CC BY-NC-SA

Commoner Letter #3: Jonathan Coulton

Melissa Reeder, November 17th, 2008


Jonathan Coulton; photo by Del Far under CC BY 2.0

To our community – for our next commoner letter we are featuring an artist who has really proven that the CC model works for musicians. Jonathan Coulton has made a career out of sharing his music with his fans, not just aurally, but digitally and meaningfully through the prolific use of our licenses. We’ve also worked with Jonathan this year to offer an exciting new CC item — a custom USB jump drive stocked with his music and source tracks. Read on for his heartfelt commoner letter and for more information about our new jump drives. If you would like to receive these email letters, please sign-up here.

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Dear Creative Commoner:

I first learned about Creative Commons when I heard Lawrence Lessig speak at a conference in 2004. I had been invited there to sing a silly song about the future, revenge, and robot armies to an audience of futurists and super scientists. It was a little intimidating – I was not even Internet Famous then. I was still working at my day job, trying to figure out how a career software guy in his mid 30s could ever find a way to make a living writing songs. Lessig gave his standard presentation (to this day, still the most delicious Powerpoint kung fu I have ever seen) explaining the history of copyright and the goals of Creative Commons. As we all filed out for lunch, I remember feeling like my head was on fire, it was just the most exciting idea I had ever heard.

In those days one of the things that was keeping me from doing music full time was my lack of a coherent plan: I make music, something happens, I make money, that was about as far as I could think it through. Creative Commons filled in a lot of the gaps for me. I knew about the internet of course, I was aware of the rise of remix culture, file sharing, and fan-created content. But there was something so compelling about the Creative Commons license, the idea that you could attach it to a piece of art you had made and declare your intentions – please, share my music, put it in a remix, make it into a music video. I was thrilled and emboldened by the idea that I could give my songs legs, so that they could walk around the world and find their way into places I would never dream of sending them. I immediately started licensing my songs with CC, and a year later I quit my job to create music full time.

It’s hard to overstate the degree to which CC has contributed to my career as a musician. In 2005 I started Thing a Week, a project in which I recorded a new song every week and released it for free on my website and in a podcast feed, licensing everything with Creative Commons. Over the course of that year, my growing audience started to feed back to me things they had created based on my music: videos, artwork, remixes, card games, coloring books. I long ago lost track of this torrent of fan-made stuff, and of course I’ll never know how many people simply shared my music with friends, but there’s no question in my mind that Creative Commons is a big part of why I’m now able to make a living this way. Indeed, it’s where much of my audience comes from – there are some fan-made music videos on YouTube that have been viewed millions of times. That’s an enormous amount of exposure to new potential fans, and it costs me exactly zero dollars.

When you’re an artist, it’s a wonderful thing to hear from a fan who likes what you do. But it’s even more thrilling to see that someone was moved enough to make something brand new based on it – that your creative work has inspired someone to do more creative work, that your little song had a child and that child was a YouTube video that a million people watched. A Creative Commons license is like a joy multiplier. The art you create adds to the world whenever someone appreciates it, but you also get karma credit for every new piece of art it inspires. And around and around. This is my favorite thing about Creative Commons: the act of creation becomes not the end, but the beginning of a creative process that links complete strangers together in collaboration. To me it’s a deeply satisfying and beautiful vision of what art and culture can be.

This is why I’ve chosen to release a greatest hits album of my Thing-A-Week songs to help support Creative Commons’ 2008 campaign. We’ve teamed up to combine not only the unreleased “JoCo Looks Back” album, but all of the unmixed audio tracks for all of the 20 songs on a custom CC green 1gb jump drive. The drives, whose entire contents are licensed under CC’s BY-NC-SA license, will be available exclusively through Creative Commons’ support site until December 31st, and you can get one today when you donate $50 and above.

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The Outcomes Star System

Cameron Parkins, November 14th, 2008

The Outcomes Star System is a “tool for measuring the outcomes of work with homeless people,” specifically designed for use by homeless charities. The Outcomes Star System focuses on “an approach to measuring change” on 10 different criteria, the theory being that by following The Outcomes Star System, outreach to the homeless can be approached with pragmatism and a level of success.

Homeless Outcomes, the group behind the Star System, has published their entire website under a CC BY-NC-SA license, including the Star System. By allowing these files to be easily shared and reused legally, Homeless Outcomes is empowering other groups by offering them a free and open system to help enact social change. You can see the Outcomes Star re-posted below:

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Games for the Brain

Cameron Parkins, November 14th, 2008

Games for the Brain is a fun site that features a number of memory, quiz, and brain games all released under a CC BY-NC-SA license. A number of the games are embeddable, making them easily available for sharing while others reuse previously CC-licensed material. Whether it is an online destination to pass time, procrastinate, or hone your mental skills, Games for the Brain is a nice and simple addition to the growing landscape of CC-licensed content.

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CC Talks With: Lucky Dragons

Cameron Parkins, November 10th, 2008

Lucky Dragons, an experimental music/art group based in Los Angeles, is the moniker given to “any recorded or performed or installed or packaged or shared pieces made by Luke Fischbeck, Sarah Rara, and any sometimes collaborator.” Blending an organic approach to electronic music with a background in the arts, everything Lucky Dragons produces is released under a CC BY-NC-SA license, allowing others to share what they have made as well as rework it (much of their music is available for free download on their website). We recently caught up with the duo to learn more about their music and motivation to use CC. We also touched upon their experience participating in the Into Infinity project, their associated projects Sumi Ink Club/Glaciers of Nice, and what their plans are for the future.

Can you give our readers a bit of background on yourselves? How did you get involved with music and art? What is Lucky Dragon’s background as an artistic outfit?

Fischbeck: lucky dragons started as a “band” in the loosest form possible around eight years ago, as a way to structure our activities as a group in an easily understandable and distributable way, making recordings or books or videos or performances and putting them out into the world. for the most part, we have definitely used the existing structure of independently produced music to do this, but as this structure has been changing so much in our lifetime, we have been keen to look for new and positive paths and models, trying to contribute to a new definition of “band” that includes contexts such as public art, the gallery system, museum programming, blogs, and small-press publishing.

Rara: My entry into making music was initially through making videos and composing sound to go with a moving image until I became more and more engrossed in the production of sounds and the potential of music to bring people together in a very concrete way, forming transient communities and generating equal power-sharing situations. It’s interesting now to alternate between music and art contexts, to slip in and out of each world and to borrow from each various modes and identities. I enjoy slipping into a “band” identity that confuses authorship and opens up the project to various collaborators, even going so far as to dissolve the separation between myself and the audience during the performance. I’ve always thought of the role of the artist as more diffused and inclusive, it can include sitting on a stage and playing a modified kalimba for half an hour or it can include an everyday situation like having a conversation with a stranger. But somehow the means of distributing art in the world are not as inclusive and wide-ranging as music distribution. Music has a tradition of self-publishing and cheap distribution that I find very inspiring; it’s easy to produce something that is accessible to everyone and easily shared when operating within the form of a musical group.

Read More…

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Kelly Link on Creative Commons

Cameron Parkins, November 10th, 2008

Author Kelly Link, renowned for her work in a variety of literary genres, is specifically noteworthy to the CC community for her decision in 2005 to release Stranger Things Happen, her first major collection of short stories, under a CC BY-NC-SA license. In a recent interview with The Nation, Link addressed this decision:

As a reader, I really prefer a book, an object. But I also really like the idea of being able to give stuff away for free. Up to a certain extent, the more you make something available, the more people pass it around. There are many, many, many more downloads of the collection, but sales for the physical book have never gone down. During the first year it was available online, the sales went up. It works the same way a library does.

One of the things about the Creative Commons is that it also meant that the stories, in terms of ideas or narrative, are up there and available to people who want to make other things out of them. A couple of the stories have been made into plays. Somebody took one of the stories and made an experimental music piece from it. I think she turned the prose of the story into a kind of Morse code and then set that into a score for cello. A lot of people have done podcasts of the stories. When I write, I’m constantly drawing from fairy tales or books that I love. This was a way to make the stories available to a larger community and enter into a larger conversation.

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President Elect Barack Obama CC-Licensed Behind the Scenes Photos on Flickr

Cameron Parkins, November 7th, 2008

President-Elect Barack Obama and his staff have been posting photographs to his Flickr photostream since early 2007. Their most recent set from election night offers an amazing behind the scenes look at a historic point in American history.


20081104_Chicago_IL_ElectionNight1032, Barack Obama | CC BY-NC-SA

All of the photos are released under a CC BY-NC-SA license, making them easily shareable and reusable. You can see more photos from the campaign trail here.

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Etsy Podcast: Henry Jenkins

Cameron Parkins, November 5th, 2008

Henry Jenkins
Photo by Joi Ito

Etsy, the ever-wonderful “online marketplace for buying & selling all things handmade”, just posted a great podcast featuring new media theorist Henry Jenkins on their blip.tv channel and their wonderful blog The Storque. Jenkins discusses fan art, a topic that is not only dear to his heart but also essential to a organization like Etsy which thrives off the ingenuity of their community. All of Etsy’s podcasts are released under a CC BY-NC-SA license, making them easily shareable and reusable.

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APEC’s HRDWG Openly Licenses Wiki

Jane Park, October 28th, 2008

APEC (Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation)’s Human Resources Development Working Group (HRDWG) has released all their wiki content under CC BY-NC-SA, including their Education Network (EDNET). EDNET is the hub of APEC’s education activities in the pacific rim. Its goal is “to foster strong and vibrant learning systems across APEC member economies, promote education for all, and strengthen the role of education in promoting social, individual, economic and sustainable development.” The priority areas of EDNET are 

  • Mathematics
  • Career and Technical Education
  • Learning Each Other’s Languages
  • ICT and Systemic Reform
EDNET offers myriad education projects in these areas, including Classroom Innovations through Lesson Study in Mathematics which offers lessons and videos taught in Japan, Singapore, and Vietnam. HRDWG’s overall mission is “to share knowledge, experience, and skills to strengthen human resource development and promote sustainable economic growth.” Other HRDWG networks are the Capacity Building Network (CBN) and the Labor and Social Protection Network (LSPN), both wikis of which are also licensed CC BY-NC-SA.
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First Romanian CC Remix Competition: Hi-Q “Me+U=Love”

Michelle Thorne, October 24th, 2008

Hi-Q, the hugely successful Romanian pop group, announced the first CC remix competition in Romania. Hi-Q’s unreleased song “Eu+Tu=Iubire” (“Me+U=Love”) will be included on the band’s upcoming album.

From CC Romania:

It is time for users to engage in this quest and test their talents in order to produce a song just the way YOU would like it to be. The voices are released under the Romanian CC BY-NC-SA 3.0 license, and the challenge is hosted by eOk.ro.

The vocal tracks can be downloaded on Hi-Q’s profile page. The contest ends November 10 with plenty of prizes along the way from Tuatara.ro, Microsoft and Dj Super Store.

Hi-Q was one of the parteners for the CC Romania launch in September. It is the most popular pop band in Romania, known for its twelve year success in combining music, television and radio, and for its sustained support of social campaigns.

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Creator of ‘The Bizarre Cathedral’ on CC Licenses

Cameron Parkins, October 22nd, 2008

Ryan Cartwright, creator of webcomic The Bizarre Cathedral, recently posted an insightful and thought-provoking piece on why he uses a CC BY-NC-SA license on all Bizarre Cathedral comics. From Cartwright:

[B]y restricting some freedom in distribution, it protects greater freedoms for the end-users. This is why I chose CC-BY-NC-SA for the Bizarre Cathedral.

  • BY because I want people who receive one cartoon to be able to enjoy the rest here at FSM.
  • SA because I want everyone to enjoy the same access to the strips
  • NC because I want people to enjoy these at no cost. I am paid for creating them, so I want them to be enjoyed at no cost.

Cartwright wrote the piece in response to criticism centered around the argument that his license choice (CC BY-NC-SA) was “non-free.” We’re always interested in this sort of dialogue, so insight like this – as well as insight from those critical of our licenses – is invaluable.

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