CC Talks With
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.No Comments »
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
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.No Comments »
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.
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.
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.No Comments »
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!
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, [audio production software] 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 mp3.com 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.No Comments »
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 “Magnatome.com” 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 Creativeclearinghouse.com, 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 http://creativeclearinghouse.com?lic=2134234P” 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.No Comments »
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 archive.org, 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).No Comments »
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.No Comments »
openDemocracy is an online magazine that provides a forum in which global issues relating to politics and culture are debated, many of which do not receive sufficient or sufficiently careful attention by the mainstream media. Its purpose is to “publish clarifying debates which help people make up their own minds.”
Since 2001, openDemocracy.net has published around 2,600 articles written by writers from around the world. Readers include students, journalists, pensioners, policymakers and politicians. A brief review of openDemocracy’s author pages shows that recent authors have included Kofi Annan, Timothy Garton Ash, Janis Ian, Iris Marion Young, Salman Rushdie, George Soros, Richard Stallman and Gillian Slovo. openDemocracy’s website consists of lively discussion forums, in addition to topical articles; it serves as a global network of people committed to making the world a better place.
openDemocracy is based in London and also has an office in New York, in addition to its online presence. openDemocracy recently announced that they will be releasing the majority of their articles under a Creative Commons license as part of their commitment to global democracy. In recognition of openDemocracy’s launch of Creative Commons licensing, Siva Vaidhyanathan, has written a welcoming article outlining the history of the Creative Commons that appears on openDemocracy. Siva is a cultural historian and media scholar, and is currently an assistant professor of Culture and Communication at New York University.
Mia Garlick spoke with Solana Larsen about openDemocracy’s switch to Creative Commons licensing. Solana is a Commissioning Editor at openDemocracy and also heads up openDemocracy’s New York office. She is Danish-Puerto Rican, holds an MA in international journalism from City University in London and is herself a published author.
Creative Commons (“CC”): Can you tell us about the nature of openDemocracy?
Solana Larson of openDemocracy (“oD”): openDemocracy is an online magazine and also more than just an online magazine. openDemocracy is committed to debating global issues and supporting democracy. We provide background on a lot of the issues that the mainstream press skate over. Our authors tend to be the top thinkers, movers and shakers in their field: mainly scholars, journalists, and policymakers, and from across the political spectrum.
Our objective, through our website, is to make difficult or remote issues easily accessible and interesting to anyone, no matter where they live in the world. Instead of making foreign politics exotic, we try to present things in a way that makes it easy to understand. To explain, for example, why an American, a Briton, or an Egyptian should be interested in, say, Brazilian democracy.
We are also committed to facilitating discussions about issues by the people most affected by them. For example, in the run up to the Iraq war, many people would use Iraqi opinion to support their own views. As far as the media goes, openDemocracy was one of the few publishers, if not the only publisher, who set up roundtable discussions between Iraqis themselves. We’re not scared to put people who disagree in the same room. Right now we are looking closely at Iran, and we’ve set up a weblog with writers inside and outside the country to observe the presidential elections.
CC: How did openDemocracy come to the decision that it wanted to apply a Creative Commons license to its articles?
oD: Editorially, openDemocracy has paid a great deal of attention to the legal struggles that led to the development of the Creative Commons, and interviewed both Richard Stallman and Eric Raymond when Napster was still a big story. Intellectually, it was a piece of cake to see that the Creative Commons offers a constructive and democratic solution to a really huge problem. Practically, it was harder to walk boldly into unknown territory. Most of us were more familiar with the print model of thinking, and we reasoned that if people could read openDemocracy articles elsewhere they would have no reason to visit the website.
Initially, we placed older articles behind an archive barrier and charged subscription fees. At first, we let people choose themselves how much they wanted to pay. Later, we set a fixed price. Although many signed up, it wasn’t really sustainable but, more importantly, it just didn’t fit our ethos. When we surveyed subscribers, many said they gave us money because they liked us; not because they wanted to access the archive.
Now openDemocracy is finished with closing off information to the world. The archives have been opened, we only ask for donations now, and we’re encouraging all our authors to release their work under Creative Commons licenses.
Our commitment is to getting ideas out in circulation, and even from a survival perspective it makes sense. We are confident people will read republished articles and be drawn to the source by curiosity. We hope readers will begin to think of us more as a resource for their intellectual or political causes rather than just an online magazine.
CC: As part of switching over to Creative Commons licensing, openDemocracy has gone through the process of approaching many authors of articles that have previously been published by openDemocracy to ask if they were willing to make their article available under a Creative Commons license. What have been the different types of reactions of your authors?
oD: openDemocracy has an archive of more than 2,600 articles. Initially, we’ve only approached the 350 authors from the past year about making their work available under a Creative Commons license. It’s difficult to get responses from everyone when you send a mass email, and people are always changing addresses. But of the 160 or so who have responded 150 have said yes, and that amounts to hundreds of articles. The enthusiasm has been genuine.
We have been surprised by how few of our authors seemed to know about the Creative Commons before we told them about it. It feels like we’ve already done important work simply by telling them about our new policy. They’ve praised, applauded, and thanked us for taking the initiative on this.
When authors have voiced concerns or said no it’s generally been because they’ve already signed away their rights to book publishers, or don’t want to deal with asking permissions. Although, Salman Rushdie opted out for his own reasons (“Sorry to be old-fashioned”). And another author was concerned with moral rights, and how his work could be used in publications that disagree with him. He asked his agent for advice and they decided it was best to stick with what they knew.
We don’t pretend to know what’s right for each individual author. Many of the people who write for us sell books or articles for a living. Just because they agree to the Creative Commons on openDemocracy they may not change their practices otherwise. But it might inspire them to change over in the future.
CC: openDemocracy is asking its authors on a going forward basis to publish their works under a Creative Commons license. Do you have a sense of what the likely reaction will be going forward?
oD: Our focus has been on creating an internal system that would make it easy for authors to opt in to Creative Commons licensing over the Internet before we publish their articles. The Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives license is going to be our default license. In special cases we will allow people to go for traditional “all rights reserved” copyright, or, like Siva Vaidhyanathan, to opt for a license that is even more permissive. Siva opted to allow derivative works.
Already we’re setting “free” articles by writers in Mexico, Poland, the Netherlands, Spain, Egypt, Iraq, Iran, Nepal, Indian, Australia, the UK and United States. The list is even longer. This is a day to celebrate. We’re serious about the need for a Creative Commons and we’re serious about taking it worldwide.No Comments »
The Public Library of Science is a nonprofit organization dedicated to making the world’s scientific and medical literature a freely available public resource. PLoS emerged in October 2000 through the effort of three dynamic and highly respected scientists: Nobel Laureate and former head of the National Institutes of Health Harold Varmus, molecular biologist Pat Brown of Stanford University, and biologist Michael Eisen of Lawrence Berkeley National Lab and UC Berkeley. This trio’s dream, as the L.A. Times put it, is to build “a world in which the many thousands of scientific journals . . . are placed in an electronic library open to the public.”
This week, PLoS moved closer to realizing this dream with the release of its first open access publication: PLoS Biology, a world-class, peer-reviewed scientific journal.
We had the opportunity to speak with Michael Eisen recently about the launch of PLoS Biology, its publication under a Creative Commons license, and its promise to transform open access models, the scientific community, and the world.
featured Public Library of Science work
PLoS Biology, Volume 1 Number 1
Creative Commons: How did PLoS come into existence?
Michael Eisen: Science depends on the free flow of ideas and information. In the late ’90s most of the research journals that scientists used to communicate with each other moved online. The technological change offered scientists myriad opportunities to expand and improve the ways we use scientific literature, and made it possible to bring our treasury of scientific information available to a much wider audience.
We grew increasingly frustrated that the publishers of scientific journals were blocking these advances by applying to their online journals business models developed for print publication — thus unnecessarily and unfairly restricting access to subscribers. We formed PLoS to promote and implement a better model for scientific publishing that offers anyone free and unrestricted access to scientific literature and facilitates the creative use of the knowledge it contains.
CC: What’s the ultimate goal of the organization?
ME: Our goal is to see that every scientific and medical research publication is available free of charge for anyone to read, use, incorporate in databases, redistribute, etc. To do this we want to shift how the publishers are paid for the role they play in communicating scientific ideas and discoveries — to switch from a model in which publishers are given permanent, exclusive control over the scientific literature and allowed to charge for access to a model in which the literature is effectively placed in the public domain and publishers are paid a fair price for the service they provide in getting the literature there.
CC: Have you encountered any resistance from the scientific community?
ME: Most scientists agree strongly with the general principles we are advocating. What remains a challenge is convincing them that they should forego publishing in established journals to support our new model. Publication records play a major role in landing jobs, getting grants, and achieving tenure, and the more prestigious the journal, the better it looks on your resumé. Many scientists who support what we are doing perceive publishing in a new journal — no matter how much they agree with its principles — as a risky career move. This is why we have put a tremendous amount of energy into creating an open access journal — PLoS Biology — with the highest editorial and production standards that publishes outstanding works from all areas of biology. Once we have established PLoS Biology as a prestigious journal scientists will no longer feel they have to choose between what is right for them and what is right for science. They will get both in one place.
CC: What do you see as your role in changing the landscape of scientific journal publishing?
ME: We’ve all put a tremendous amount of time, effort, and energy into promoting the idea and importance of open access, and gathering support within the scientific community, publishing world, and public. Now we want to make it work. I publish the work from my lab only in open access journals. As a young scientist who is still not tenured, I think this serves as a role model for students and other scientists to see that you can have a successful science career without publishing your papers in Science, Nature, Cell or other prominent, fee-for-access journals.
CC: What are the benefits of open access scientific journals?
ME: First, if we succeed, everyone who has access to a computer and an Internet connection will have unlimited access to our living treasury of scientific and medical knowledge. This will be an invaluable resource for science education, will lead to more informed healthcare decisions by doctors and patients, and will level the playing field for scientists at small or less wealthy institutions and in the developing world by ensuring that no one will be unable to read an important paper just because his or her institution does not subscribe to a particular journal. Open access will also enable scientists to begin transforming scientific literature into something far more useful than the electronic equivalent of millions of individual articles in rows of journals on library shelves. The ability to search, in an instant, an entire scientific library for particular terms or concepts, for methods, data, and images — and instantly retrieve the results — is only the beginning. Freeing the information in scientific literature from the fixed sequence of pages and the arbitrary boundaries drawn by journals or publishers — the electronic vestiges of paper publication — opens up myriad new possibilities for navigating, integrating, “mining,” annotating, and mapping connections in the high-dimensional space of scientific knowledge.
We hope to do for scientific literature what freely available archives of DNA sequences did for genetics. With great foresight, it was decided in the early 1980s that published DNA sequences should be deposited in a central repository, in a common format, where they could be freely accessed and used by anyone. Simply giving scientists free and unrestricted access to the raw sequences led them to develop the powerful methods, tools, and resources that have made the whole much greater than the sum of the individual sequences. If we succeed, we expect an even bigger creative explosion to be fueled by open access to the much larger body of published scientific results.
CC: Have you encountered any resistance from traditional journal publishers?
ME: A ton. Traditional publishers have not led the open access movement in any way. With a few notable exceptions, they’ve firmly resisted it. Scientific publishing as it exists today is an extremely lucrative business, and many publishers have placed their own narrow profit motive ahead of the good of the scientific community and the public. Even some nonprofits have stubbornly clung to the old publishing model to protect journal revenues that fund other activities. A major goal of PLoS is to prove to even the most reluctant publisher that open access is a viable way of publishing scientific journals and a viable economic model. Once this happens I suspect many publishers will respond positively either on their own or in response to the market pressure of scientists supporting the open access model.
CC: How broad-based is the open access movement among the scientific community?
ME: It depends on how you measure it. In terms of people who know about and support open access it’s a broad movement. Over 30,000 people signed an open letter supporting PLoS. Although only about five percent of the papers published this year will be in journals offering something approximating open access, the numbers are rising quickly and open access is starting to take off.
CC: Do you see any parallels between access issues in scientific publishing and copyright in other areas?
ME: Authors of scientific papers assigning copyright to journals, thereby giving publishers ownership of scientific literature, is a central problem in scientific publishing today. The monopoly control enjoyed by publishers over specific publications allows them to charge exorbitant access fees to individuals and institutions that need access to this material — which they cannot get anywhere else.
Publishers often try to cast PLoS as being no different than file-sharers. While it is true that PLoS and groups like Creative Commons and the EFF are involved in trying to reform copyright, the peculiar nature of scientific publishing places PLoS largely above this fray. In the creative arts, copyright protects the rights of content producers who need to make money from their song, book, or film, and there is a fundamental tension between the producer’s interest to profit from their labor and the consumers’ desire to get it as cheaply as possible.
In scientific publishing this tension is nonexistent. First, the producers and consumers of information are largely the same people. And, second, scientists don’t make money from the sale of their work. In scientific publishing today, copyright is used almost exclusively as a means to restrict access to information. Copyright protects the interests of publishers and the works they publish, and not the rights of scientists.
In fact, the way that publishers wield copyright actually weakens authors’ protection against misuse of their works. While copyright offers some legal protection against plagiarism, there are few cases in which copyright has been used to prosecute plagiarists. The real protection against plagiarism in scientific publishing comes from a scientific culture that does not tolerate these practices — scientists’ careers are ruined when it is discovered that they have stolen someone else’s work. Therefore the best protection against plagiarism is detection, and detection is infinitely easier when the original is freely available.
It’s important to view the issues in scientific publishing in light of the other issues going on in copyright, but the issues are very different. Scientific works don’t have an isolated meaning; they exist only in reference to the broader scientific community, and the whole reason you publish them is so that other people will read and use them. If research is paid for by the public through a federal agency or public-minded institution, it’s likely the scientists doing the research are public-minded people interested in producing public knowledge. If the product of that research doesn’t belong in the public domain, then the public domain doesn’t have any meaning.
CC: Why did you decide to use Creative Commons licenses?
ME: Creative Commons and PLoS share the common goal of strengthening the science commons, and we want to take advantage of all the work Creative Commons and the growing number of Creative Commons license users are doing to create, defend, and internationalize licenses that define the commons.
We chose the attribution license because it ensures the optimal accessibility and usability while preserving the one thing that scientists value the most: attribution for their work.No Comments »
I got to feeling like I was someone special — not everyone had a chum as exotic as Keep-A-Movin’ Dan, the legendary missionary who visited the only places left that were closed to the Bitchun Society. I can’t say for sure why he hung around with me. He mentioned once or twice that he’d liked my symphonies, and he’d read my Ergonomics thesis on applying theme-park crowd-control techniques in urban settings, and liked what I had to say there. But I think it came down to us having a good time needling each other.
I’d talk to him about the vast carpet of the future unrolling before us, of the certainty that we would encounter alien intelligences some day, of the unimaginable frontiers open to each of us. He’d tell me that deadheading was a strong indicator that one’s personal reservoir of introspection and creativity was dry; and that without struggle, there is no real victory. . . .
On a fine spring day, I defended my thesis to two embodied humans and one prof whose body was out for an overhaul, whose consciousness was present via speakerphone from the computer where it was resting. They all liked it. I collected my sheepskin and went out hunting for Dan in the sweet, flower-stinking streets.
He’d gone. The Anthro major he’d been torturing with his war-stories said that they’d wrapped up that morning, and he’d headed to the walled city of Tijuana, to take his shot with the descendants of a platoon of US Marines who’d settled there and cut themselves off from the Bitchun Society.
So I went to Disney World. . . .
–from Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom
Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom, the first novel by blogger, cultural critic, and Electronic Frontier Foundation wonk Cory Doctorow, entered the world January 9, 2003. Wired‘s Mark Frauenfelder calls Down and Out “the most entertaining and exciting science fiction story I’ve read in the last few years,” and Bruce Sterling declares, “Science fiction needs Cory Doctorow!”
Doctorow has published Down and Out under a Creative Commons license.
Creative Commons: Your novel revolves around a power struggle over a Disney World of the distant future, and your promo materials describe you as a Disneyphile. What led you to set the story on Walt’s turf?
Cory Doctorow: I grew up with grandparents who lived in a gated retirement community in Fort Lauderdale. My folks — both teachers — and I stayed with them most Christmas breaks, and we’d always make a pilgrimage to Walt Disney World. Those WDW experiences permanently embedded the Disney Parks — their design, their cultural significance — in my psyche.
Disney’s a sterling example, moreover, of the value of the public domain. People who are naive about the idea of the commons frequently ask whether it’s too much to ask that artists make their own, original works. But Disney showed how plumbing the public domain for familiar stories (Alice, Snow White, Mu-lan, etc.) and reimagining them vividly can create new and culturally significant art.
Walt himself was full of grandiose, hubristic, science-fictional notions. The original plan for Walt Disney World called for a domed city (based loosely on the Progressland Walt built for General Electric at the 1964 World’s Fair) — the original EPCOT (Experiment Prototype City of Tomorrow), in which tens of thousands of employees would live under corporate law whose premises would follow Walt’s nutty and sometimes saccharine ideals for social Utopia.
He was part of a tradition of crypto-fascist Utopian American squillionaires that includes Henry Ford, who required the captive laborers of his doomed “Fordlandia” rubber-plantations-cum-communes to drink Tom Collinses (Ford’s favorite tipple) in favor of the traditional local hooch.
CC: Did legal concerns — say, over referring to Disney by name in the story — ever give you pause while writing or shopping the book?
CD: This is one of the most F of the FAQ about the book. The existence of the rides at Walt Disney World is a public fact — like the existence of the Empire State Building, the Grand Canyon, or the Starbucks on my corner. Copyright and trademark don’t exist to enjoin the public from discussing and speculating on the existence of actual, no-foolin’ things, so no, I wasn’t worried. The legal department at Tor Books (my publisher) put a disclaimer on the printed book that explained that all the places mentioned in the book are either fictional or used in a fictional context. Imagine someone dumb enough not to figure that out for himself. Duh.
CC: Down and Out‘s protagonist, Julius, has a soft spot for old-fashioned technology, like Disneyland’s various steel-and-concrete attractions and rides — “rube goldbergs,” as he memorably calls them. A central struggle in the book, in fact, involves Julius’s efforts to save the Park’s 20th-century “monuments” from being replaced by newfangled technological attractions. It’s a highly dramatic, even violent, struggle. Is there a little Luddite battling the technophile in you?
CD: There are at least two reasons that the fight to keep the highly individuated, hard-to-replicate rides is central to the book.
1. I genuinely dislike the articulated simulators (Star Tours, Body Wars) that Disney’s built. They strike me as really crummy art as compared to all the ride-tech that proceeded them. The problem with that kind of sim-ride is that they all have the same plot: we are going somewhere, we run into trouble, we turn around, we come home. The problem is that if we actually made it to our nominal destination, Disney’d have to build, e.g., a scale-model Forest Moon of Endor at the other end.
2. It’s a kind of parable about the inevitibility of crappy-but-more-democratic media (i.e., Gutenberg Bibles) over really excellent, but harder-to-reproduce artifacts (illuminated Bibles).
CC: Why did you choose to publish Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom under a Creative Commons license?
CD: That’s the most F of all the FAQs I get about this project. I’ve got a response that I agonized over for some while, and it’s as good as I’m going to get.
Why am I doing this thing? Well, it’s a long story, but to shorten it up: first-time novelists have a tough row to hoe. Our publishers don’t have a lot of promotional budget to throw at unknown factors like us. Mostly, we rise and fall based on word-of-mouth. I’m not bad at word-of-mouth. I have a blog, Boing Boing, where I do a lot of word-of-mouthing. I compulsively tell friends and strangers about things that I like.
And telling people about stuff I like is way, way easier if I can just send it to ‘em. Way easier.
What’s more, P2P nets kick all kinds of ass. Most of the books, music and movies ever released are not available for sale anywhere in the world. In the brief time that P2P nets have flourished, the ad-hoc masses of the Internet have managed to put just about *everything* online. What’s more, they’ve done it for cheaper than any other archiving/revival effort ever. I’m a stone infovore and this kinda Internet mishegas gives me a serious frisson of futurosity.
Yeah, there are legal problems. Yeah, it’s hard to figure out how people are gonna make money doing it. Yeah, there is a lot of social upheaval and a serious threat to innovation, freedom, business, and whatnot. It’s your basic end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it scenario, and as a science fiction writer, end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it scenaria are my stock-in-trade.
I’m especially grateful to my publisher, Tor Books and my editor, Patrick Nielsen Hayden for being hep enough to let me try out this experiment.
All that said, here’s the deal: I’m releasing this book under a license developed by the Creative Commons project. This is a project that lets people like me roll our own license agreements for the distribution of our creative work under terms similar to those employed by the Free/Open Source Software movement. It’s a great project, and I’m proud to be a part of it.
CC: How did Tor Books respond to your decision to use one of our licenses?
CD: Tor is the largest English-language science fiction publisher in the world, and they’ve led the field in innovative practices, especially in ebooks. So I’m privileged to have a very forward-looking, progressive publisher behind me. What’s more, I have a fantastic editor, Patrick Nielsen Hayden. Patrick is an old Usenet hand (search on groups.google.com to get an idea of how much of Patrick’s life has been spent on Usenet!), a Linux hobbyist, a blogger, and a hell of an all-round technophile. When I pitched the idea of posting the book online to him, we had a surprisingly brief and excited conversation of how goddamned cool it would be. I’m guessing that Patrick had to do some internal selling at Tor to convince the publisher, Tom Dougherty, that this would be a good idea, but I wasn’t privy to that negotiation.
CC: Your job is to think about the future. Where do you think copyright law is headed? What do you think the law as regards to information will look like 100 years from now? What is copyright’s place in the Magic Kingdom and the Bitchun Society — a world that seems to revolve around pop culture and technology?
CD: Well, in some ways, this novel is a parable about Napster, and about the reputation economies that projects like Ringo, Firefly, Epinions and Amazon hint at. In a world where information is nonscarce, the problem isn’t finding generic information — it’s finding useful information. There’s an old chestnut in online science fiction fandom that the Internet “makes us all into slushreaders.” (“Slush” is the unsolicited prose that arrives at publishers’ offices — a “slushreader” wades through thousands of these paste-gems looking for the genuine article). This has always struck me as a pretty reactionary position.
Nearly every piece of information online has a human progenitor — a person who thought it was useful or important or interesting enough to post. Those people have friends whom they trust, and those friends have trusted friends, and so on. Theoretically, if you use your social network to explore the Web, you can make educated guesses about the relative interestingness of every bit of info online to you. In practice, this kind of social exploration is very labor-intensive and even computationally intensive, but there’s a lot of technology on the horizon that hints at this.
The Bitchun Society of Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom is a world where all goods are as nonscarce as information is on the net. (It’s imaginable that nanofabrication could make such a world possible — “goods” and “information” would be different states of the same thing, as “source code” and “applications” are today.) In that world, managing the glut of everything — especially people — is a matter of exploring social networks to guess at the degree to which you should treat some resource with respect and attention. [In the story,] I call this measure “Whuffie.”
Scarcity is, objectively, worse than plenty. When you’ve got lots of some useful object, you’re richer than when you have less of it. When there’s more than enough to go around, the economic value tends to plummet, but the utility is just as high. Think of oxygen: on the Earth’s surface, we’re well-supplied with breathable atmosphere. Aside from a few egregiously West-coast “oxygen bars,” it’s hard to imagine paying money for O2. But in Heinlein’s sf novels set on the moon, there’s a thriving trade in oxygen. In both situations, air is highly useful, but dirtsiders are richer in air than their loonie cousins.
It’s a quirk of our economy — and a failure of our collective imagination — that we view the de-scarce-ification of information as a disaster. Our technological history — literacy, the press, telegraphy, radio, TV, xerography, computers — is a steady march towards making information more liquid and less scarce. Towards richness.
At each turn, the mounting plenty has made the information industries larger and larger, employing more people, feeding more artists, bringing more ideas to more people.
I’ve got a large, personal stake in earning a living from my writing, but as I look around at a field in which the word-rates for fiction have stalled at their 1935 levels (not adjusted for inflation), I find it hard to imagine that the old economics of publishing will sustain me in the manner to which I’d like to become accustomed. There’s a new world a-borning, a world of information in infinite plenty, and I know that there are new opportunities out there. I don’t know what they are, but I’m certain that diving in with both feet first is a better way of discovering them than screaming imprecations at the rising tide and chicken-littling about the “thieves” and “pirates” of the Internet. I prefer to think of them as “readers.”
CC: Who and what — writers, artists, trends — have been particularly strong influences on your writing?
CD: Well, anyone familiar with science fiction who reads this book will discover that I’ve blatantly ripped off the best ideas of Heinlein and Varley. (Varley ripped off a lot of his ideas from Heinlein, of course — “amateurs plagiarize, artists steal.”)
More than that, I got a lot of my ideas from Walt Disney, Marc Davis, and the other original Imagineers who designed Disneyland and Walt Disney World. Walt was a weird and sometimes rather nasty old coot. (And Tolstoy ripped off his family to feed his gambling habit — being a great artist is not inconsitent with being a evil jerk.) But he (Walt) was also a magnificent entrepreneur, inventor, dreamer, and technophile. He and his crew broke a lot of rules to build Disneyland. He fired the engineers he’d hired to make Disneyland a reality and poached away his best animators from the Studios to make the Park a reality. (The engineers would only tell him what he couldn’t do, not what he could). They built some exceedingly cool art. They invented an entire genre. They bucked the bean-counters at The Disney Company who told them it wouldn’t ever work.
CC: What effects do you think communications technology — from instant messaging to weblogs to hypertext — have had and will have on the English language? On literature?
CD: As I said upstream, the trend in communications since the dawn of history has been increasing fluidity for information, increasing democratization. We’re in a giant, never-ending permanent Protestant Reformation. Whenever we — as a culture — have had a choice between some medium that makes interesting artifacts and another medium that makes less interesting artifacts that are more fluid, we’ve chosen the louche and lowbrow over the pretty and scarce. Illuminated Bibles begat Gutenberg Bibles begat cheap, mass produced Bibles begat Project Gutenberg Bibles.
You often hear people decrying reading off a screen. They say that the text isn’t sharp enough, the artifacts less sentimental than paper volumes, the infrastructure (computers and Internet connections) too complex and expensive. These detractors conveniently ignore the fact that literate people, by and large, spend six or more hours reading text off a screen. They remind me of the music-industry execs that spent the early days of the file-sharing revolution who dismissed MP3 as not being good-sounding-enough and too lacking in liner notes to be an effective replacement for CDs. They sound like Gutenberg-era priests pooh-poohing Mr. Gutenberg’s cheap and nasty Bibles: “How can the Word of God possibly be represented in one of those tetchy books? Proper Bibles are hand-painted on foetal lambskin by Trappist Monks who devote their lives to illuminating the Precious Word.”
CC: You help run Boing Boing, a leading tech-and-culture weblog. Has your experience as a blog publisher affected your writing?
CD: In truth, it’s spoiled me. With a blog, it goes like this: I get an idea, write about the idea, post it, and five minutes later, get some feedback. With fiction, it’s this: I have an idea, write about the idea, send it to a publisher, argue about the idea, rewrite the idea, argue some more, wait a couple years, argue some more, do another rewrite, wait a couple years, and then, some day, a physical dead-tree book arrives. I’m not a patient person, and the wait just kills me.
CC: How has your work at the Electronic Frontier Foundation influenced your work?
CD: I wrote Down and Out before I came to work at the EFF, along with my second novel (which Tor will publish next fall), Eastern Standard Tribe. But now I’m working on a new novel, whose (admittedly sucky) working title is “/usr/bin/god.” It’s about Singularity mysticism and nerd culture, which is full of issues from my work with the EFF. It’s a sort of expansion of “0wnz0red,” a parable about “Trusted Computing” that I wrote and which Salon published last August.
CC: In Magic Kingdom, technology has made it possible for people to live forever. Several characters “die” repeatedly, only to be re-booted from back-up memory, like machines. Did the instant-resurrection prevalent in computer and video games influence this aspect of the story? If not, what led you to it?
CD: Actually, it was more about backup-and-restore. I started out as a sysadmin, and I was just as paranoid about the data of my users as I was about my own. I’ve managed to preserve just about all my mail, all my writing, just about everything that I’ve ever created with a computer since I got my first Apple ][+ in the summer of 1979. I back up all that data to an off-site storage every day, and back up my important stuff -- like fiction and financials -- to a remote server 3000 miles away (just in case) in a big, encrypted blob, once a month. All this gives me a nice, warm feeling -- especially when a machine is stolen, smashed, flooded, or HERFed and I do that wondrous restore and get all my data back.
CC: It sounds as if there's almost an element of salvation in the literal saving. . . .
CD: I guess. I think it's more about the end of infocalyptic events like the burning of Alexandria. I just finished Bruce Sterling's brilliant new book of futurism, "Tomorrow Now," which is mind-blowing and provocative as hell. I think the world of Sterling, but I also disagree with a number of his theses about infotech. In TN, he does this dead media schtick about all the info that's been lost along with the platforms that supported it. As I read it, I itched to give Bruce a tutorial on the frankly amazing work that's been done on emulators. A little-appreciated consequence of Moore's Law is the fact that a modern computer has enough power to handily simulate several deprecated machines from bygone days -- simultaneously. Practically, that means that I can trivially fire up the Logo programs I wrote when I was nine, even though -- because! -- I'm using a computer that makes my ][+ look like a flint arrowhead. Every computer I've bought since the advent of harddrives has had more storage than all the computers I owned before, put together. When I look at the incredible new archiving projects being built on commodity hardware -- like archive.org -- I can't help but conclude that the days of information perishing are gone forever.No Comments »