9th Circuit Rules on Sampling

Glenn Otis Brown, November 5th, 2003

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit (in California) ruled yesterday that the Beastie Boys’ sampling of a three-note segment of James Newton’s composition to the song “Choir” did not infringe Newton’s copyright. The court ruled that the sample was a “de minimis” — or trivial — instance of copying and thus not a violation.

A few things to note here.

First is to point out the distinction between sound recordings and their underlying compositions. These are separate copyrights and are often owned by different entities. Here, Newton transferred his right in the recording of “Choir” to ECM Records in 1981; ECM later sold the Beastie Boys a license to sample from the recording.

Newton held on to his right in the underlying composition, however — and it was this right that was at stake in this case. Because the pattern of notes used by the Beastie Boys was a pretty generic and very short three-note sequence, the court said “no foul.”

Now, the court did not rule that bands who sample needn’t bother clearing rights to both recordings and compositions as a general matter. The court implies that had the Beastie Boys sampled some more distinctive pattern of notes — distinctive not in their recording, but in their abstract ordering — or had they taken more of those notes, they would have violated Newton’s copyright in the composition.

So, the upshot: This is a moment in copyright law, if for no other reason than the court’s cool, rational approach to the question. The decision does the important duty of reminding us, in this time of copyright hysteria, that “[e]ven where there is some copying, that fact is not conclusive of infringement. Some copying is permitted. In addition to copying, it must be shown that this has been done to an unfair extent.” This is a basic principle of the law governing creativity that has been all but drowned out in recent years.

That said, this case doesn’t open the door to a free-for-all of creative appropriation. In other words, for artists who want to invite more than trivial uses of their stuff, who want to really open the floodgates of re-creativity, the future is in tools like our forthcoming Sampling Licenses.

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Financial Times on Creative Commons

Matt Haughey, November 4th, 2003

In the Creative Business section of today’s Financial Times, there’s a good article about how and why Creative Commons was formed, titled “It’s not all or nothing: A middle way for copyright holders is emerging.” A subscription is required to review the article.

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PLoS Biology hitting the news

Matt Haughey, November 3rd, 2003

The Public Library of Science, an open access journal we covered as a featured commoner, has released new articles from its upcoming Biology issue (which is also Creative Commons licensed). One article in particular (PDF synopsis) details a study that found a strong association between obesity and a gene on chromosome 10. As obesity is quickly becoming a major health issue in many industrialized nations, the news of this article has been spreading quickly.

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MoveOn using licenses in contest

Matt Haughey, October 30th, 2003

A month ago, we mentioned the emerging “mob spots” phenomena, and how Creative Commons licenses might play a role. It looks like the folks at MoveOn.org have come close to the goals laid out in our earlier post. They’re doing a 30-second spot contest, with all entries licensed under Attribution, Non-commercial, No Derivative Works. This should allow anyone to copy, share, and mirror the movies without any legal hassles.

It’s also similar to the rules for our Moving Images Contest, which you have just two months left to submit entries for.

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Loca Records

Matt Haughey, October 30th, 2003

This week’s featured content is Loca Records. This is an “open source” record label that features a variety of electronic music artists, with many of their songs available under a Creative Commons license. Their mission is to change the way record companies do business and follow the GNU/Linux model of releasing work and receiving compensation.

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Algunos Derechos Reservados (Some Rights Reserved)

Glenn Otis Brown, October 29th, 2003

Sounds good in Spanish, too. Here’s an article from Clarin.com on Creative Commons and director James Boyle‘s recent visit to Argentina. The piece doesn’t quite get how Creative Commons’s approach is reliant upon and compatible with copyright, but it’s nice to see another example of interest in our work building across the world.

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Licensing against Slashdotting

Matt Haughey, October 23rd, 2003

Earlier today, Steven Garrity’s excellent essay on Mozilla branding was Slashdotted, bringing his server down for several hours (it’s a common effect).

What is interesting about it is that I personally could not reach the server to read the document, but thanks to the attached Creative Commons license and the license provisions that allow for redistribution, I could find and read the document on one of the mirrors that sprang up, and it was completely legal. In the past, setting up mirrors of Slashdotted articles has been done as a courtesy to other Slashdot readers, but it’s always been of dubious legal standing.

In addition to the legal grey area, sudden spikes of bandwidth often carry high hosting bills for their creators. Of course, you can never know what will strike the fancy of the web community, but Creative Commons licenses do also allow you to host your larger media files at the Internet Archive’s audio and movie areas, free of charge.

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Tech Challenge Met: CC Metadata Validator

Mike Linksvayer, October 23rd, 2003

On October 6 we posted a list of technology challenges that we hoped would inspire developers.

It did inspire one: Nathan Yergler has already created and made a few rounds of improvements to a web app that validates and extracts license metadata, just as called for.

As an example of what Nathan’s application can do, see what it says about the metadata in the web page about our new Copy Me/Remix Me compact disc. Hint — the metadata serves to verify license claims embedded in MP3s of the songs on the disc, per our MP3 license embedding strategy.

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Open Source Democracy

Matt Haughey, October 23rd, 2003

This week’s featured content is Douglas Rushkoff‘s new essay entitled Open Source Democracy. It’s a 70 page essay (available as a free downloadable PDF) that explores the future of politics in an interactive world. It was created for the UK thinktank Demos, and is available under a Creative Commons License.

For those unfamiliar with Rushkoff’s work, he’s a media analyst, author of numerous books on the subject, and creator of the groundbreaking Frontline special “Merchants of Cool.”

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Copy Me/Remix Me CD out

Matt Haughey, October 22nd, 2003

Earlier tonight at the Lessig vs. Rosen debate, we gave away copies of our second* CD, Copy Me/Remix Me. It features a variety of music from an even wider variety of artists. Among the featured musicians, you’ll find record-at-home independents, magnatune and opsound artists, world music groups, and small town rock bands.

As we mentioned on this blog before, we had a little mini-contest to get remixes for the disc and we’ve posted all of the entries received.
A remix from Flowerlounge and fourstones.net ended up on the final CD, but picking the top two was a tough task. Victor at fourstones.net turned in eight very different mixes that ran the gamut. Albert Lash not only remixed and rearranged the original Superego song, he also tossed in numerous samples from Oyez, the audio archive of Supreme Court arguments. Evan Lawrence’s mix was a nice reinterpretation of the song and DBF’s inventive and humorous mix featured a synthesized voice of a woman leaving an answering machine for an IBM typewriter, which was also a staff favorite.

Feel free to download, share, and remix the songs and if you catch us at a conference or event later this year, we’ll probably have copies of the CD on hand to give away.

*Our first compilation CD was done in February of 2003, for the Noisepop festival in San Francisco.

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