To accomplish this I would claim that no more spec’ing need to be done, just use the Dublin Core “source” element and follow each of those down.

I’ll be pontificating more about remix attribution tracking across the WWW at CC Nordic and FCONS, both in Sweden in late October.

Open Source MIDI Controller Under CC

A new open source USB-MIDI controller called the aurora mixer looks really nice. The creators are trying to figure out how many to make and how much to sell the assembled version of it so if you think you might be interested definitely give them a ping.

If you think you might have it in you to build your own then you’re in luck because according to CDM the whole project is licensed under Creative Commons — although that isn’t mentioned anywhere on the aurora site and, well, there’s no mention anywhere as to which license we are talking about it. The other weird note is CDM’s comment that GPL is more “liberal” than CC and therefore we are seeing more CC licenses come up in the music industry. My guess is that it will take somewhere between 10 years and never for the public to figure out that CC is a hardly a single license but a family of licenses with a very, very wide range of (un)reserved rights.

CC is Good, ccMixter to Rescue and Who Knew?

Some days you eat the bear…

Kristin says: “CC is good because…” someone used her song to a cool video. Once you get that first taste of auto-collab….

ficbot at “The Best Media in Life is Free” says: “ccMixter to the rescue…” because he gets to use open music in a slide presentation. …you keep coming back for more.

LA Times says: “Intellectual property law is supposed to balance public and private interests — a feature that Congress often forgets when responding to copyright holders.” Who knew anyone left in Hollywood actually feels this way?