CC Talks With

CC Talks With: OnClassical

Cameron Parkins, November 30th, 2007

In continuing our Featured Commoner series, we caught up with Alessandro Simonetto, founder of OnClassical, an audio label for classical music that uses CC licensing integrally in its business plan.

What’s OnClassical all about?

OnClassical is an online label for refined music. The name means both ON(line)CLASSICAL(music) and ON[about]CLASSICAL[music]. I define “classical” in the same way that Wiktionary does, “of or relating to the first class, especially in literature or art” or, “that which designates a kind and forms a base.”. Of course we concern ourselves only with music, not with the other arts. Our aim is to publish music that is deeply rooted in the culture of music at its truest level, including music that is innovative or the fruit of improvisation.

The philosophy of OnClassical brings together not only quality compositions and performances, but also quality recordings that we either produce ourselves or carefully select from the submissions we receive. We recently chose to define onclassical.com as the “online label for audiophiles,” in large part due to a review by premier piano manufacturer Boesendorfer, in which a recording of ours was defined as “very excellent” (PDF available here).

The label proposes “a new way to think about music.” This means music with no packaging that is distributed via the Internet. OnClassical shares profits 50/50 with artists, and requests no fees or exclusive agreements to join. Besides this, the level of quality in its published performances and recordings is very high and for this reason it is not easy to become one of OnClassical’s featured artists.

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CC Talks With: Jamglue

Cameron Parkins, November 2nd, 2007

UPDATE: Jamglue has shut down – former users should see our music communities page for a list of additional communities working in a similar vein.

Jamglue has been consistent blog-fuel for CC over the past couple months, combining some seriously cool remix contests with an exemplary online music collaboration platform. We recently caught up with co-founder Divya Bhat to learn more:

What’s Jamglue all about? What’s its history? How did it come about? Who’s involved?

Jamglue aims to make it simple and fun for fans to get involved with the music they love. Our Flash-based tools let anyone mash up and remix music from within their browser, making their mark on their favorite music.

Our tools and rapidly growing online community provide a platform for artists to engage their listeners. Through remix contests, fans can interact with their music by adding/removing parts, chopping up tracks, contributing their own vocals, and adding sound effects. Our community facilitates collaboration and provides an instant audience for the new music that’s produced.
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CC Talks With: Beatpick

Cameron Parkins, October 22nd, 2007

BeatPick is a record label started in London that bills itself as a “FairPlay” music label. From the BeatPick website, users can enjoy a range of different styles of music from all over the world, from pop to electronic to hip-hop to rock; all licensed to the public under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license. The website is available in English, Italian, and Chinese (with Spanish coming soon).

The idea for BeatPick came from founder David d’Atri’s Masters in Business Economics thesis. BeatPick made its public debut in February of 2006. As of October 2007, BeatPick represents around 120 artists with over 3,000 music tracks. In addition to BeatPick’s London base, the company has recently opened an office in Rome, Italy as a result of being partially acquired by an Italian software company.

Creative Commons’s former general counsel Mia Garlick caught up with BeatPick.com founder David d’Atri earlier this year to learn more about the company, its artists, its business model, and how it uses Creative Commons licenses to achieve its goals.

It requires quite some determination to take something from a Masters project to a real live business; what was the driving force that lead you to turn BeatPick into a reality?

As a young adult, I was involved in setting up a small label: we specifically did not put a copyright warning on our vinyl and did not pay the collecting societies which we were not members of anyhow. Later on, we began to encourage people to download our music for free from our website. We felt that this was an acceptable way of getting known and making money.

During my studies, I began investigating if whether or not by relaxing the rigid existing copyright laws and decriminalizing file sharing, the music market could become truly competitive. I was also increasingly interested in finding out if it was possible to devise new business strategies that were radically different from traditional ones.

After having completed my MSC, I was hired at a small record label in London where I acquired some practical experience in music licensing. I soon realized that I wanted to replicate the model I had previously used with my old label but on a larger scale. I was curious if I could come up with my own system, something that would provide me with a secure legal framework; that’s when I found out about Creative Commons. I suppose it was discovering the much-debated issues with Creative Commons that really encouraged me to embark on a project like BeatPick.

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CC Talks With: Strayform

Cameron Parkins, October 15th, 2007

Continuing with our Featured Commoner revival, we are pleased to present an interview with Brandt Cannici, founder of Strayform, a “creation network” that uniquely helps artists fund their works by utilizing Creative Commons licensing.

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What’s Strayform all about? What’s its history? How did it come about? Who’s involved?

Strayform is a new model for digital content. With the internet, distribution of digital goods is practically free; the true value is in their creation. Strayform allows people to pay for creation and lets distribution happen naturally and without restriction. Furthermore when you cut out middlemen who act as distributors, something amazing happens. Creators and consumers can now interact naturally as partners. No longer are you a passive recipient of a CD or film. With Strayform, you helped fund it, you watched it grow, you worked with the creator, you had input and could affect the final product. I believe because of this interaction the future will be full of all sorts of creative media projects that are not even imagined today.

I am the founder and I got the idea while working in Japan. My sister and I used to argue about piracy. She claimed that it hurts the artists while I said every dollar you pay to the big distributors is used to force artists into unfair contracts. About that time my friend’s band signed a multi-million dollar deal with EMI. But EMI sat on the contract and my friend went bankrupt. So I came up with an idea that cuts out the distributor, lets artists get paid more, and lets consumer use and file-share freely. I moved back to Texas and made the product, afterward moving to San Francisco to launch. In comparison to our competitors we are a tiny, boot-strapped team – a couple of guys in a coffee shop eating ramen to stay afloat. However, the site is quite sophisticated in what it does.
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CC Talks With: GiftTRAP

Cameron Parkins, October 5th, 2007

We’re going crazy over here at CC. Not only did we just go live with our website redesign, launch our 3rd Annual Fundraising Campaign, and get a new general counsel/vice president, we are also happy to announce the return of the “Featured Commoner” series to our blog!

“Featured Commoners” are people, groups, or tools that use CC licensing in unique and original ways. Short interviews will be posted to our blog, offering insight into the ways CC licences have helped these people and projects realize their respective goals.

Our first “Featured Commoner” in this new wave of interviews is Nick Kellet of GiftTRAP, a wonderful board game that we have talked about before here.

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What’s GiftTRAP all about?

Isn’t gift-giving a gong show in your family? We all have funny stories about the gifts we’ve received and wondered, “What were they thinking?”. That’s what GiftTRAP is all about.

It’s an emotional intelligence game themed around giving gifts. Playing means you can drop hints about what you’d like, try and guess what your friends want or even give really bad gifts just for fun! It’s all about getting the “social” back into board games.

Some games are about winning and others are about taking part. GiftTRAP is an experience that’s all about great conversation and getting friends and family talking about things that matter. In GiftTrap, getting better is as important as winning.

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CC Talks With: Enderrock

Margot Kaminski, January 17th, 2007

Lluís Gendrau is the publisher of the Enderrock Group, a company that specializes in Catalan music and publishes three popular music magazines: Enderrock (pop and rock), Folc (traditional music) and Jaç (jazz). Enderrock – in collaboration with the government of Catalonia – recently included two CDs full of CC-licensed music, Música Lliure and Música Lliure II, free within the page of its magazines. The songs on the Música Lliure discs are available for free download at culturalliure.cat.

Creative Commons spoke with Gendrau about this exciting project and his experience in using CC licensing.

Creative Commons: What inspired Enderrock to release the Música Lliure CDs under Creative Commons licences?

Lluís Gendrau: In Catalonia, there have been musicians working informally with methods similar to Creative Commons for a long time. Groups like Pomada, for example, that do folk fusion with electronic music, freely broadcast their work independently of the SGAE (the Spanish society for the management of authors’ rights), but without making use of licences of any kind. Something has been cooking for some time. On coming into contact with Creative Commons Catalonia, and on learning of the experience of Wired magazine, we brought a handful of artists together who would opt for this model of license, with no aim other than to publicize a different way of distributing music.

CC: How did the government of Catalonia become involved with this project?

LG: The project grew out of a commission from the Catalan government. Catalonia has had an unheard-of experience in the last three years, where the government has used free software and Creative Commons licensing in some of its official programs. Unfortunately, the political situation has changed now and it will probably be difficult for an experience like this to be repeated.

CC: Why did you choose the specific licences you used for the project? (CC BY-NC and CC BY-NC-ND)?

LG: We gave the musicians total freedom to choose what kind of licence they wanted to make use of, and the immense majority opted for a licence that permitted the remixing and sampling of their work – especially those artists starting off from electronic or improvised bases.

CC: How did you convince the musicians to be part of this project?

LG: Some of the musicians were already publishing their music independently of the traditional system of authors’ rights management. Some of the musicians weren’t, but were artists that we believed would be ready to participate in an experience like this. We started off with a hundred or so groups, ranging from new groups to established ones, and in the end, we worked with around thirty groups covering all styles, from hip-hop to punk, electronic to folk – even jazz and improvised music.

CC: Had any of the songs been released before by other labels? Will any of them be released on the musicians’ future CDs?

LG: The majority of songs were previously unpublished, and that has been one of the attractions of the record. A lot of them were made specially to be included in the two Música Lliure records, others were works that for one reason or another had been left in the drawer. Some had been published by alternative record labels or published by the artists themselves.

CC: When you were planning the project, what reactions to the idea of using CC licensing did you encounter from the artists, their labels, and their managers?

LG: Obviously, in some cases we met with greater willingness than in others. In the case of the independent record labels like Propaganda pel Fet! or BankRobber, there was total willingness, because they already had a philosophy and way of working that was along these lines. The same occurred with artists who self-publish. But there was also receptiveness on the part of the managers and concert halls.

CC: What were their reactions after you released the CD?

LG: Reactions have been very wide-ranging and the Spanish media has given the project ample coverage. There is still a lack of public debate over the new forms of authors’ rights management, but we’re happy that the appearance of this CD has provoked reactions on all sides, from those most staunchly in favor of copyleft to the SGAE itself.

CC: How was the CD featured at the Catalan Internet Festival?

LG: The CD was presented three times in concert form, in which groups like Conxita, Pirat’s Sound Sistema, Plouen Catximbes, Roig, LaMundial.net and Guillamino performed. All their songs may be heard on musicalliure.cat.

CC: Would you say the CD was a success?

LG: We believe we have opened an interesting door. The independent labels have started new relationships with artists and producers, debates have been organized at festivals, and the people in charge of public radio – and private programmers also – are studying the possibility of creating a channel specializing in free music.

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CC Talks With: Librivox

Mia Garlick, December 5th, 2006

LibriVox is a project that describes its mission to be the “acoustical liberation of books in the public domain.” It is a digital library of free public domain audio books that are read and recorded by volunteers. It was started just a year and a half ago, in August 2005, and already has amassed over 150 recordings. Most of the recordings are in English but there are also recordings available in German, Spanish, Chinese, Russian and Japanese as well as other languages. Read More…

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CC Talks With: Revver

Eric Steuer, October 30th, 2006

Steven Starr is the founder and CEO of Revver, a video-sharing platform that uses Creative Commons licenses to help creators make money from their work. Revver attaches a short ad at the end of each video in its network and splits the resulting ad revenue with creators. The company uses CC licenses so that people can legally share the videos in the Revver network across the Internet.

A few weeks ago, Revver released the Open Revver API, which enables anyone, from individuals to major companies, to create an online video portal using the same tools that built Revver. In conjunction with this release, Revver posted a short video that shows how to build a Revver portal in just 42 seconds.

On another front, Revver has started enabling nonprofit organizations to leverage its open syndication platform as a viral fundraising technology. Creative Commons is the first organization to work with Revver to raise money by sharing videos. Check out our Viral Video Fundraising Campaign.

Creative Commons spoke with Starr to discuss Revver’s origins, its future, and the current state of user-generated video.

Creative Commons: Where does the name Revver come from?

Steven Starr: My first thought was reverence for the creator, but people have other ideas: revenue for file-sharers, revving your career, ideas like that. Revver’s mission is to deliver sustainability, to get you paid so you can develop your creativity further. Revver technology enables your video file to move freely across the Internet, generating revenue everywhere it goes.

CC: What sets Revver apart from other video sharing sites?

SS: Video Makers split ad revenue 50/50 with Revver, and if you share Revver video, you get 20% of the ad revenue off the top. Video Watchers get free video with unobtrusive endframe ads, and Video Sponsors target into an ever-growing content library without associating with infringing content. Our Video Patrol reviews every video entering the Revver library for infringement, hate speech or porn, and we work with Creative Commons to foster a community that understands creator rights. And unlike most other sites, we don’t play cat-and-mouse with the DMCA. It’s really disrespectful to the creator.

CC: Should amateurs really care about being paid?

SS: Hell yes. Look at the Clash, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Spike Jonze or any creator that ever made your heart pound. They were all amateurs; they had to fight like dogs to sustain their creativity in the early going. The influence of all these new online creators is wildly disruptive; genre, format and storytelling are being re-imagined with a different set of tools. We see online video as a new art form, these online creators are game-changers, and they surely need to get paid. They need recognition and resource.

CC: What do you think of the YouTube acquisition?

SS: It’s really great for online video, a total validation of the space. But current DMCA practices continue to throw creators under a bus, that problem gets worse every day, and this deal does nothing to solve that problem.

CC: What do you mean?

SS: Well, by the time you locate copies of your work and notify the site to take it down under the DMCA, more copies pop up and you have to start all over again. But should you lose income as sites leverage your creativity to scale traffic? Should sites refuse to police for illegal copies of your work unless you’re a strategic partner? Selling protection to those who can pay for it, while forcing small creators into a money-losing DMCA cat-and-mouse game is simply unfair.

CC: So how does Revver get the creator paid?

SS: It’s really simple, we attach dynamic ad insertion software to the video, and give it back to you. EepyBird, the creators of the Diet Coke and Mentos Experiment, processed their video through Revver and released it into the wild. Within weeks they received over six million views, and more than $35,000 in ad revenue. Of course, that’s a big hit, but we’re now getting lots of Revver creators paid. As our traffic and library grows, we imagine the day where any number of creators are able to make a living using Revver technology.

We also work with non-profits; Firefox asked us to build a contest engine that called out to their user base to create 30-second Firefox promos. It was a smashing success; they had hundreds of submissions and many, many millions of views. Creative Commons is about to start using our open syndication engine for fund-raising. There’s lots of ways to use Revver technology, we’re just getting started.

CC: How are the advertisers responding?

SS: Extremely well. Smart brands love interacting with the audience, and the really smart ones understand it’s better to sponsor authenticity then to try and replicate it. Our sponsors enjoy a real halo effect with creators; we expect a golden age of Internet sponsorship to emerge over the next few years. Creative development at agencies, studios, networks and labels may never be the same.

CC: You’ve said that Revver isn’t really another destination site. Can you explain that?

SS: Well, it’s important to note that the vast majority of Revver video views are happening in the wild, and not on our site. 88% of the Diet Coke and Mentos views happened on EepyBird’s website, 10% happened on our Sharer network, and just 2% happened on Revver.com. So it’s all about virality, and we don’t lose sleep over our Alexa ranking; most of the action is elsewhere.

And sure, video makers and sharers and sponsors and watchers come to Revver to develop collections, set up accounts, set preferences on content feeds. But again, we’re a totally open system, one that allows almost all of the activity to happen offsite. And the release of our open API allows anyone, from major companies to individuals, to build and maintain their own video-based communities elsewhere, using Revver technology.

CC: How does Revver use Creative Commons licensing, and what’s the response been like?

SS: When you upload to Revver, your video gets protected under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.5 license. This means people are free to share your video if they credit you as the creator, and they can’t change the video or make money off of it without your permission. Creators really get CC; they appreciate the flexibility of CC licenses. In a world where the terms of service for many upload sites give site owners free reign to edit or repurpose uploads however they like, it’s a step forward every time a new creator opts into the CC license.

The response has been just great; LonelyGirl15, Invisible Engine, AskANinja, Ze Frank, CuteWithChris, Doogtoons, and many other top line creators are now working with CC licenses via Revver. We expect to have over 100,000 CC-licensed videos in the library in a matter of weeks. It’s working, and it’s working well.

CC: What about free culture?

SS: We love remix culture, mashups, and the like, and if you’ve got bank, go ahead and make free stuff. But we spent time in the favelas after the iCommons Summit in Rio with creators earning barely enough to afford mini-DV tape to make shorts on borrowed digicams. Those creators would love to get paid. They should have the right to decide how their content is distributed online, and not see that decision made for them by someone else.

CC: What’s the history behind Revver?

SS: Experiences around developing talent and then as a creator made it clear that access was the whole story, and that very few people had it. So in 1999 we launched AntEye.com, riffing on the idea that the biggest vision might come from the smallest eyes. We thought we could leverage the entire Internet as a vast discovery platform. Creators from all over the planet sent us thousands of videocassettes to digitize and publish, and some of it was just fantastic.

To get the word out, we sent AntEye trucks out to a bunch of college towns with the word CREATE! emblazoned on the outside. We’d pull up, give curious kids digicams in exchange for their driver’s license, teach them to edit their video in the back of the truck, then publish it online. Our best creators, as rated by their peers, were given micro pilot budgets and exposure into a first look we’d set up with HBO. Yet bandwidth was just insanely expensive, and our wild-eyed business model assumed that we’d discover the next Chris Rock or Robert Rodriguez or whomever, and then build a kind of a people’s MTV out of the content flow.

That’s all starting to happen now; we were just far too early. So just as AntEye started collapsing, a group of us started building out LA Indymedia. Indymedia burst onto the scene in November of ’99 as an independent media apparatus during the Seattle WTO. A group of us, inspired by their success, came together in LA to build an Indymedia Center for the 2000 Democratic National Convention.

We rented the 6th floor of Patriotic Hall, set up open computer stations, a community radio station, a convention newspaper, and in collaboration with Free Speech TV, a television studio and satellite uplink. Democracy Now! jumped in, as did 1400 other journalists from all over the world. We built a full-blown, multi-disciplined media operation in a matter of weeks. Danny Schechter, who’d delivered the crisis of South African apartheid into the global conversation in the 1980’s, was asked to host the first night.

Just as we were about to flip the switch, a thoroughly misguided LAPD claimed a bomb scare and shut us down. The bomb scare was absurd, clearly a mythology, so we put the Chief of Police’s home phone number onto the LA Indymedia homepage as a complaint line. We then got a call from LAPD to remove his number, and we agreed to do so in exchange for being left alone. And so the following night, just as Rage Against the Machine hit the stage outside of the Staples Center, we went live, with Danny hosting to over 12 million homes in our Echostar footprint. An amazing moment, to say the least.

That the LAPD tried to shut us down seems predictable in retrospect. Indymedia equals media empowerment, and this type of tech-savvy alternative media initiative was not only unprecedented, but a couple of years ahead of the proliferation of blogs and vlogs and social networks. And this may well have been a first, the first time anyone tried to shut down a domestic television station.

To many of us there, collaborative journalism really came into its own that night, presaging future commercial efforts like OhMyNews in Korea or Current in the States. But media empowerment can be quite threatening to those who are used to being in control of the message, as evidenced several days ago by the cold-blooded murder of Indymedia journalist Brad Will in Oaxaca, Mexico. The price one pays for having an ‘un-embedded’ point of view seems to increase by the hour. A couple of weeks ago, Bush signed into law a bill expanding his rights to declare martial law, to order militarized police round-ups and detention of protesters. And so the question for the online video community is: who’s to protect media-makers under such circumstances?

At about the same time and along similar lines, Ian Clarke had launched Freenet, a global, decentralized anti-censorship P2P network with, among other attributes, the potential to eliminate the bandwidth costs we’d seen at AntEye. So we partnered, organized a 501c3 around Freenet, and formed Uprizer to develop software inspired by Freenet architecture. This time we had a business model; a content delivery network, but then Hummer Winblad found itself in the crosshairs of the Napster lawsuits. P2P became the devil, and our investors urged us into the enterprise software business. I knew nothing about enterprise software so I quit, and then a friend from the Pacifica Foundation asked me to manage KPFK-FM.

At 112,000 watts, KPFK’s likely the strongest community radio signal in the US, and the idea was to see whether we could transition the station to a more grassroots version of its community mission. So we threw open the doors to a community who’d been picketing the station for years, blew past our fundraising targets, implemented listener-generated programming initiatives, and restored financial control back to the station. As expected, we saw massive grassroots creativity around us, but the price for many unpaid creators was predictable, a never-ending struggle for resources.

So in 2002 I started working on ChangeTv, a digital cable hybrid; AntEye meets KPFK meets MTV. The goal was to filter user-generated video off the Internet and onto cable, and most importantly, get our creators paid. We had John Perry Barlow and Jack Healey from Amnesty International advising us, but 18 months of trying to raise $65 million in a post-bubble environment just about broke me. So I morphed ChangeTv into an online creator marketplace and brought in a team of consultants; Ian Clarke and his brother Andrew joined over the summer, Oliver Luckett joined right after the November ’04 elections. Oliver’s the inspired former head of the network at Qwest; he’d just brilliantly teamed with Norman Lear to deliver over a million online voter registrations.

Andrew and Ian set about building Indy.tv for musicians, early proof of ChangeTv’s recommendation engine, and Ian started developing Dijjer.org, an open-source http-based P2P network designed to cover bandwidth. Oliver began solving problems associated with tracking files across the network, and collaborated on a new business plan. The Participatory Culture crew out of Worcester, Mass. joined in to build websites for Dijjer and Indy, and we all drove into the desert for a brainstorming marathon.

After that, things moved quickly; I raised more seed capital, asked Oliver, Ian, and Andrew to join fulltime in March of ’05, changed the name to Revver, and raised venture capital from the syndicate who’d funded Skype. And now we have an amazing group of people from all walks of life throwing in together; it’s just a great place to work and we’re all really committed to what we’re doing.

CC: And tell us about your history. What’s your personal background?

SS: I started out as a high school volunteer at WLIR-FM, the legendary New York rock station, then worked my way through college as a DJ, a short-order cook, a CBS Records rep and a concert promoter. Bob Marley was just a massive hero of mine, and a friend and I were somehow able to convince William Morris to route his tour through Wisconsin. Just weeks before he recorded Babylon by Bus in Paris, Bob rolled into Madison and blew the roof off of the Orpheum Theater. I had conversations with him around those two shows that pretty much changed everything for me. So when I finished college, I headed straight for William Morris in NY looking for him, and got offered a job in the mailroom.

I spent the ’80s learning new media, and working with Bob’s family after he died. New media in those days meant upstart networks like MTV, selling audiobooks for clients like Andy Grove and launching a home video division. Later, my focus shifted to young creators; indie filmmakers, writers and playwrights like Ang Lee, Larry David, Tim Robbins and many others. I ended up running the NY film operation, but I was way too curious to stay there. So I left in 1991 to write and direct my first film, Joey Breaker, featuring Bob’s daughter Cedella and a very young Philip Seymour Hoffman. And then I spent the 90’s as a filmmaker, TV producer, and working with Rita and the kids on a feature about Bob.

CC: What happened with the film?

SS: Well, Cedella always said that making a film about her Dad wouldn’t be easy and she was right. Bob may be the most widely known musician on the planet – a force of nature from Angkor to Windhoek to Delhi to Rio – the New York Times says he’s the most influential artist of the second half of the 20th century. But Warners’ was looking for a rock ‘n roll movie, think La Bamba, and they never saw how lucky they were to have a chance at something greater.

Rather than make the wrong film, we walked away. But I have no regrets, and not a day wasted. All of it led to AntEye, which led to Revver, and we’re now helping creators everywhere find an audience and sustain their creativity. And the prospect for empowering creators on a global scale strikes me as a better tribute to Bob’s worldview than any movie about him ever could be.

CC: What’s next in store for Revver?

SS: Well, we just rolled out Revver 1.0 a couple of weeks ago. Last week, we offered up our open Revver API, which allows any software developer anywhere on the planet to build a website on top of Revver’s platform. This is a really big step for us. We also just rolled out a flash container that allows your video to keep monetizing even after they get ripped from streams by sites like KeepVid. And we’re adding community tools and major media partnerships to generate opportunities for Revver creators. Lots more about this and a bunch of other initiatives soon, and a whole new rev of the site in a couple of weeks.

CC: Any parting thoughts?

SS: Not really, except if we were having any more fun we’d get arrested. It’s incredibly inspiring to do this work; we’re insanely grateful for the chance to build this business, and it’s really starting to prove itself. All that’s left is a callout to creators everywhere: Revverize it, set your video free!

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CC Talks With: McKenzie Wark

Margot Kaminski, October 11th, 2006

Photo © Ara Koopelian, CC-BYMcKenzie Wark is a professor of cultural and media studies at the New School in New York, and author of A Hacker Manifesto, published by Harvard University Press. He chose to post the draft of his next book, GAM3R 7H30RY, on a site designed in coordination with the Institute for the Future of the Book, an organization that seeks to explore, understand and influence the shift of intellectual discourse from printed page to networked screen.

GAM3R 7H30RY is described as an experimental networked book, and allows readers to post feedback online using windows that are arranged like note cards on the page. The entire online work is currently CC licensed under the Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.5.

Creative Commons contacted Wark to discuss this project, his choice of licensing, and his thoughts on the future of print publishing.

Creative Commons: Can you give us a bit of background about the project? How and why did you start it?

McKenzie Wark: GAM3R 7H30RY grew out of my last book, A Hacker Manifesto, which, incidentally, was about intellectual property. I wanted for the next book to find some way of sharing the book with readers before it reached its final versions. A lot of authors do blogs and things either before they write a book or after it comes out. I wanted to share the actual text of the book as a work in progress, so readers could contribute to it mid way.

The usual blogware just wouldn’t do for that. Neither would a PDF, which provides no adequate way to link comments back to points in the text. And that god awful comments function in MS Word is just the bane of my existence. So we needed a new tool.

So in collaboration with the Institute for the Future of the Book, we created a new kind of interface that would present a longish text in a useable way online, and enable comments, both about specific paragraphs and more generally about the project.

The idea was to get both gamers and academics to come together around this idea of what I call gamer theory – which is that computer games are a new dominant cultural form, and hence call for new kinds of critical concepts. It went up in May 2006 and produced a steady trickle of really useful comments and dialogue. I wrote the title GAM3R 7H30RY, partly so I would have a unique search string, and I’ve found very interesting and useful stuff on other people’s websites as well.

CC: How did you decide to use a Creative Commons license for this project?

MW: It’s a question of goodwill. Users of mainstream services like MySpace are now very nervous about ownership questions – and rightly so. Who owns what you contribute to somebody else’s website? So just as a matter of principle I wanted everyone to feel like they could have “ownership” of GAM3R 7H30RY, where noncommercial purposes are involved. The CC license is now widely understood as a key to that goodwill gesture, at least in the new media circles where this book was likely to travel.

What the media corporations refuse to countenance is the fact that communication has always been in part a commodity economy, but in part also a gift economy. They want to use intellectual property law and the technical crippling of media technologies – what I call Digital Restrictions Management – to shut down the gift part of the communication cycle. It’s crippleware for the whole culture. Having written against this in A Hacker Manifesto, I wanted to make damn sure I wasn’t contributing to it. Hence the CC license for the web expression of the project.

CC: What behavior did the license enable that traditional all-rights-reserved copyright wouldn’t? Were there any unexpected benefits due to the license?

MW: I think it allows readers to contribute their thoughts and ideas to the book without feeling like they are just doing my job for me. People are waking up to the fact that the so-called participatory side of the blogosphere is really just another version of outsourcing. Not only do we have to put up with the ads in commercial online media, we have to produce the stuff ourselves now. You write it, but they own it.

So in its own small way, GAM3R 7H30RY was about making it clear that there is also a gift economy side to participatory media. I give my book away, in its not-quite finished state, for free to anyone who wants to read it or share it, as a way of encouraging people to help improve it. And they are! I have some terrific material from readers that will go into the finished book.

I also intend that site to stay up in one form or another so people can use it in teaching. I think the CC license should make people feel comfortable about doing that too.

CC: Are there any plans to translate the site/project into print? If so, why? How might a print version differ from the online one?

MW: I’m in talks with my publisher, Harvard University Press, about this right now. It’s new territory for them, so there’s a learning curve. This is a major and respected academic press, so they don’t do things without thinking them through.

One thing we would have to work out is a way to license the print book in a way that doesn’t prevent the online conversation from continuing. We still need university presses, or something like them. We still need their expertise in filtering and editing manuscripts, managing a backlist and publicizing works. And all that has to be paid for.

So the question is: how can the gift economy of the online “book” and the printed book with a cover price work together? I think the practice of how you do it is actually quite clear and no big problem. It’s just a question of getting the legal conventions to catch up.

Creative Commons is a big help there. But in reality I’m doing with GAM3R 7H30RY pretty much what I did with A Hacker Manifesto and my other books: I’m giving away ideas in lots of forms that are transitory and fragmentary, which persuades some readers that they would like to respond to that by buying an actual book – a well designed, well edited, well bound object that will look great on the coffee table, that you can hand to a friend, that you can store on your shelf. In other words printed books still have lots of functions. Not to mention being easier to read.

CC: If you are planning a print version, do you predict (or have you had) any trouble with traditional print publishers over licensing or other transferring issues?

MW: When I did A Hacker Manifesto, I had to assign all rights to Harvard University Press. I think they understood from the get go that a lot of my ideas will circulate freely on the Internet, but that I would not do anything that would hurt their efforts to benefit from the rights for which they paid me.

That book did well enough that they are prepared to at least think about a different licensing arrangement this time for GAM3R 7H30RY (should they accept it). What I’m saying to them is that I can assign to them the rights that they can actually make a living from, but that we leave out of the contract what I would call the “fantasy rights” that are usually in these things.

What got me interested in all this in the first place was the ridiculous state of academic journal contracts, where you sort of assign all these mythical powers in all territories, ‘til the end of time. Rights that nobody in a million years could ever figure out how to profit from, but that some lawyer with no clue about how the reading-writing relationship actually works dreamt up.

Maybe that’s a big part of the problem: Lawyers just don‘t read like normal people. They read and write with the meter running! This warps their judgment about the subtle nature of the intertwining of the gift and commodity economy in culture.

CC: If the project does go into print, will you be posting a CC-licensed version of the final version?

MW: I hope so – it depends, as Laurence Sterne wrote in Tristram Shandy, whether “I can strike a tolerable bargain with my book seller.” I have some bargaining power, but not as much as Lawrence Lessig does! So we’ll see.

CC: How did this experience differ from your normal writing process? Was it a positive or negative experience, overall?

MW: I was asked by Bob Stein, the moving force behind the Institute for the Future of the Book, if I would have liked to have been in dialogue with readers when I wrote A Hacker Manifesto. And I said: “hell no!” That was a sitting alone on the mountaintop kind of book. Writing does not always benefit from being in instant contact with its intended audience. You lose the capacity to surprise that audience, and to really challenge its beliefs in a sustained way.

But I have a lot of respect for Bob and I liked the team he has put together at the Institute, so I thought: maybe for the next book. So I was very happy when they agreed to design and build a brand new, purpose-built website for GAM3R 7H30RY. Jesse Wilbur built it, after long conversations with me and Ben Vershbow, also from the Institute.

At first I was very nervous about readers coming in to the process at this mid-point in the writing process. Writing is a pretty solitary art, and particularly early on you can be a bit sensitive to how people respond. But generally, readers extended this huge amount of goodwill to me and to the project. I’m really thankful for that.

So now I not only have the official reader’s reports commissioned by Harvard University Press. I also have this unofficial “peer review” material from the website. It’s peer review in a different sense. Some people call it peer-to-peer review. People have to prove their “credentials” in what they write on the site, rather than simply have it taken for granted that because you are professor such-and-such your opinion should matter.

I had terrific official reader’s reports from Harvard – they’re very good at that process. But like most writers I’ve also had terribly ignorant and lazy official reader’s reports, presumably from supposedly respectable sources. Peer review doesn’t always work as it should. I think what we’re experimenting with here is not something that can replace peer review but a sort of check and balance. A sort of collaborative filtering.

CC: What are your feelings about the networked book- will authors take to it? And do you think authors can remain commercially viable while networking and CC-licensing their work, prior to print publication?

MW: To take the last first: one of my all time favorite books is Guy Debord’s Society of the Spectacle. There’s a lovely edition for sale from Zone Books. Today its Amazon rank is about 18,000 – but I’ve seen it as high as 5,000. This edition has been in print for twelve years.

You can also get the whole text free online. In fact there are three whole translations you can download. In the ’60s Debord was editor of a journal called Internationale Situationiste. All of it is freely available now in translation.

The Situationists were pioneers in alternative licensing. The only problem was they didn’t have access to a good license that would allow noncommercial circulation but also bar unauthorized commercial exploitation. There were some terrible pirate editions of their stuff. Their solution to a bad Italian commercial edition was to go to the publisher and trash their office. There has to be a better way of doing things than that.

But in short: the moral of the story is that if you give a nice enough gift to potential readers, they return the gift by buying your stuff. Debord’s works are now classics. Constantly reprinted, a nice little earner for his widow. But it is because of this huge gift of stuff to readers that readers – generations of them – return the favor by buying the works.

Culture has always worked like that. The real question to ask is the reverse: how is anyone except the media conglomerates going to make a living when they have commodified culture to within an inch of its life? How are they even going to make a living off it? It’s never been done before in the history of the world.

On the networked book: this also is something that is not as new as it looks. Literature has always been networked. As the German media theorist Friedrich Kittler and his followers argue, there would be no novel without a postal system. The book as artifact and the book as vector, or relation between points, always go together.

What the networked book needs, however, is new tools, new conventions, new economies. That’s where GAM3R 7H30RY and experiments like it are interesting. It’s about reinventing the connective tissue between books, across space and time, and between different kinds of reader. It’s about making an end-run around monopolies of knowledge and culture. Creative Commons is a key part of that process. But so too are new media tools, and perhaps even more importantly, new cultural, social, and literary conventions. We need to relearn how to read and write.

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CC Talks With: MOD Films

Amy Rose, July 20th, 2006

MOD Films produces “remixable” film content and technology aimed at new cinema platforms. Through documentation and packaging of the film production, MOD helps to support future use of the films as digital video releases, in games, and as source material for online communities to play with.

Michela Ledwidge founded MOD Films in 2004 with a NESTA (the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts) Inventions and Innovations award. Inspired by the practice of game modding, MOD Films demonstrates how regular films could be given to the audience in a malleable form using Internet and video game technology.

Michela filmed her film Sanctuary in March 2006 – a sci-fi short about a sixteen year old girl who uses her avatar as a virtual reality superhero. All Sanctuary elements including hours of production footage, sound effects, dialogue, storyboards, concept drawings and still photos are being licensed to the public under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike Licenses.

Amy “Rock and Roll” Rose of Creative Commons interviewed Michela to learn more about MOD Films and her experience in using CC licenses.

Amy Rose (“CC”): Why did you start MOD Films?

Michela Ledwidge (“ML”): There wasn’t a platform for the kind of films I wanted to make. The film industry approach to real storytelling is largely obsolete. It wastes too many resources. Filmmakers are supposed to buy into a monolithic system that tends not to do justice to their stories or their actual audience. You sell someone access to a film, and then what happens? We’re taking the opportunity to see if we can come up with a better, more sustainable, model, starting with a little film written with interactivity in mind. There have to be more ethical, ecological, and fun ways to develop, produce, distribute, and exhibit cinematic stories.

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

ML: It’s the most compatible framework for our aims, technically, commercially, and philosophically. Digital rights management, as opposed to digital rights enforcement, is a key part of what we do. I think the value of machine-readable licenses will be better appreciated over time. My personal interest goes well beyond the business. CC has changed the world for the better in widening the debate about how society views creativity. As an open business, we want more opportunities for people to be more creative using our stuff. We’ll survive if enough people know about and like what we do.

We’re developing a virtual studio approach using a “kitchen” analogy that fits pretty well with the “pick ‘n’ mix” CC approach. “Some Rights Reserved” licensing enables us to cook up, serve dishes, and share ingredients more widely. The opportunity to get in at the ground level and set up the kitchen with Sanctuary, ahead of the market, was an opportunity too good to refuse.

CC: Why did you choose the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license for Sanctuary?

ML: We chose a license to reflect the fact that we’re walking a fine line between open filmmaking and “All Rights Reserved” film-making. We still want our films in festivals and on retail shelves. We need to see a return for our investors if the model is to survive so we’re not simply giving material away. We’re trying to create a model that is sustainable, not just for our own livelihood but media professionals at large. Attribution is obviously essential for any credits system. The real opportunity I see here is to iteratively improve on the existing systems for attribution (e.g. how many people ACTUALLY worked on Matrix Reloaded post-production as opposed to who got a credit in the film?) and licensing by getting people to become less precious about their assets. Sanctuary is a pilot for a feature film so we’ve retained control over commercial exploitation mainly to attract producers to that larger project.

CC: Can you provide an overview of how a user might remix Sanctuary?

ML: The simplest way is to go back to the kitchen analogy I mentioned. We’re inviting the audience “inside” the production after the remixable release, after dinner so-to-speak, to play around with bits and create their own MODs. We’re trying not to pre-empt too much what these MODs might be and concentrate on making sure there are sufficient APIs and Web services available for developers to take advantage of. This is not just about video re-editing. We’re releasing EVERY asset, so who know? Most users may only ever experience remixing through existing MODs (like the DJ/VJ instrument MOD we’re developing) that they have downloaded (in the same way as more people watch YouTube videos than upload videos). But the whole point is to enable advanced use of the film’s architecture and asset library as to give people a chance to surprise us with their creativity. We’re providing the plug-in architecture and sample MODs that illustrate how to re-use the assets. We’re encouraging MOD communities to come and treat Sanctuary as a library using their existing software (e.g. Final Cut Pro, Photoshop, Web-based video mixing sites like eyespot).

Sanctuary hasn’t been released yet (still in post production) but we do have over 100 people signed to our “beta band” community on Multiply (http://remixablefilms.multiply.com) and various software developers are working in tandem with us so that there will be 3rd party applications from day one of the release. We’re encouraging MOD’ers of all kinds to congregate there and bug us for pre-release stuff and get involved. We’re making this up as we go along!

CC: In April 2004, Australian Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA) refused dispensation to allow local actors to perform in Sanctuary. Could you discuss what you understand MEAA’s concerns with the film were and whether and/or how it was resolved?

ML: MEAA’s concern was that Creative Commons licensing relinquished too much control, to us the producers, and to the audience and that this could be to the detriment of actors involved. CC was deemed bad for business. MEAA put particular emphasis on the negative impact that remixing could have on our professional actors’ careers particularly “non-commercial advertising” — such as sampling video for use in Neo-Nazi commercials, abortion campaigns and user-generated pornography (their examples, not mine!). MEAA didn’t care that MOD Films, under the Australian CC license, retained the right to disallow any derived work which “prejudices the honour or reputation of the author” and chose to interpret our long term intentions as exploiting actors. It was a really embarrassing phase of the project because general ignorance about CC was largely the problem. Australian media professionals should really be up in arms about how they are represented on the world stage.

I do understand why there were concerns but ultimately we’re talking about a 12 minute pilot funded by an Inventions award, made up of willing and experienced Internet and film professionals who care passionately about exploring the future of film and moving things forward. I am very pro-union but only as long as a union is genuinely acting on behalf of its members, rather than simply protecting its own interests by sticking its head in the sand. When you get industries blocking innovation simply because it may move the goal posts, it’s very hard to be remain sympathetic.

The issue hasn’t been resolved. If the MEAA spokesman we deal with has his way, I doubt Creative Commons licensing and professional media will ever meet up again. MEAA really needs some new blood who understand the way the world is moving and can deal with real issues in a constructive way. Unfortunately from what I understand, I live in London, the controversy over Creative Commons is still raging in Australia. We got a bit of a backlash against the MEAA decision last year, and gained some local support from the Australian Film Commission (an Australian Government agency that ensures the preservation, creation and availability of Australian screen content) so as for Sanctuary, we’ve survived. Once the AFC got involved, the actors and their agents were more comfortable about signing up against the advice of the union. Given the power MEAA has over local production, I would never have attempted to shoot without some show of support from the industry.

We rescheduled and shot the film a few months later but much of our funding was wasted on dealing with this issue over several months. The film is still in post production with volunteers working on it. We made a bit of history with our CC contract clauses and the resulting 35mm film is totally cleared for re-use as a result but it wasn’t a pleasant experience. Hopefully other producers will now benefit from us having broken the ice though.

We’ve documented the correspondence and paperwork in this discussion thread for future reference. http://modfilms.com/forums/viewtopic.php?t=123

CC: Audiences also had the opportunity to enjoy a preview Sanctuary at the Cannes Film Festival, what was the reaction of festival attendees to the film and the idea of film remixing?

ML: The reaction to the story itself so far has been good. All the legal mucking about tends to obscure the fact that this is a good little sci-fi story that should happily stand on its own, even without all of this remix nonsense! The Cannes Feature Film Selection Committee wrote to us asking to see the film earlier in the year. Talking to “real film-makers” out there was a wonderful morale-booster. We’re definitely exploring the future and all this buzz is over an unreleased short film. We also got interest from a couple of distributors.

The reaction to the remix idea on its own has been pretty good but we’re not overestimating how many people will actually do stuff. I think it will take a while before people start engaging fully with this paradigm. People seem genuinely excited by the idea of a new form but of course everyone just wants to sit back and watch the finished film first. As do I! The real fun begins once people know the story of the superhero, the film is playing on a disk in your living room, and MODs are being downloaded from our web platform as you’re watching. So if you can help us get to that point, get in touch!

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