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2005 October

CC Talks With: DJ Spooky and Roger McGuinn interviews

Neeru Paharia, October 1st, 2005


Photo © Iñaki Vinaixa

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

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

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

CC: How did you physically change the movie?

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

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

DS: It’s a remix!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Interview by Glenn Otis Brown and Neeru Paharia
April 2004

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

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

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

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

Camilla McGuinn: Which they’re probably doing now.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RM: I see it as a decaying, ancient business model. It’s obsolete, and it’s only a matter of time before it crumbles and artists take over independently. I think it’s a great time for artists, with the advent of computer recording, 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.

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CC Talks With: Magnatune

Glenn Otis Brown, October 1st, 2005

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

JB: Artists respond in one of three ways:

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

2) Whatever, you take care of the details.

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

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

CC: Where does most of your revenue come from?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CC: What’s your dream scenario for Magnatune?

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

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

JB: Yes, I absolutely think the Magnatune “try before you buy” model would work for films and books. I’ve registered “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.

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CC Talks With: Freesound

Mike Linksvayer, October 1st, 2005

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

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

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

Bram de Jong, Freesound Founder (“BdJ”): In 2005 MTG hired me to organize the 2005 ICMC (international computer music conference), and to create a website around that year’s ICMC theme “free sound”. Dr. Serra and me took the title quite literally and decided to create Freesound. We knew of other, similar, projects like 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).

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CC Talks With: Fading Ways

Neeru Paharia, October 1st, 2005

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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CC Talks With: Open Democracy

Mia Garlick, October 1st, 2005

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.

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From LA’s Awesometown to New York City’s SNL

Matt Haughey, October 1st, 2005

Wired News posted an article yesterday covering the story of LA-based comedy collective The Lonely Island. Like most comedians, they spent years trying to get discovered but they did one thing unusual: they posted all their comedy shorts and songs to their extensive website with Creative Commons licenses. Thanks to their licensed music, they soon found other artists began making remixes of their tunes which they also posted.

Earlier this year, they got tapped to create a comedy pilot episode (called Awesometown) for Fox TV, but Fox eventually passed on the show. Instead of letting the show wither on a shelf somewhere, the group posted the full video both cut and uncut. The edgy, quirky short spread like wildfire online and eventually landed all three performers an audition spot for Saturday Night Live (SNL).

Tonight’s episode of SNL is the season debut, featuring all three members of The Lonley Island as part of the show. Andy Samberg will be a cast member, with Jorma Taccone and Akiva Schaffer as writers. Creative Commons would like to congratulate Lonely Island and wish them good luck and fun times in NYC.

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