News

Kembrew McLeod

Mia Garlick, November 1st, 2005

Kembrew McLeod is currently an Assistant Professor, University of Iowa, Department of Communication Studies. In addition to being an academic, Kembrew is a self-professed prankster. In 1998 he trademarked the phrase “Freedom of Expression®” as a comment on how the intellectual property law is being used to fence off culture and restrict the way in which people can express their ideas. He is the author of two books: “Owning Culture” and, most recently, “Freedom of Expression®: Overzealous Copyright Bozos and Other Enemies of Creativity“.

The book “Freedom of Expression®” was released online under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 license (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/). Kembrew is currently making a documentary based on the second chapter of the book “Copyright Criminals: This is a Sampling Sport“. Excerpts of the documentary are currently online at the Internet Archive licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 license. This documentary also inspired music that has been uploaded and remixed on the Creative Commons ccMixter site.

Both the book and the documentary make for a fascinating look at the creative process for many artists for whom sampling, recontextualization and referencing and ‘borrowing’ from the works of others is their artform.

Creative Commons’ Mia Garlick caught up with Kembrew and asked him about his experience of using Creative Commons licenses and tools.

Creative Commons (“CC”): How did you come to decide to release your book “Freedom of Expression®” online under a Creative Commons license? How did your publisher respond to your decision?

Kembrew McLeod (“KM”): While working on “Freedom of Expression®”, I always knew I would vigorously try to convince Doubleday/Random House to release a PDF file version of my book under a Creative Commons license although I suspected that Doubleday/Random House’s response would be “no way.” After all, the parent company of Random House is Bertelsmann, the media giant that also owns one of the major labels that is suing downloaders, so I didn’t think they would exactly jump for joy at my proposal.

Then Larry Lessig released his book “Free Culture”, that was published by Penguin books (another media giant publisher) online under a Creative Commons license; it made the news, and eventually it filtered back to my editor, Gerry Howard, who is a truly extraordinary person, and a really cool rock ‘n’ roll dude (not to mention a legend in the editing world). Gerry deserves the credit for getting Random House and its lawyers to go along with the idea. However, I don’t think I ever would have gotten any traction if Larry hadn’t convinced already another major press of the merits of a Creative Commons license.

CC: Have you had any reaction or comments from members of the public about your online release of the book under a Creative Commons license?

KM: It has been a truly gratifying experience to have the PDF version freely available, especially because (with the exception of Japan, where it is being translated for publication), my book “Freedom of Expression®” has no overseas distribution. I have heard from someone at a UN office in Switzerland, who shares my research interests, as well as others from various European, Asian, and African countries. Not coincidentally, soon after the book was released I was invited to speak at a really interesting event to be held this October 14-15, 2005, in Budapest, Hungary, called: “RE:activism: Re-drawing the boundaries of activism in a new media environment.”

CC: You have been selling hardcopies of your book as well. Do you feel that the online release of your book under a Creative Commons license has had any impact on the hardcopy sales?

KM: When I placed the Creative Commons-licensed PDF version online a week after it had been released, Larry Lessig endorsed my book on his blog — providing links to both the free PDF version on my website, and to Amazon. After that, my Amazon ranking (of course, not the most scientific indicator of sales, but an indicator nonetheless) shot way, way up after he posted his recommendation. Honestly, I think I got more publicity from that event than anything else surrounding the release of the book. After all, my book did not receive even a millionth of the promotion muscle of, say, Harry Potter, so the Creative Commons-prompted publicity definitely helped. It also seemed to be a positive karmic act of good faith, given the nature of what I argue in the book.

CC: You are in the process of making a documentary about the second chapter of your book – “Copyright Criminals: This is a Sampling Sport“. You used the Creative Commons ccPublisher tool to upload the video for free hosting at Internet Archive. What was your experience of using the ccPublisher tool?

KM: It was really simple and easy! It took me less than one minute to do it, and I’ve recommended this tool to everyone who has asked about Creative Commons licenses. My co-producer, Ben Franzen, and I had already placed our 10-minute work-in-progress version of Copyright Criminals under a Creative Commons license. But when we remembered that there is free hosting on the Internet Archive for Creative Commons-licensed works, we quickly uploaded it there after we blew through our bandwidth in only 24 hours.

CC: You also had an interesting experience with our ccMixter site and a remix involving your “Copyright Criminals” documentary. Can you tell us about it?

KM: Straight after we made this early version of “Copyright Criminals” available, someone (Pat Chilla the Beat Gorilla) placed an a capella rap on the ccMixter site that starts out, “It’s the copyright criminals/hit you with a blast from the past… .”

Shortly after this track was uploaded, many different remixes appeared that reworked this a capella. To date, there are 9 different remixes. Next time we do another Creative Commons-licensed cut of our work-in-progress (the feature length version won’t be finished until sometime in 2006), we are intending to use Ashwan’s “Chilla Illa Tha Cilla Killa” during the credit sequence.

This is an example of one of those gratifying creative feedback loops that makes Creative Commons so attractive for so many different kinds of people. I am glad it happened.

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