CC Talks With: Ottmar Liebert

Mia Garlick, November 14th, 2005

Photo © Greg Gorman / Santa Fe

Ottmar Liebert composes, performs and records music in a Nouveau Flamenco style, which mixes elements of flamenco with jazz, bossa nova, and other genres. Seven of his albums have gone platinum and two other albums gold; he has also been nominated for a Grammy.

At Ottmar’s and the Lunanerga site you can both buy CDs and merchandise and, via the Listening Lounge, enjoy music licensed under the Creative Commons Sampling Plus license. The Listening Lounge offers tracks as well as loops and parts. Musicians Jon Gagan, t-one, Canton and Steve Stephen also offer their music via the Listening Lounge.

Creative Commons (“CC”): When did you start recording and performing music? How did you first hear about Creative Commons?

Ottmar Liebert (“OL”): I have been playing guitar since I was eleven years old. I arrived in the USA in May of 1979 and starting out as a dishwasher. I have also worked as a bank teller and a bike messenger. I played in a rockband in Boston for several years. In 1986 I moved to Santa Fe and started playing classical guitar in restaurants. I took Flamenco lessons and recorded “Nouveau Flamenco” in 1989. That album was released in 1990 by Higher Octave Music and sold over 2 million copies. After recording three albums for Higher Octave I signed with Epic Records and stayed with them from 1991 through 2001. I first discovered Creative Commons a couple of years ago by following a link to Professor Lessig’s site.

CC: What attracted you to the idea of Creative Commons?

OL: When I was a teenager, copyright lasted 50 years; now it lasts for much longer. In a time where the wheel turns much faster, we should not extend copyrights. Nowadays corporations are allowed to copyright ideas, mere notions of technology that doesn’t even exist yet. Why would anybody want to invent something that some corporation has already claimed in theory. We are building fences around land we haven’t even approached yet….

I feel that artists create not only in order to experience the process of creation itself, but also for the ripples. I find that the act of creating is like throwing a pebble into a still lake to watch the ripples. Being able to share my work via a CC license enables me to experience more ripples. Sometimes the ripples can inspire more work in me.

Besides using a CC license for my music I also use it for my photos on Flickr as well as for my online journal.

CC: Why did you choose the Sampling Plus license for your music?

OL: Musicians sample one another one way or another. Whether actual samples are used or a cool sound, riff or feel is actually re-created. Might as well officially allow it and even encourage it (see also my answer to the last questions and the concept of ripples)

I am genuinely interested in hearing what other musicians might do with some of my work. In the past I have commissioned people to remix some of my work—this is going a step further.

As a musician I want to take part in the larger cultural landscape, want to see my ideas noted, accepted, reflected, used or otherwise messed with. I want to be swimming in the river of culture, to partake of that larger experience. The Sampling Plus license lets other people know that I am open to that engagement, that exchange.

I read a book by the Japanese Zen Master Uchiyama called “Opening the Hand of Thought.” Using a Sampling Plus license does that for me.

CC: At the Listening Lounge, you offer loops and parts of your tracks, in addition to the completed track. What was the reasoning behind this?

OL: I am not just allowing people to sample the music, I am enabling them to do it by offering isolated tracks. More ripples. And it is theoretically potential business because I can sell the same piece of music as a stereo mix as well as in the form of isolated tracks.

CC: What has been the reaction of fans and visitors to the Listening Lounge?

OL: I feel that introducing people to the Listening Lounge and downloading in general is a process that will take some time. That process is partly one of education. For example, fans have expressed that they prefer to buy the “original” rather than a download and I have to explain that CDs are not original at all. They are no less copies than a download would be. In fact downloading is much more direct than buying a CD in a store.

I think some fans are realizing the advantages of the Listening Lounge. I started a new download-only album of solo-guitar improvisations called “Tears in the Rain.” The pieces are uploaded as they are recorded, rather than waiting for a complete album or manufacturing a CD. A PDF for the album is also available for download with drawings and some writing. At first fans asked for a complete CD release, but soon they discovered how exciting it is to hear music as it is created, since I usually upload the “Tears in the Rain” pieces within a few hours of creating them.

One interesting reaction came from Mark Hamilton’s blog “Notes from a Teacher” who says of the Listening Lounge:

“This really is an amazing site, and obviously the product of someone who has thought long and hard about distributing music in a way that gives fans a range of choices and an enjoyable experience. In short, it treats those who visit as music lovers, not consumers.”

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CC Talks With: Independent Musicians

Matt Haughey, October 1st, 2005

Scott Andrew LePera founded the lo-fi folk-rock project the Walkingbirds in 1998, around the same time he discovered the Web. Since then he’s actively recorded and released songs in MP3 format directly onto the Web from his little bedroom studio in Northern California. The Walkingbirds’ website sees several hundred downloads each month from all over the world, and their first CD release, The Sandalwood Sessions, is available exclusively on the Web.

Dealership began, in a sense, as a music project conceived by Chris Wetherell in 1995 while studying at U.C. Berkeley. To augment his classical studies, he began to think of ways he could explore pop music on his own. When he met Chris Groves, also a student and musician, an idea took root: Chris W. thought it would be cool to start a band with Chris G. His newfound whimsy impelled him to visit Guitar Center one afternoon and blow his student loan check on band gear. Then came a few months of drum ‘n’ bass work, which didn’t go anywhere except to convince the Chrises that they needed at least one guitarist. They begged everyone they knew to be in the band with them, until finally, sucker that she was, Jane agreed to learn to play the guitar.

In the fall of 1998 they released their first EP, Secret American Livingroom, which they recorded in Menlo Park with Guy Higbey. It was sheer luck that they found a great recording engineer who was patient, willing to teach, and open to playing around with some of the pop trio’s more outlandish ideas. Loaded with pop hooks and pretty vocals, it became favorite of local college DJs and indie scenesters. On the strength of this debut, they played Noisepop 1999 with Imperial Teen, and later that year, CMJ in New York.

Their next album, TV Highway to the Stars, was released in late 2001, and they’ve spent much of 2002 working on a follow-up.

These unsigned musicians have embraced the Internet, thorns and all. We caught up with them to talk about their thoughts on how tough it is to make it in music today, what they love about using the Internet to get their music out, what worries them, and how they plan to use Creative Commons licences for their work.

Creative Commons: In the current world of music, unsigned bands greatly outnumber signed recording artists. Tell us a bit about your bands, how you got started, and what types of music you create. How long have you been making music?

Scott, Walkingbirds: I’ve been writing and recording music for over a decade, ever since I got my hands on a roommate’s 4-track back in college. I started playing in bands while at school, although the music I played was much different, mostly grungesque and prog-rock stuff. After my main band broke up, I tinkered with the idea of a stripped-down acoustic act, with lots of vocal harmony and interplay — very different from what I had been doing before.

The Walkingbirds were formed in 1997, and by that time I had a small catalog of new songs [and was] looking for a voice. From the start we decided this was going to be more of a “project” than a band. A “band” implies that we actually rehearse and perform regularly; we wanted to keep it very casual, so we could skip out on a rehearsal and go drink beer with a clear conscience. My co-writer Laurie Hallal had recently gone through the breakup of her very popular band, and we were both burnt out from the effort of trying to make a band work. The goal was to write songs and put them to tape, and have fun doing it. No more than that.

I moved to California in the summer of 2000, and the Walkingbirds as a duo ended. It was around this time that I realized that most of what we paid to have done in a studio could be done inexpensively on a PC. After a bit of tinkering I managed to record and release a handful of new tunes under the Walkingbirds name, exporting them straight to MP3 format and uploading them to my website. So now the Walkingbirds are fully a one-person DIY record-at-home musical project in the strictest sense.

Jane, Dealership: Oh, I like the idea of a “project” as opposed to a “band” very much. In a way that frees you from having to stick to genres. The toughest and most annoying question bookers and promotional people ask is, “Who do you sound like?” When you’re in a band, you feel you have to develop a “band” sound — not that we really do that in Dealership. Which is why it’s hard to say what we sound like.

CC: How much work and time goes into writing a new song or cutting a complete CD?

Scott, Walkingbirds: It’s always an uphill battle for me, mostly because the ideas don’t come easy. I’m lucky if I can complete one song in six months. It was a bit easier when I had bandmates, because you have more contributors and feedback and can complete a song faster, but the end result is usually much different than when you’re writing solo. I have bits and pieces of songs lying around from years ago — a chorus here, a bridge here — waiting to be completed. Sometimes these bits never become whole songs, and sometimes I’ll be noodling around with some old chord progression and things will suddenly click.

Because I record at home, I have the luxury of taking my time and having complete control. Sometimes I’ll work on a sampled drum track for weeks to ensure it sounds as natural and “live” as possible. Or sometimes I’ll stay up late applying random effects to the bass track, just to hear what happens. If I’m unhappy with a vocal take two weeks after I recorded it, I don’t have to book another few hours at the studio four weeks from now; I can walk go into the bedroom, erase it, and do another. There’s no clock, no engineer running patch cords, no arguing with the lead singer, no hauling a drum kit into the basement.

That said, I can’t really say that technology has improved my songwriting. It’s made me more productive by taking away barriers, like the expense of a studio or CD duplication. Occassionally I’ll hear something while tinkering with FruityLoops or Reason that will give me an idea, a place to start. But inevitably it comes down to what (Smithereens’ guitarist) Pat DiNizio calls “ass in chair” — I have to turn off the machine, pick up the guitar, sit down and just write the damn song. I usually have to have a tune completely written in my head before I open ProTools. The great thing about all of this is that, when I am ready to record, I can do it immediately without the constraints I used to have a few years ago.

Jane, Dealership: I would love to do what you do, Scott. Since we put out our first album, we’ve been throwing around the idea of what Chris W. would call, in his Marxist way, “owning the means of production.” But assembling the components necessary to record a four-piece band with three vocals daunted us, and it’s not until recently that Chris W., who has always been a tireless promoter for his integrative capitalist ideals, has really initiated the purchase of computers and tools to record our own stuff at home. We are also starting to play more with non-live sounds — drum machines, samples, electronically derived sounds — and that makes it easier to make music without expensive, fancy mics.

I think that would definitely change our songwriting style, too. The way we do it now, we pretty much complete the song (or we try to) before we go into the studio — because we don’t want to waste a lot of time and money tinkering. Of course we end up tinkering somewhat. But in the future I see the recording process as an integral part of songwriting — in my fantasy, as I mentioned, we email tracks to each other and build off those. Maybe the danger will be we just won’t know when to stop! We’ll create an infinite loop of music.

CC: When you post an mp3 of your music somewhere online, what are the advantages to doing it? What sorts of things are you looking forward to when you offer your music this way?

Scott, Walkingbirds: Immediate distribution: I don’t have to take the extra step of pressing a CD and shipping it out. I often just rip the audio mixdown directly to MP3 and post it the same night I complete the mix.

Immediate feedback: I love hearing from someone who really liked the song, and appreciate the comments from people who thought the drums were too loud, the bassline too cheesy, and so on. And every so often I get a message from someone in Pakistan or Senegal, or somewhere distant that I will probably never see in my lifetime, and I am totally blown away.

Chris W., Dealership: Often, when thinking about the value of distributing our songs as MP3s, I’m reminded of a lyric from the song of a band we know well (Imperial Teen, Luxury). The lyric reads: “I’m looking for a family who listens to my songs.” MP3 sharing has powerfully enabled our ability to join communities of shared values and aesthetics and support. I’ve watched our behavior as artists change; we now derive a good deal of inspiration from the community of people who’ve listened to us and responded and shared their songs or their weblogs or their art. Artists who don’t share MP3s probably have a difficult time leveling the communication between fan and artist to a more rewarding interchange. If a band doesn’t participate in a sharing community, what kind of fan would be inspired to do more than email them and say, “Hey, liked your band on Thursday,” or “I loved that song”? We can trade music and ideas with a subset of people who already are thinking a lot about music, are exposed to many things (via P2P), and can take an active role in developing a critical aesthetic. The Internet, being a data exchange, is a lot more suited to that than any other medium.

MP3 distribution is also pretty nifty since it often enlists other people as third-party distributors via peer-to-peer processes. It’s a much quicker path to community building. (But not the quickest path to passive distribution of knowledge about your music, a process otherwise known as getting your name out there. That distinction, to be sure, still belongs to television.)

We also realize that there may be people who are encouraged to buy one of our CDs after listening to an MP3. But this result, while positive, is really, really low on the list of other values returned from sharing MP3s.

Free trading of our music has genuine, verifiable returns. Community. Exchanges of artistic thought and aesthetic commodity. . . The RIAA argument that artists won’t particpate in the marketplace of ideas without financial compensation for CDs seems pretty short-sighted from where we sit.

CC: Conversely, can you think of any disadvantages of doing it? What things do you worry about when offering your music files online?

Jane, Dealership: There are disadvantages. Recording, for us, costs money; we spent some time and money designing and producing the CD sleeves, too. And then the cost of pressing the CDs — it adds up fast. It would be great if everyone who downloaded Dealership would also go out and buy a CD. It’s a little depressing that they don’t, I guess. But if we ever make it to Boise, there’s a chance that some kids will have heard of us and will want to see us play and maybe buy some t-shirts and related merchandise. Also a lot of the indie scenesters are sensitive to the poverty of the musicians they like and are quite cool about insisting on paying for CDs.

I think ultimately the lesson that music makers, including the major labels, need to learn is that music will be free — utterly, completely, totally. What we’ll get paid for are related products — like the t-shirts, or the live shows, or the unique CD insert, or the poster, or — well, maybe we’re not smart enough to have thought of all that can happen. We need to change our revenue models. Fortunately it’s easy for us — easier than if we were a major label. We’re small, we’re flexible, and we don’t practice economies of scale. We can print 1000 CDs and watch how they sell, and shift if we need to. Which actually puts us in a better position to respond to emergent technologies, and to take advantage of them.

Besides, it’s not like we’re in this for the money, anyway.

Scott, Walkingbirds: Obviously I don’t get any money for offering free downloads. But at this level you really can’t do it for the money. You’ve got to take that opportunity to connect with the people who are going to become your fans and turn them into repeat customers who’ll come see you play and buy your t-shirts.

One thing that does cross my mind from time to time is the possibility that some shmuck will take a song of mine and pass it off as his own. Or, that some company will start using one of my tunes as a jingle for snack crackers or something. But the Web has this tendency to sniff these people out, and I figure it wouldn’t be long before someone emailed me with a note, “Hey, did you hear this? This sounds like YOUR song.” And that’s where traditional, tried-and-true copyright law can still be effective — because even though I choose to make a song freely available, there are still limits. Under a modified license I might even be willing to allow someone to add my song to his setlist, or use it in a soundtrack.

But the same rule applies: ask first, because otherwise you will be found out, and your name plastered all over MetaFilter and Slashdot. Discovery is just a Google search away!

Chris W., Dealership: The downside of this method is significant and obvious. We aren’t compensated monetarily.

Which would be a disaster if we couldn’t derive compensation through other means such as live performance and merchandise. But we can. And because MP3s are traded for free with excellent, easy-to-install tools for sharing and downloading, this method generally yields the highest amount of people actually listening to our songs. Which, if they enjoy the art we create, can be very gratifying personally.

As far as worry. . . we can’t imagine that there’s too much to ever worry about regarding fair use of music. People like songs. They’ll share music with friends and family. As they always have.

I know what you’re getting at, though. Many people worry that offering music files online means No Money For Daddy.

But, as I’ve said before, I am not entirely convinced that the Internet-music-delivery industry and the CD/Cassette/Vinyl-delivery-industry are commodifying the same product. The reason I’m not yet convinced is that it seems unclear to me whether the “norms” for consumption of music are moving dramatically away from CDs and toward digital MP3 encoded files. Doesn’t it seem more realistic to state that a subset of music consumers are both buying CDs (perhaps less than before) and downloading free MP3s? I believe that the elements of CD packaging — including cover, booklet, and CD design — as well as the product’s very physicalness (something that allows for unlimited portability and decorative collection), are such valuable characteristics as to make a practical differentiation possible.

Which is to say that I don’t think people will ever stop buying music on physical media. And as a result, I believe that musicians will always be compensated monetarily. Consumers may become choosier about their purchases, though. Thanks to peer networks, there are many cheap and efficient methods for previewing a particular product’s contents.

CC: Now that you’ve seen the licenses available from the Creative Commons site, can you tell us how you plan to use them for your band’s work? Considering the potential drawbacks to releasing music online, can you see some benefits from using licenses with your work?

Scott, Walkingbirds: I’m seriously considering a combination of Attribution, Non-commercial, and Share Alike for my material. My primary concern is allowing the public the widest possible access to my songs. I don’t want people who just like my music to have to jump through legal hoops to listen to it on their computer or add a song to their Live365 webcast. I want people to share and enjoy this music by whatever means they have. The licensing options I’ve chosen should allow all of that, while protecting the important parts: I get attribution, and you still have to ask my permission to profit from my work. And if you want to make a funked-out disco remix, you can do that, as long as the end result is covered under the same license.

In some ways, it’s no different than regular copyright, except with the restrictions on copying and file-sharing relaxed. I’m comfortable with that. No more of this “you can only make one copy for yourself” crap. Artists have to get used to the idea that people WILL copy your stuff, they WILL share it with friends, and yes, it’s likely that you WILL find your entire album on the Internet. The question is are you gonna treat those people as fans, or thieves? Do you think people who like your music will appreciate being called thieves? Is that any way to establish a relationship with your new, online fanbase? Maybe the big labels can handle it, but I know that at my level, I can’t afford to alienate a single potential fan.

I’m much more comfortable saying, “Here are some songs, go forth and copy,” and not worry about it. What little money I lose to copying, I’ll make up in mutual respect from happy fans, who, I hope, will come to my shows and buy my t-shirts.

Chris W, Dealership: I think we’ll be releasing songs using the Noncommercial license. The upside is that people who are already sharing our songs and have every intention of continuing to do so will not be incorrectly identified as criminals. And we’ll have some ammunition against unauthorized compilations and unwanted inclusion in advertising. (Though, as a suggestion to the good people involved in this endeavor, it would be nice if this license could be applied specifically to a file format, like mp3 compression, and not to, say, .WAV sound files.)

As for the other licenses, Share Alike and Attribution suggest a release we’ve always talked about but never produced: a karaoke version of a song or two of ours. Be your own Chris Groves or Jane Pinckard in the comfort of your living room. Or cubicle, if you have a small mic, recording software, and understanding co-workers.

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CC Talks With: Opsound’s Sal Randolph

Neeru Paharia, October 1st, 2005

Meet Sal Randolph, the New York-based artist behind Opsound, a new online record label that has adopted the concepts of open source and copyleft and adapted them to music production. Opsound invites musicians to contribute sounds to a “sound pool” licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike license. Others can then take sounds from the pool, mix them or use them as-is, and publish the results however they like: online, or under a real-world micro-label; for profit, or not. The project is a great example of how Creative Commons licenses can promote new kinds of collaboration and help build a digital resource people can use freely — even for commerce.

Sal is kicking off Opsound with an open invitation to the world to submit works to the sound pool. Users will host their own sounds, and the Opsound site will feature a local indexing function that links to every sound in the pool.

Asked if artists would be moved to contribute works to the sound pool, Sal is optimistic. She says she senses, however, a disconnect in most artists’ view of copyright: most understand how copyright protects their own work, but few appreciate how too much copyright can also hinder them from drawing upon others’ work.

“Many artists download music but don’t want to give up any protection on their own stuff. They see copyright as something that is primarily there to protect them. They are afraid that giving away some of that protection will diminish the value of their work, but it is my experience that allowing your work to be used and shared more freely actually increases its value — certainly its social value, and under the right circumstances, its financial value. A lot of the Opsound effort will be to educate artists about copyright and how sharing can help them.”

Opsound is Sal’s newest open source social architecture project. She is also the mastermind behind many other open source art projects including the Free Words project, Free Biennial, Free Manifesta, and Opcopy. Opsound, like many of Sal’s projects, is a constructed social situation based on a “gift” economy — a kind of market that, like the open source movement, operates in part on non-financial motives.

In one of these such projects, Sal produced thousands of books simply entitled “Free Words” containing a collection of 13,000 randomly assorted words and phrases Sal had put together over 10 years as fuel for her poetry. Sal contributed “Free Words” to the public domain. “This text is placed in the public domain,” reads the book’s front cover. “No rights are reserved.” The back states simply, “This book is free.” She began to sneak the books onto shelves in bookstores and libraries around the world. Some people would find the book and take it, while others doubted that the book was indeed free. Sal says “It’s that moment of confusion that is the art.”

I caught up with Sal in New York and had the opportunity to ask her a few specific questions about Opsound and the philosophy behind it.

Creative Commons: Could you talk a bit about gift economies and how they relate specifically to Opsound?

Sal Randolph: I’ve been studying gifts and gift economies for a few years as part of my work as an artist. Generally gift economies are discussed by anthropologists, very often as if they have little to do with contemporary life, dominated as it is by global capitalism and market forces. But gift giving is fundamentally human and is at the foundation of how we create human relationships. Families are largely gift economies. Workplaces are a complex intertwining of gift and money economies where extra work is very often done for reasons that are primarily social rather than financial.

In recent years the free software and open source movements have become an example of a hugely vital gift economy capable of engaging the creativity and attention of hundreds, if not thousands of participants working on projects which now stand alongside the products of a gigantic commercial industry.

Opsound is in part an attempt to apply some aspects of open source software’s example in the context of music. Like software hackers, musicians are very often motivated by the pleasures of making, and the desire to share their work with others. The way the music industry operates does offer the possibility for a small number of musicians to make a great deal of money, but it doesn’t function well for the vast majority of people who are making music. The current situation of the music industry begs for alternative structures to be invented and created.

CC: Why are you using Creative Commons licenses? What do you think the value is of Creative Commons, and our licenses to the world, perhaps in the context of a new social architecture?

Sal: I began working on the Opsound project before Creative Commons released its licenses. I was aware of some other possibilities like the EFF’s Open Audio License, and Copyleft Attitude’s Art Libre/Free Art License, as well as a number of open content licenses designed more for texts and academic work. All of these were clearly inspired by the GNU General Public License and the work of the free software and open source movements. . . .

I had various hesitations about each of these, including how easy or difficult they would be for artists to read, understand, and use, what their legal strengths and weaknesses were, how widely applicable they were internationally, how the license notification worked when pieces were published or released, etc.

When Creative Commons introduced their licenses, I was delighted to see that many of my questions had been addressed. Most important, the licenses are easy for anyone to understand and use. In addition, the “some rights reserved” logo and html provided by Creative Commons gives everyone with web-based projects a very easy way to make the licensing of the work clear to its audience. Creative Commons does a wonderful job of introducing the public to the ideas and principles behind the licenses as well as explaining clearly how they can be used and what they mean. From my point of view, working with a group of artists and members of the public who may not yet be familiar with these issues, this aspect of Creative Commons’ work has been essential.

In the larger picture, I feel that there is a general movement to respond to the increasingly restrictive climate of copyright legislation and practice by simply bypassing it, by creating alternative structures where music, art, and writing can be more freely shared and used. Despite the dominating mind-share of the commercial cultural industries, most music, art, video, and literature is still made for noncommercial reasons, and the artists who make that work have nothing to lose and everything to gain by sharing it more freely.

CC: How did you get interested in social architecture, open source, free art projects?

Sal: I had been working for years as a poet and installation artist. Over time I came to feel that the traditional art experience, essentially private and contemplative, was frustratingly brief and passive. I began to look more deeply at the situation of art: where we find it, how it is used, how it is bought and sold, what are some of the hidden forces at work in shaping our experience of art. I became very curious about art’s relationship to money, and I began a series of art projects investigating the pricing of art. As part of this work I gave a few things away for free, and found that a new and astonishing energy entered people’s engagement with the work.

I’ve been working on free art projects for about five years now, and they grew quite naturally into the work on social architecture. Gifts (as Marcel Mauss points out in his wonderful book, The Gift) are essentially relational. Gifts ask for reciprocation, and in the back and forth that ensues relationships form. So projects involving giving things away very quickly take on a social dimension, spontaneously creating and illuminating social networks.

I’ve always followed the open source movement with some interest, but as I became interested in the way that more complex gift economies and social architectures might function, I began to study it more specifically. Because the history of the free software and open source movements are so fresh and so well documented by participants and observers, a great deal can be learned from it. One of the particularly interesting things about open source software is the interface between the gift economy in which much of the work is created, and the capitalist economy in which it is also bought and sold. No one yet knows if the economic model of open source software is entirely sustainable. And we know even less about whether it can be applied to other areas, for instance music. Nevertheless, the sheer energy and scale of open source software is enormously inspiring.

CC: What is your vision for Opsound a few years down the line? What kinds of contributors do you anticipate? And how many? What will the Opsound community look like, overall?

Sal: One of the exciting things about working with social architectures and gift economies is that they are living entities, and therefore unpredictable. I have never done one of these projects without something very surprising and interesting happening. That said, however, I am hoping that Opsound will gain a certain critical mass and energy, a few hundred participants at least, to create a vibrant community where there are many ways of taking part.

With a large pool of sound files available, many things will be possible. Musicians, sound and video artists will be able to draw on them as elements in new work. For those who aren’t musicians, there will be the possiblitity of easily creating online microlabels. And of course I’m hoping for Opsound to be an interesting record label in its own right, producing and selling records and cds, holding events, parties, tours, etc.

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CC Talks With: Oyez’ Jerry Goldman

laura, October 1st, 2005

Jerry Goldman is determined to archive every recorded oral argument and bench statement in the Supreme Court since 1955, when the Court began to tape-record its public proceedings. Goldman, a professor of political science at Northwestern, founded the OYEZ Project in 1989 “to create and share a complete and authoritative archive of Supreme Court audio.” This month the OYEZ mission takes a new step forward with the release of hundreds of hours of MP3 versions of their archived audio under a Creative Commons license.

We spoke with Jerry recently about The OYEZ Project, their use of Creative Commons licenses, and the impact of their new MP3 release.

CC: What inspired you to create The OYEZ Project?

Jerry Goldman: In the late 1980s Professor Linda Kerber gave a talk at Northwestern University on her project dealing with gender discrimination in the law. Kerber played a few audio excerpts from the oral arguments in Hoyt v. Florida, a case that upheld the exemption of women from jury service. The audio was enlightening because it opened up a new way of thinking about the Court and grasping its work. It was my view that technology could enable a better use of these materials.

A later demonstration of such technology was equally inspiring. Two English professors visited Northwestern to discuss their Shakespeare project. Using an early Mac, a video-laser disc player, a color monitor, and some speakers, they demonstrated how one could highlight, say, Act II Scene 3 from Macbeth and then instantly play back the corresponding video. The ability to integrate text, audio, and video lay the groundwork for future OYEZ projects involving audio and annotation tools.

CC: After you became interested in the Court’s audio recordings, how did The OYEZ Project begin?

JG: The earliest version of The OYEZ Project dates back to 1989. I came up with the idea of presenting our Supreme Court data and archives like a baseball card collection while sitting at a Chicago Cubs game at Wrigley Field. The idea materialized into a pre-web version consisting of complex HyperCard stacks. The stacks contained an elementary demonstration of video and audio linked to background information on the individual justices and the cases they decided. As a tribute to OYEZ’s origin we created the “Law-Baseball Quiz,” an idea from the creative mind of the late law professor, Robert Cover.

The transition to downloadable MP3s is a result of working with Chris Karr, a creative and forward-thinking computer scientist and web architect. Chris made me wake up to the need for wider sharing of our materials. I’m greatly indebted to him and quite pleased to acknowledge his contribution to the Creative Commons effort and to the entire re-conceptualization of The OYEZ Project.

CC: How did you obtain the Supreme Court audio materials? Why have you decided to release them?

JG: We purchased and collected the audio from the National Archives and Records Administration in College Park, Maryland. The audio materials — principally in the form of oral arguments — are the core of The OYEZ Project.

We released the public proceedings because they are some of the greatest intellectual and legal debates of our era. Transcripts — even with the justices identified — lack the emotive qualities of humor, irony and anger, which audio conveys. The first Roe v. Wade argument (the case was reargued) stands out in my mind. When Jay Floyd, representing the state of Texas, began his argument, he tried a bit of good-ole-boy humor, which was met by the Court’s silence. (Remember that the bench was all men in the early 1970s.) His argument headed downhill from there. Sarah Weddington, representing Jane Roe, made a kitchen-sink argument, throwing every thing she could imagine at the Court. That struck me as pointless, though some of the justices were very gentle about it. Among the announcements of opinions, the Regents v. Bakke audio stands out. In a rare exercise, the justices spoke at length about their disagreements in the case, and the emotions are palpable.

CC: Government works are essentially uncopyrightable. How did you obtain the copyright for these works?

JG: The OYEZ audio is a derivative work because we’ve made technical and editorial judgments that depart from the original source. The raw audio we obtain from the National Archives often needs to be edited. Sometimes, the first part of an argument will exist on one reel and the remainder is on a second. We dub both reels and then match them up, removing any overlap. We have voice corrected many hours of audio because of timbre and pitch problems.

CC: How does this MP3 release add to what OYEZ is offering currently? What good might come of this for OYEZ in the future?

JG: It offers new independence to users by permitting downloads of OYEZ audio and promoting the sharing of those materials — subject to our Creative Commons license — on peer-to-peer networks. While we enjoy our popularity in academic and educational circles, we can reach more listeners by enabling downloadable versions. With the development of Creative Commons, we have, for the first time, a way to license our content that assures use consistent with our objectives.

The more I listen to the recordings the more I realize that the true value is not in the audio itself but in a community of dedicated listeners and scholars who could add to the audio. The original Court transcripts do not identify the justices, only the attorneys. Adding transcripts and voices to the audio would help create a searchable audio archive. For instance, you could search and listen to any audio where Scalia used the expression “strict scrutiny.” Listeners could annotate audio by pinpointing selections that illustrate good and bad advocacy, or particularly interesting views on an issue, and then share their annotation findings with others in a shared community. Encouraging a community to select and identify audio clips will increase awareness of OYEZ audio as a primary source for scholarship and teaching.

CC: Why did you decide to use Creative Commons licenses? Why do you think this project is important?

JG: Creative Commons has a good solution to the nagging problem of commercialization and is based on a solid theory regarding the power of creativity. We want to contribute to that creative enterprise. It doesn’t make sense to maintain the high transaction costs associated with acquiring these materials. Having made this investment — with the help of many institutions —it is our responsibility to freely share this treasure.

Peer-to-peer networking is getting a bad name as a result of the enormous amount of unlicensed music file-sharing. By making our collection available we are emphasizing a good use of P2P and hopefully inspiring other content creators to recognize that there is more to be gained by sharing than by withholding their work from the public.

We hope OYEZ audio will be used by law students, Supreme Court junkies, practicing attorneys, teachers, and the general public. To borrow from the immortal Yogi Berra: “You can hear a lot by listening.” The experience is daunting and thrilling, and my hope is that by listening and learning, the quality of advocacy and communication will improve.

(MP3 versions of OYEZ audio featuring our licenses are available from the OYEZ site. Read more about our MP3 embedding policy)

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CC Talks With: People Like Us/Vicki Bennett

Derek Slater, October 1st, 2005

Collagist People Like Us (a.k.a. Vicki Bennett) is most at home exploring fault lines — artistic, emotional, legal. Take “Going Out of My Town,” one of many songs Bennett has made available under a Creative Commons license. It starts with an unsettling assortment of pops and fizzes, then introduces an acoustic guitar sample under a sweet, vaguely familiar melody. By the time the rousing German chorus breaks in, you don’t know whether to feel mildly disturbed, smile serenely, or burst out laughing.

In her ten solo albums and regular live performances (including Creative Commons’ launch party), Bennett has made this sort of odd juxtaposition her signature.

“I have always wanted to make magical worlds that are unrestricted by the practicalities of ‘real life,'” Bennett said in an interview with Creative Commons. “When I sample disparate elements I can bring together all sorts of people and situations that I could and more likely would never get together. In this sense I am an editor of life.”

Featured People Like Us Work
Going Out Of My Town
Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 1.0
[download MP3]

Bennett is part of a larger artistic appropriation movement, which ranges from collage, to dance remixes, to “mash-ups.” Though hampered by copyright’s restrictions on derivative works, these practices have flourished as editing software has gotten cheaper and easier to use.

Bennett spoke with Creative Commons about her music, Creative Commons’ upcoming sampling license, and the legal and ethical issues surrounding collage and other kinds of re-creativity.

Creative Commons: First, tell us a little about how your affinity for audio and visual collage developed. What first got you interested in the artform?

Vicki Bennett: [in 1980] I discovered the work of Steve Stapleton, better known as Nurse With Wound. It is a very funny record full of appropriated soundbites. It made me realize that it is possible to release music like this. Until that point I was under the naive impression that if you made appropriated art you would somehow be found out at the pressing plant and be struck down by a lightning bolt.

CC: What is it about sampling that inspires you?

VB: Even before I had the slightest clue about what I was doing, I was making collage. It seems like the most natural way of finding relationships between subjects and objects, and also to gain some perspective on one’s thought processes and reactions. I started working with visual collage as an art student in the 80s—first photographic, then video, and then some sound. I left college, and financial restrictions led me to work with music and radio.

CC: How do you create your songs? Where do you draw your samples from?

VB: Sampling isn’t new. We have always recycled, but only now is this seen as offensive or, oh yes, illegal. We have always drawn from what is around us—not just creatively. It’s no different than being influenced by another’s speech patterns and expressions.

Samples are drawn ethically from any source, so long as I use it in a way different from where I found them.

At present 99% of my film footage comes from Rick Prelinger’s public domain archives. There are many film people who are very protective of what you do with their material, and many others who charge far more money than an artist like me can afford. It’s not practical for anyone except a famous or rich artist. When I found the Prelinger Archives, where everything is free, I felt like I’d come home.

Audio-wise, the sky’s the limit. Sound is available everywhere; music is so far ahead of film on so many levels, least of all that we have so many ways of getting it for free.

CC: In a BBC interview, you asserted that the bootleg movement has been the most important music in the last ten years and has brought music “back to where it belongs.” Why is that?

VB: The bootleg movement (and by “bootleg” I mean “mash-ups,” not mass duplication) has brought energy, relevance, and humor back into the world of popular music, and brought the art back to the streets. It’s like punk music. Thankfully, it has also given people like me a higher profile because mash-up is a form of collage.

Forget all the analyzing; it’s fun, and lots of people are doing it.

CC: Why did you Creative Commons license your music?

VB: I license partly because of the negativity of IP law, which says, “You can’t do this, you can’t do that.” How about building on creative works, and finding out what the creator thinks, rather than what marketers and A-and-R execs want? The idea behind a Creative Commons license is good because it cuts out the middleman. One can find out how the creator feels about interpretation and duplication of their work.

I also did this to support the cause of a thriving public domain and am glad that Eric Eldred and Larry Lessig do what they do, promoting works available for everyone, not just those who can afford it.

CC: Creative Commons is developing a sampling license to help alleviate legal concerns about copyright’s gray areas. Have you experienced any problems sampling others’ work?

VB: No, not legal problems. Only problems with people assuming I’m not to be taken seriously for “taking from other people” or writing nasty letters about their dead grandfather when I send a mail out supporting the fight for the public domain.

Practically speaking, I’ve had problems finding a higher profile label that will distribute and promote my work because of the sampling. They are worried about getting sued. Other potential labels have wanted to control how I sample, and I’m not about to go along with that. So as a result the focus has turned to making live concerts (audio and video), which reaches far more real people face-to-face. I also use the Internet as a means of distribution, rather than making physical albums.

CC: To make the sampling license, we’ve had to define “sampling” in a useful way. What, to you, is “sampling,” and what reuses of a work would you not be comfortable with?

VB: Any creative use of a pre-existing work is sampling, including any interpretation in part or re-contextualization (which may be using elements as a whole, but in a collaged, cut-up way). There are some people working with a whole song but then putting another whole song over the top. When I say “creative use,” I am not placing any judgment that the creative work is good or bad. Neither do I believe that one should be making a different judgment on whether someone sells the work or not. Given that we are all using what went before, that we all have the right to work, and if we give our lives to this work we have a right to be paid for our labor.

Any carbon copy of a physical object (i.e. CD, DVD) made purely for commercial use is in the traditional, negative sense of the word, a bootleg.

I am comfortable with any creative re-use of my work that is made for art’s sake rather than purely as part of a commercial agenda (i.e. pirate copies for sale, or use for advertising).

CC: Your sentiment about advertising is shared by several people participating in the Creative Commons sampling discussion. How do you reconcile that with collage’s expansive view of “art for art’s sake,” or, as you say, that art is neither good nor bad?

VB: Mash-ups appropriate the obvious, or are very simply constructed. But it’s intended to be pop music, which only works if it’s obvious or simple. It is still a transformative appropriation.

The anti-advertising argument does not have to do with whether it’s good workmanship, or whether one may think advertising is bad. First it is an advert, then it is art. That is where the distinction lies—in what its primary function is, and the initial intention behind the act.

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CC Talks With: Wall Street Journal on the Sampling Licenses

Mike Linksvayer, October 1st, 2005

by Ethan Smith, Staff Reporter of The Wall Street Journal

For some people, the future of copyright law is here, and it looks a lot like Gilberto Gil.

The Brazilian singer-songwriter plans to release a groundbreaking CD this winter, which will include three of his biggest hits from the 1970s. It isn’t the content of the disc that makes it so novel, though — it’s the copyright notice that will accompany it.

Instead of the standard “all rights reserved,” the notice will explicitly allow users of the CD to work the music into their own material. “You are free… to make derivative works,” the notice will state in part. That’s a significant departure from the standard copyright notice, which forbids such use of creative material and requires a legal agreement to be worked out for any exceptions.

Is this the future of copyright? Perhaps. But a better way to think of it is that it’s one of the possible futures of copyright. Because right now, it’s all pretty much up for grabs.

Blame it all on the Digital Age. As any digital downloader can tell you, technology and the Internet have made it simple for almost anyone to make virtually unlimited copies of music, videos and other creative works. With so many people doing just that, artists and entertainment companies sometimes appear helpless to prevent illegal copying, and their halting legal efforts so far have antagonized customers while hardly putting a dent in piracy.

The challenge is finding a way out of this mess. Efforts fall broadly into two camps. On one side, generally speaking, are those who revel in the freedom that technology has brought to the distribution of creative material, and who believe that copyright law should reflect this newfound freedom.

On the other side are those who believe that the digital age hasn’t changed anything in terms of the rights of artists and entertainment companies to control the distribution of their creations and to be paid for them — the essence of copyright law. For them, the answer is to leave copyright law intact, and to use technology to make it harder for people to make digital copies.

Here’s a closer look at some of the competing visions.

In This Together

The copyright notice for Mr. Gil’s coming CD is being crafted by Creative Commons, a nonprofit organization that seeks to redraw the copyright landscape. Believing traditional copyrights are too restrictive, it aims to create plain-language copyright notices that explicitly offer a greater degree of freedom to those who would reshape or redistribute the copyrighted material.

Traditional copyright law gives owners of creative material — and them alone — the right to copy or distribute their works. Although they can waive all or part of those rights, the process isn’t easy and usually occurs in response to a particular request. Those hurdles, critics say, can hinder the open and freewheeling sharing of material the digital age makes possible.

Creative Commons seeks to make the system more flexible by spelling out which rights the copyright holder wishes to reserve and which are being waived without waiting for a request. Artists can mix and match from among four basic licensing agreements: They can decide whether they simply want attribution anytime their work is used by someone else; whether they want to deny others use of the work for profit without permission; whether they want to prevent others from altering the material; and whether they want to permit the use of material only if the new work is offered to the public under the same terms. An underlying layer of digital code enforces the rights laid out by the owner, telling computers how a given work can be used.

A Creative Commons license isn’t for everyone. It might appeal to independent artists for whom free samples, distributed online, might represent an attractive marketing option, or for someone like Mr. Gil, who believes that making it easier to share and reshape his music can be an important part of the creative process. But it’s unlikely to appeal to the big media companies, for which copyrighted material is what they sell.

Still, Mr. Gil, who is also Brazil’s culture minister, sees Creative Commons as a way to unlock the creative potential of digital technology. “I’m doing it as an artist,” he says. “But our ministry has been following the process and getting interested in supporting projects concerning free use,” not only for music, but also for creative content in general.

Tax Time?

A more radical proposal for overhauling the copyright system comes from William Fisher, a Harvard University law professor and director of the Berkman Center for Internet and Society.

Mr. Fisher believes that the wide-open nature of the Internet and the explosion of creative material that it has fostered are making the administration of copyright law increasingly unwieldy. Traditional copyright is beyond fixing, he believes, and ought to be scrapped in favor of a simpler system that doesn’t require an onerous effort to protect each piece of creative material against copying.

His solution is a regimen called compulsory licensing. In this system, music and film, after being registered with the copyright office, could be traded freely over the Internet, eliminating the problem of copyright enforcement. The owners would be compensated out of a fund raised by a new tax. In order to share the proceeds of the tax, content owners would be obliged to license their material for such use — that’s the compulsory part.

“The only palatable short-term taxation option would impose a levy upon services and things that are used to access, store, record and play digital entertainment,” Mr. Fisher says. “ISP access, blank media, MP3 players, CD burners, and so on.”

The professor estimates that a tax would need to be set at a blanket 15% to make up for the revenue lost to the new system. Critics already have pointed out, however, that the $2.4 billion he estimates his proposal would raise annually falls far short of the roughly $11 billion in annual revenue reaped by the music industry alone in the U.S.

Exercising Restraint

On the other side of the debate are those who believe that copyright law doesn’t need to be tinkered with at all; it just needs an effective enforcement mechanism, which is not out of the realm of possibility.

Steps already are being taken in this direction with technology known as digital-rights management, or DRM, a field led by Microsoft Corp. This technology aims to protect the copyrights of producers of digital materials while allowing for the traditional right under copyright law for people to copy materials for personal use.

Rather than locking up digital content, DRM puts it on a leash. For instance, DRM technology may serve as the basis for security features that allow for only a single copy of a CD to be made, and don’t allow the copy to be copied. The technology may allow tracks from the same CD to be exported to a portable MP3 player, but not to be transferred online.

In describing how DRM can protect entertainment providers without antagonizing consumers, Dave Fester, general manager of Microsoft’s digital media division, says, “DRM is the magic link that allows you to step into that secure world, yet do it in a smart, flexible way.”

Numerous security systems rely on Microsoft’s DRM, now in its fourth incarnation. Most of the new online music stores that sell music in the Windows Media format rely on Microsoft DRM to place limits on copying and burning; the others, Apple Computer Inc.’s iTunes store and Time Warner Inc.’s MusicNet, rely on different DRM schemes. And a handful of CDs have been sold with Microsoft-powered DRM systems in place, in an attempt to stanch the flow of copyrighted material onto the Internet.

Indeed, DRM has provided a middle ground for music companies that have hesitated to institute in the U.S. the draconian controls now standard in Europe and Asia, where CDs generally are sold with technology that prevents them from being copied in any way. Not wanting to go that far, these companies until now have settled for continuing to produce CDs that have no controls at all.

A pioneer in DRM technology is a CD by rhythm-and-blues singer Anthony Hamilton released in the U.S. in September by the BMG unit of Germany’s Bertelsmann AG. The CD relies on a copy-protection system from SunnComm Technologies Inc. of Phoenix. The system, which incorporates DRM technology, uses encryption to allow for the creation of only a handful of copies of the tracks on a CD inserted in a computer, for uses such as export to MP3 players.

However, the protection application runs only on some operating systems. Worse, many in the online community quickly pointed out that simply holding down the shift key while inserting the disc prevented the copy-protection application from running at all.

Thomas Hesse, BMG’s chief strategic officer, acknowledges the system’s shortcomings, but adds that it is “more a speed bump than a complete solution to all our problems.”

SunnComm Chief Executive Peter Jacobs points out that the shift-key trick only works if a user executes it the first time — and each subsequent time — the CD is inserted into his or her computer. Mr. Jacobs adds that future versions of the copy-protection software will make the trick even less likely to work.

“You can’t start from a perfect place,” says Mr. Jacobs.

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CC Talks With: DJ Spooky and Roger McGuinn interviews

Neeru Paharia, October 1st, 2005

Photo © Iñaki Vinaixa

Dj Spooky (aka Paul Miller) is a multimedia DJ and Creative Commons advocate who remixes not only music but also film/cinema and fine art. Spooky’s film Rebirth of a Nation intersperses modern images with cuts from D.W. Griffith’s Birth of a Nation (now in the public domain) to create a new work interpreting the original.

Creative Commons: In your mind, what was the social and cultural significance of the first Birth of a Nation?

Dj Spooky: The basic idea here is a choreography of ideas: think dance, think image, think sequence, think nonlinear soul for your third earhole. I like to roll with the notion of the remix as a kind of question. There’s no answer, just more questions. It’s a kind of post-everything process of totally reducing America’s pathological obsession with race to a kind of absurd comedy. The film has so many repercussions that it really seems to echo to this very day. That’s why I think of my “version” as a dub excursion. Think Emerson meets Grand Master Flash, and they do some kind of weird post-intellectual property tango — something like that — while the cameras roll, and there’s only the film set of an abandoned Southern small town Norman Rockwell drawing of empty dreams drifting down Main Street with Klan robes…. Press play to avoid delay. I guess that rhymes, eh?

CC: How did you physically change the movie?

DS: The sequence of the film is different, the characters respond to architecture schematics taken from prisons and museums. I can’t tell you which ones. I’d get sued. Just think of them as archetypes of museums and prisons. Everyone is trying to get in, and space is very limited. In fact, all the rooms are already sold out for the next several years. Very physical, very ironic. And also the boring three hours or so of original cinema has been reduced to 1 hour. Very time-conscious. Warhol’s fifteen minutes gets expanded, and annotated, into contemporary reality TV.

CC: What do you consider to be the social and cultural significance of your changes?

DS: It’s a remix!

CC: Why did you decide to embark on this project?

DS: Because we Americans have so much amnesia that we forget that the past is still present with us. Because we think that we have somehow progressed. Because nothing has changed. Because it was funny.

CC: What do you think about public domain, and how has it helped you access history in a new way?

DS: I think everything is public domain, and all the normal corporate tricks are basically illusions. The basic fabric of 21st century life will be public domain culture, whether corporations like it or not. They will have to evolve their formula — and that would be a smart thing for them to do. Public domain is much bigger than anything they’re thinking about. Small, private stuff is so…very…20th Century. Not enough redundancy.

CC: How has technology helped you access history? In other words, if it was 1970, could you have done this?

DS: Technology is my archive. I play with history the way George Orwell played with nationalism. It’s my palette, and for better or worse, all of my samples come from it. That’s zeitgeist — that’s Spooky. And basically, it’s my way of thinking. It’s all Spooky at this point, so we should all play.

End Transmission! Reboot your system! (That rhymes!). After all, it’s an art project!

Interview by Glenn Otis Brown and Neeru Paharia
April 2004

Legendary musician Roger McGuinn of the Byrds spoke with Creative Commons about the Folk Den, a project he conceived in 1995 for using the web to carry on the American folk music tradition. McGuinn publishes his own performances of traditional songs, and makes every recording available for download under a Creative Commons Music Sharing License.

Creative Commons: I understand that Paul Jones of iBiblio was the first person to tell you about Creative Commons. What was your first impression of the organization?

Roger McGuinn: Well, I looked at the general premise and thought it was a good thing. I’d been putting these folk songs up on iBiblio for some time without any thought to protect them, although I’d put a little copyright line — McGuinn Music — at the bottom. But I didn’t really know if that protected them or not.

Anyway, I was glad to see that there was an organization — Creative Commons — that would work for me in case there was somebody in, say, Germany who wanted to download all my songs and sell them as CDs.

Camilla McGuinn: Which they’re probably doing now.

RM (laughing): Which they’re probably doing now. My main attraction to Creative Commons was the fact that it provides a level of sharing, which is exactly what I want to do with the songs in the Folk Den. My whole purpose for putting them up there is to keep them going. It occurred to me back in 1995 when I started the Folk Den that the traditional side of folk music was getting neglected because of the singer-songwriter phenomenon. New singer-songwriters are not doing traditional music anymore.

So I ran it by Camilla, and she said, “Put your songs up on the Internet for free download.” So I posted the songs, the chords, the lyrics, and a little story about each, and I’m very happy that they’re being shared. People download them and make CDs and give them to their friends — and that’s cool.

CC: I’d like to ask you more about your point about singer-songwriters. You’ve had a lot of your songs covered by other bands, and both you as a solo artist and the Byrds have covered a bunch of other people’s songs. In fact, you helped some songs become more famous than their songwriters did. What is the role of playing other people’s songs in pop, folk, and rock-and-roll?

RM: Well, there’s always been a quest for the best material. I remember our first manager, Jim Dixon, said that it’s always better to record somebody else’s wonderful song than your own not-so-great song. So we were looking for the best stuff. [Bob] Dylan is a good example. He was an excellent writer when the Byrds started, and “Mr. Tambourine Man” was really kind of hip and off-the-wall. Nobody had done anything in pop music like that, nothing that could compare to that. Dylan was still underground. He wasn’t a pop artist at that point; he was a folk singer. So it was really a good avenue for us.

CC: When you decided to cover “Mr. Tambourine Man,” did you get in touch with Dylan or his manager?

RM: Our manager got in touch with Dylan’s publishing company, and they sent a copy of it, and we learned it and recorded it. And then Dylan’s manager found out about it, and he tried to stop it because he didn’t approve.

But Dylan had given us his approval casually. He was at the rehearsal studio when he heard us do it. And he liked it — actually, he liked it a lot. In fact, he didn’t recognize it at first. He said, “What was that?” And we said, “That’s one of your songs.” And he said, “Wow, you can dance to it.”

His manager tried to stop us, but it had already climbed up to number one on the Billboard charts by then. There was no stopping it.

CC: There are a handful of artists now who do traditional songs, and they’re mostly in folk and country. Natalie Merchant put out a CD not long ago with a bunch of public domain songs on it, as did Dave Alvin. And Jack White did a public domain song or two on the Cold Mountain soundtrack. But they’re the exceptions. Why do you figure more people don’t record traditional songs?

RM: Maybe it’s just a trend, a social trend. Folk was a big trend in the late ’50s and early ’60s, then dance music became more prevalent. I always like to say that people like to think for a while, then they get tired of thinking and they like to dance for a while. And then they get tired of dancing, and they’ll go and think some more.

CC: Where do you see the future of the music industry given the Internet and how things are changing?

RM: I see it as a decaying, ancient business model. It’s obsolete, and it’s only a matter of time before it crumbles and artists take over independently. I think it’s a great time for artists, with the advent of computer recording, production and such. I use a $300 [software] program, in place of 128-track recording technology that would have cost a few hundred thousand dollars only ten years ago.

CC: Back in the age of Napster, summer of 2000, you testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee and Metallica testified opposite you. How was that experience?

RM: [Metallica drummer] Lars [Ullrich] obviously didn’t get it, that it was in his best interest to have songs out there promoting the band. I always thought the artists benefited from having exposure — like the radio playing your song — and I wasn’t buying the RIAA’s approach that it was hurting the artist. I knew from experience that of the money the record companies collect from the sale of CDs, artists get a meager advance and a promise of royalties that never comes to fruition.

CC: So what’s the secret to putting your stuff out there and sharing it, while at the same time trying to make money?

RM: What I do is share the folk songs, the compositions of which are public domain and which I have an interest in spreading and preserving. When I record a solo CD of new material, I keep that in the traditional copyright.

CC: We’ve been trying to spread the idea of taking one or two tracks and putting them under a Creative Commons license and selling the rest like you guys are doing, but it’s been a hard conversation to have because as soon as you mention the Internet and downloading, people tend to freak out. I wonder if you have any advice on how we should talk to artists about Creative Commons.

RM: You’d be better off working at Seven-Eleven than being a recording artist as far as the amount of money you can make. Lay it out in dollars and cents for people because they just don’t get it; they’ve been brainwashed by the recording industry to think that they’re being protected by it and that it’s in their best interest to go along with the program — but it isn’t.

CC: What about all the marketing the record companies do for the artists?

RM: That’s the only thing they have going for them. They can get you on Jay Leno or Letterman because they have other artists that Letterman might like to have — they have that leverage. That’s the only advantage though. I saw a guy from the EFF who said he published his book through you–

CC: Cory Doctorow.

RM: He was saying that he was selling plenty of copies, that it hasn’t inhibited sales at all. It’s available on the Internet for free download and he’s also selling the product.

CC: It’s like the radio.

RM: That’s my theory. I said that to the Senate — and you know, I really got scowled at by Patrick Leahy — but basically, what I said was it’s just like radio. Record companies pay radio to play their songs, and people can record them off the air and they sound just as good as an mp3, so what’s the big deal?

CC: What did Leahy say?

RM: Like “you’re a communist.” Orrin Hatch, though, was cool; he was on before the site closed.

I like Cory Doctorow, he’s really cool. He was talking about the copyright industry being broken and that copyright always kicks and screams, like when sheet music came out, and then piano rolls, radio, the VHS, and in every case they’ve ended up making more money out of these things once they’ve assimilated them. The same thing will be true for mp3 and file sharing; they’ve just got to figure out how to tap it.

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CC Talks With: Magnatune

Glenn Otis Brown, October 1st, 2005

Magnatune provides “Internet music without the guilt.” Based in Berkeley, California, Magnatune is a record label with a 21st Century business model, offering consumers a unique mix of free and paid music. One of the first for-profit companies to adopt Creative Commons’ copyright licenses into its strategy, Magnatune has amassed both an impressive buzz and a large artist roster. We recently spoke with Magnatune founder and CEO John Buckman about the music company’s progress and plans, and how going “some rights reserved” can boost the bottom line.

Creative Commons (“CC”): How do Creative Commons licenses fit into Magnatune‘s business model?

John Buckman, Magnatune CEO (“JB”): The Creative Commons license, which applies to all of Magnatune’s MP3s, enables a few different things.

First, visitors can listen legally to all of our music at no cost, which helps people decide if they want to pay to buy a CD-quality version of the music.

Second, noncommercial projects (like student films) can use our music for free in their projects. This helps our music get wider distribution, and future filmmakers learn that Magnatune is a great place to find music for their films.

Third, commercial projects that are in pre-production can put our music into their project mockups as a “temporary track” to show their client their ideas. When the client accepts, the agency purchases a commercial use license to the music. In this way, Magnatune’s music gets used for Flash-based web sites, promotional videos, and films-not-yet-in-distribution at cost to the agency.

And people like patronizing businesses who are good citizens, who are helping a cause they believe in. Magnatune’s incorporation of Creative Commons helps our visitors feel good about us.

CC: Do you have any specific anecdotes or data about what difference the Creative Commons licenses have made?

JB: We’re having a lot of success licensing our music to indie films, with between 20 and 30 indie film licenses every month. These are real films with budgets from $20,000 to $100,000, but making films is expensive, and they need to keep costs down. The Creative Commons license lets filmmakers put Magnatune music into their film while it’s being made. Then, once the film is accepted for distribution and becomes in effect “commercial” as people then start paying to see it, the filmmaker buys a commercial use license — at a price they could determine online at the very beginning. This “free start-up, permission-not-withheld, fair-price” business that Creative Commons + Magnatune enables is unique today, and I believe is the reason we’ve been so popular with indie filmmakers.

CC: When you explain Magnatune’s use of Creative Commons licenses to potential artists, what is their reaction?

JB: Artists respond in one of three ways:

1) No way, dude. This will just make it easier for people to pirate our music in their commercials.

2) Whatever, you take care of the details.

3) This is just like Linux & open source, I love it.

The vast majority react with #2, probably 60%, with 20% each belonging to camps #1 and #3. For most of them, the business side of music is voodoo, and they trust me to be doing something good for them (after all, with a 50/50 sales split, Magnatune only makes money if the musician makes money).

CC: Where does most of your revenue come from?

JB: Today, it’s split 50/50 between selling downloads to consumers, and licensing music for commercial use.

CC: How do you go about finding the artists who sign with Magnatune?

JB: About 1/3rd of our album releases (on average 10 releases per month) are from artists we’ve recruited. These are either musicians whose CDs we own, or musicians who’ve been referred to us by other Magnatune musicians. The majority (2/3rds) of our releases (about 6 a month) are picked from the 300-400 submissions we get every month. There’s a lot of junk in those submissions, but also some amazing things. For example, we rarely get good classical submissions (our classical is mostly from recruits) but in September, we received (and signed) Altri Stromenti, a Polish Baroque ensemble who had uploaded mp3s to our ftp server.

CC: What would you say is the company’s biggest success so far?

JB: A few of our artists, such as Beth Quist, Cargo Cult, Ehren Starks have sold really well — quantities comparable to an indie CD release — which is super-exciting to me; they’re among my favorite CDs among my entire collection of about 5000 at home.

These days, we’re doing a music license almost every day, and while they’re mostly small, it looks to me like we could become established as the main source for licensing music on the Internet — I don’t see anyone else having a comparable success. Maybe we’ll become the Getty Images of the music world…

CC: What has the company’s growth been like? Do you expect it to continue that way?

JB: We’re 18 months old now, and most of our growth was in the first 9 months, when we received all sorts of national and international press. The past 10 months have seen much slower growth, around 30% for the year. My efforts now are in expanding our reach, through relationships with other companies (i.e., other online stores selling our music) as well as extensive spending in a public relations campaign, so that we can stay in the press.

CC: What’s your dream scenario for Magnatune?

JB: When we all have iPod-like devices and no one buys CDs, Magnatune will need to be a record label known for its absolutely amazing catalog of a half-dozen genres. If Magnatune becomes known for its great music, like Warp Records and Blue Note, that’s the best I can hope for. Because, in the end, it’s all about the music.

CC: Do you think your business model could work for other types of media — say, films?

JB: Yes, I absolutely think the Magnatune “try before you buy” model would work for films and books. I’ve registered “” as a possible expansion of Magnatune into books. Most visitors see Magnatune in a very simple light: they can listen to our music, the selection is really good, and the product (when you buy) is of high quality. Where-ever there’s a glut of “content”, much of it not-so-good, a Magnatune-like business that picks the best stuff, and let’s potential buyers see the value of their choice, I think there’s a viable business.

However, as one journalist observed that Magnatune is “completely reinventing all aspects of the music business, becoming a fully vertically-integrated company” (ie, doing A&R, recording, distribution, licensing, PR) I think I have my hands full with “just” music.

CC: You’ve recently announced a site called, which also incorporates Creative Commons licenses into a for-profit enterprise. What’s that about?

JB: I’ve noticed that the many artists (musicians, videographers, etc) who use the CC license, use the non-commercial variant, and do so in the hope of seeing commercial use of their work, and hope that the CC license will get them wider distribution and more commercial revenue. However, licensing music is difficult for both parties: the legalese is complicated and expensive in lawyer-time, and it’s hard to set a price. For example, I think many film-makers are leery of using CC license music without first finding out what the price might be if a commercial use license were needed, and how hard that license would be to obtain.

The Creative Clearinghouse is a place where people wanting to license CC music for commercial use could come. The price is set automatically by the same online pricing engine used at Magnatune, and the signed contracts are generated automatically with payment. We’ll also act as the publisher and collect performance royalties on behalf of the artist. What this means is that when a musician puts a CC license on their work, they could add “For commercial use, see” so that a film-maker could easily determine (in advance) that this music is easy to license, they can see what the price will be, and they know that permission-to-use will not be denied.

The Creative Clearinghouse will effectively “close the loop” so that for a CC-license work, both commercial and non-commercial uses are streamlined: online, no lawyers, at a fair price where everyone wins. I’m planning on launching this in the first quarter of 2005.

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CC Talks With: Freesound

Mike Linksvayer, October 1st, 2005

Freesound is a repository of CC-licensed samples … around 20,000 samples, recently integrated with ccMixter via the Sample Pool API.

We recently spoke to Bram de Jong, Freesound founder and researcher at the Music Technology Group of Universitat Pompeu Fabra in Barcelona.

Creative Commons (“CC”): How did Freesound come about?

Bram de Jong, Freesound Founder (“BdJ”): In 2005 MTG hired me to organize the 2005 ICMC (international computer music conference), and to create a website around that year’s ICMC theme “free sound”. Dr. Serra and me took the title quite literally and decided to create Freesound. We knew of other, similar, projects like, ccmixter, … but none of those projects specializes in sound files.

In MTG we have plenty of algorithms for browsing and organizing sound and music, and we wanted a platform to work on. Freesound is perfect: we have a LOT of files, and a an impressive amount of users giving us feedback (even though they might not always realize it). This is an amazing source of information for research.

Oh, and obviously we started Freesound because we could (we have the bandwidth!) and because it’s fun. ;-)

CC: What led you to mandate use of a CC license for all samples in Freesound?

BdJ: Simply because the creative commons licenses are clear licenses, well thought of, well documented and above all quite modular. We doubted a long time about which license to choose, and in the end decided to go with Sampling+. In retrospect we chose wrong, and we’re planning to ask our users to switch to Attribution/Attribution-NonCommercial, but that’s a bit further in the future.

I think Creative Commons is a superb initiative, but it’s still a very young phenomenon. A while back we went to talk to a television station for something we are doing for freesound, and to our surprise, no-one there had even heard of Creative Commons. The common man (pun intended) still has no idea there’s an alternative to “full” copyright. Hopefully Creative Commons will become an even larger movement in the future!

As I said a while ago in an interview with the a local Catalan website, I personally see the CC licenses as the perfect way of preventing crime. Everyone samples, if it’s illegal, or not. CC gives such tremendous power to the author to decide what you can and what you can’t. And as we all know, authors are in general much more open than large industry bodies! Power to the commons-people.

CC: Is the sample (not music incorporating samples) an artform unto itself? If so, point out a few samples at Freesound that a listener might appreciate on their own.

BdJ: Oh, yeah, entirely! Some of the people in Freesound are so dedicated to recording and creating sounds it’s amazing. Especially the people that do recording in nature or so called “field recordings” are very detailed about it all. I might be a bit -well a lot- obsessed with sounds, but sometimes I think a single sound can be a lot more evocative than music. Music is perfect for mood-setting, but sounds take you there. Especially sounds recorded “out there”.

I could give a hundred examples of single samples, but I’ll try to select a few which are really fun:

  • Let’s start with melack’s printer: you hear the sound and you can’t help but laugh and imagine the beat-up broken printer sitting there. Not printing, oooooh no, but making superb sounds.
  • A very new file: ‘wildsollution’s train sample with its geotag. If this didn’t make you visualize, … :)
  • In general our two users Acclivity (from England) and Dobroide (from the south of Spain) are two amazing examples of evocative recordists. Acclivity is a gentleman of respectable age who by his own words spends way too much time on Freesound. His tagline says it all: “Close your eyes, and you’re almost there!”. Acclivity has many superb samples, but some that left an impression on me would be Acclivity as the pied piper, Olga talking, and a classic. Dobroide is I think a field-working biologist and almost all his sounds are pretty amazing. Check out his complete animals pack and his voices pack.
  • Obviously a sounds library is complete without a perfect thunderstorm, captured in sparkling high fidelity. Our user Richard Humphries owns the local hero position when it comes to these kind of things: he is a pro sound recordist for television, and was so kind to upload 136 of his gems…

… et ce te ra

CC: 20,000 samples is a lot. Can you make any sweeping generalizations about the character of the samples or the community that has produced them or how each has changed as the site becomes more popular?

BdJ: Difficult. There are a lot of nature recordings. An amazing amount of “water” samples (splashing, dripping, streaming, …). More and more directly usable drumloops and synthesizer hits. But doing real generalization is very difficult. If you have a look at our tagcloud you’ll see it’s very eclectic… What we’ve been noticing lately is that our various telephone ringing sounds are very popular lately. I guess there’s a lot of people out there with nice oldschool ringtones :-)

CC: What does the future hold for Freesound?

BdJ: More! We want more samples, more users, more features, more everything. In the close future we will also do the jump to another license. We will be adding some technology from BMAT to Freesound as a technology demo. There’s some rather interesting technologies we want to be using like nice collaborative filtering and more content based recommendations to make it easier for people to explore Freesound even more. More about that later on Freesound!

There’s some more plans that involve Freesound, but some of them are so secret I’d have to make you listen to our mind-erasing sound (although I forgot where I put them).

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CC Talks With: Fading Ways

Neeru Paharia, October 1st, 2005

Fading Ways is a Canada & UK indie-label that has international reach. In addition to having national distribution throughout Canada, FW is distributed in several European countries and its UK operation have recently launched an online music store. Fading Ways also utilizes an innovative marketing approach with “street teams” of fans (see: 1, 2) based in Canada, the United Kingdom, Finland, Ireland, and the Netherlands helping to promote releases,shows, and Fading Ways’ mission, including its commitment to Creative Commons, by distributing flyers and getting the word out!

We recently spoke to Neil Leyton, a musician and a founder/director of Fading Ways, about the label’s background and its experience of applying Creative Commons’ licenses to its music.

Creative Commons (“CC”): What’s the history and background of Fading Ways Music? Where do you have a presence?

Neil Leyton, Fading Ways’ Director & Founder (“NL”): Fading Ways (“FW”) started out of a personal philosophy of fairness centered around the sociological and psychological theories of thinkers like Erich Fromm and Arno Gruen, coupled with my own first hand experience as an artist. As an artist, I learnt the hard way about how twisted music contracts can be – whether you’re dealing with a major or an indie. Originally FW functioned like an artist collective rather than a traditional label. Today we’ve got two FW labels functioning in Canada, which is where we’re from originally, and the UK. Our catalogue of 40 titles is distributed in 14 countries via independent distribution channels.

CC: How did you hear about Creative Commons, and what made you decide to CC license new Fading Ways’ releases?

NL: I was aware of the concept of CopyLeft through my friend Carlos Figueiredo, in Lisbon, who is a musician and a Linux user. Then in 2004 a University of Toronto student-at-law recommended an article that talked about CC because she knew what I thought about p2p and file sharing.

I had previously labeled the copyright notice on my own Midnight Sun something like:

“(c)2003 Neil Leyton / FWM. You are free to copy and share this album amidst your friends as long as you can listen to its entirety in one sitting and like the whole damn thing as much as we do.”

From saying that to the Attribution-NonCommercial CC license is not a very big step.

CC: What has been the economic impact of licensing your releases?

NL: Red Orkestra’s “After the Wars” was our very first CC-licensed album to hit the shops in Canada in the Spring of ’04 and it’s doing great.

Most of the other CC-licensed releases that we put out were released in September and October last year, 2004, so it’s hard to gauge because several of our distributors have not yet reported back a lot of sales from the last quarter.

We have had orders from people who, if it wasn’t for the CC license, would never have heard the music. Our “Share” sampler series is the key marketing component in our CC strategy — it allows fans to spread good music to their friends and via p2p; and the sales follow! Not to mention the associated other benefits such as higher attendance at shows, direct connection between artists and fans, and a positive, constructive approach to musical culture in our societies.

CC: How did FW artists respond when you raised the issue of CC licenses? What resonated with them, and what didn’t?

NL: Most of our twenty artists, with two exceptions, immediately felt CC was a positive step in the right direction and would benefit their careers. Jim Clements, Johnny Charmer from Red Orkestra, Aceface, and the Pariahs are examples of FW artists who immediately jumped on the CC train and whose records are now profiting from the use of CC licenses. Jim Clements, being a Wilco fan, was well aware of the promotional powers of the Net. I had many interesting conversations about CC with several of our artists, and heard some pretty funny anecdotal stories along the way. One artist, who was the most hesitant, feared that it may hurt his chances of getting a major label publishing deal in the future.

It was through the process of talking to our artists about CC that my own questions about it were answered. All of this helped cement my determination, as label director, to make all our releases in Canada be CC releases. We are looking forward to developments in the UK to see if we can do the same thing over there, for our European releases. So far our “Share” sampler series has also been a huge success over there.

CC: How do you see Creative Commons’ role in the future of the music industry?

What the majors don’t seem to realize is that CC is actually beneficial to help promote good music. There is a difference between what I refer to as the music industry (ie. arts-driven commercial output) and the entertainment industry (ie. profit driven pop music, largely “manufactured” by companies rather than artists). I think the major labels have uprooted themselves and forgot what it was that made them successful in the first place – signing high quality, career artists like the Doors, Bob Dylan, Springsteen, and others. Today, career-bands like International Noise Conspiracy, Nick Cave, Elliott Smith (rip) and others choose indies over majors.

Creative Commons levels the playing field in restoring the freedom of the Internet back to indie labels enabling them to compete with the majors market monopoly, which is stronger in North America than anywhere else, by allowing the public to hear new music that they would otherwise never catch on radio.

Every debate I have on CC with a representative from the majors and their numerous lobbying groups or collection rights societies fills my heart with joy. Invariably, I’d have to say that one on one, off the record, 99% of these individuals end up agreeing with me.

CC: What’s your ideal vision of how the music industry could be and how do you think we can get there?

Ideally no artist should EVER sign their copyright (the ownership of their work including moral rights) over to a company that will then profit unfairly from that artists’ work. I say unfairly because often, the major label makes all the money, while the artist gets none, or very little. For example, several labels were deducting “breakage” points off of digital music sales! The problems of the music industry run deep, all the way back to the days of Tin Pan Alley and the concept of “music publishing” — which is a key concept to understand in terms of who owns what in the music world.

Ideally every artist should own their own publishing and use and license their work however they see fit, instead of relinquishing control over to the labels.

I think CC can help bring about a fairer music industry — to the public, to the artists, and to those labels that recognize the present problems and are willing to work fairly with both.

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