Today the White House released the U.S. Open Data Action Plan, reaffirming their belief that “freely available data from the U.S. Government is an important national resource… [and] making information about government operations more readily available and useful is also core to the promise of a more efficient and transparent government.” The report (PDF) outlines the commitments to making government data more accessible and useful, and documents how U.S. federal agencies are sharing government information. From a legal standpoint, some agencies have decided to place their datasets into the worldwide public domain using the CC0 Public Domain Dedication. This means that all copyright and related rights to the data are waived, so it may be used by anyone–for any purpose–anywhere in the world–without having to ask permission in advance–and even without needing to give attribution to the author of the data.
Use of CC0 for U.S. government works has always been a challenging topic for federal agencies. This is due to the hybrid nature of copyright for government works under Section 105 of U.S. copyright law. That statute guarantees that U.S. government works do not receive copyright protection–they are in the public domain. However, while these works are not granted copyright protection inside the U.S., the legislative history of the law notes that the works may receive copyright protection outside of U.S. borders:
The prohibition on copyright protection for United States Government works is not intended to have any effect on protection of these works abroad. Works of the governments of most other countries are copyrighted. There are no valid policy reasons for denying such protection to United States Government works in foreign countries, or for precluding the Government from making licenses for the use of its works abroad.
Historically, the U.S. government has been apprehensive to apply CC0 to federal government works, because the CC0 Public Domain Dedication is a tool to waive copyright and neighboring rights globally. At the same time, it’s clear that many high-value U.S. government datasets, such as the weather data produced by the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), are being widely (and freely) used by meteorological and research organizations around the world. It seems that in the vast majority of cases, the U.S. federal government doesn’t wish to leverage its copyrights abroad. So perhaps it makes sense to simply clarify that these works will be made available in the worldwide public domain using a standard tool such as CC0. While we had some initial questions about acceptable licenses for federal government information, it seems that agencies are moving in the right direction in utilizing the public domain dedication, as opposed to the other copyright licensing tools that were laid out in Project Open Data.
In addition to showcasing federal agencies that are using CC0 on some of the datasets it’s releasing, the U.S. Open Data Action Plan document itself is also published under CC0.
As a work of the United States Government, this document is in the public domain within the United States. Additionally, the United States Government waives copyright and related rights in this work worldwide through the CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication.
Over the last several years, many have called upon the federal government to adopt CC0 for U.S. government works. Most recently, a group of advocates drafted recommendations urging federal agencies to release federal government works, contractor-produced works, and primary legal materials into the into the worldwide public domain under CC0. Today’s announcement is a move in the right direction for data re-users in the United States and beyond.1 Comment »
Naeema Zarif, CC BY 4.0
In February we said goodbye to Donatella Della Ratta, CC’s longtime coordinator for the Arab world. Today we’re pleased to announce that Naeema Zarif and Sami Ben Gharbia have joined Creative Commons as the regional coordinators for the region. Naeema and Sami join CC’s other regional team leaders, who are key in organizing the Creative Commons Affiliate Network around the world.
After 8 years in advertising, Naeema Zarif took a leap into social enterprise offering expertise on conceptualization and producing both offline and online integrated media initiatives, including print, social web, audio, and film. She is an enthusiastic supporter of open culture, speaking and lecturing frequently at conferences and educational institutes, and contributing visual and digital strategic consultancy and training to various governmental, not-for-profit, and for-profit initiatives around the MENA region.
Sami is a Tunisian campaigner, blogger, writer, and freedom of expression advocate. He was a political refugee living in the Netherlands between 1998 and 2011. Sami is founding director of the advocacy arm of Global Voices, co-founder of the award-winning collective blog Nawaat, and author of the first Tunisian e-book (in French), Borj Erroumi XL. He co-founded The Arab Techies Collective and co-organized the The Arab Bloggers Conferences for several years. Foreign Policy named Sami a major world influence in promoting government transparency. Sami received a Prince Claus Award in 2012 for his cyber-activism work. Yahoo! named Sami Ben Gharbia as a person of the year during the 2010 World Press Freedom for his work focused on Internet censorship. Electronic Frontier Foundation awarded Sami and his fellow Nawaat co-founders with their 2011 Pioneer Award.
We recently highlighted some of the ongoing affiliate project grants in the Arab world region, and we look forward to more great developments with Naeema and Sami on board.Comments Off on Welcoming new CC Arab world affiliate coordinators
The Webby Awards just announced that Lawrence Lessig will receive a Lifetime Achievement award for his work as cofounder of Creative Commons. From the announcement:
The Webby Awards is proud to honor Lawrence Lessig with a Lifetime Achievement Award in 2014 for his groundbreaking work as cofounder of Creative Commons. Creativity based on collaboration is absolutely fundamental to everything that makes the Web successful and wonderful – but none of that would be possible without the ability (and encouragement) to share, mix, and match creative works. Lessig has spent his life and career standing up for collaboration (and standing up to those who seek to inhibit creative cooperation), as well as defending Net Neutrality and the free and open software movement… in other words, all things essential to the Web’s awesomeness. As we celebrate the 25th Anniversary of the Web this year, there is no one more fitting to accept this year’s Lifetime Achievement Award than Lawrence Lessig – a true hero of the open, collaborative Web, and an all around fantastic human being.
The awards will take place Monday, May 19, in New York City, and available online the next day. Congratulations, Larry!
Update (May 29, 2014): Watch the complete presentation, featuring interviews with danah boyd and Clay Shirky as well as Larry’s hilarious five-word acceptance speech:1 Comment »
We are now opening the discussion for our compatibility process and criteria for the ShareAlike licenses. As established in the drafting process, 4.0 includes a compatibility mechanism that allows for other licenses to be compatible with the ShareAlike licenses, allowing for greater interoperability of freely-licensed content, but no other licenses have been approved as compatible yet. We are looking to the CC community to help us develop the criteria and process before formally evaluating licenses as candidates for ShareAlike compatibility, and to kick off this discussion, we now have a draft posted for feedback: ShareAlike compatibility process and criteria.
We want this to be a process that the CC community trusts, and so this is a first draft, not a final document. We invite everyone to participate in the discussion on the license development list; it will end on May 28.1 Comment »
My name is Subhashish Panigrahi. I am an educator currently working in the community and communication front at The Centre for Internet and Society’s Access To Knowledge program (CIS-A2K), an India-based catalyst program to grow Indic language communities for Wikipedia and its sister projects. Prior to my work at CIS, I worked for the Wikimedia Foundation’s India Program, a predecessor to the current CIS-A2K project.
While building ties with higher education and research organizations, I also try to get educational and encyclopedic resources licensed under Creative Commons licenses so that communities can use them to enrich Wikimedia projects. Currently, there is a low level of content available across all the Indic languages and the need for Unicode-based content is extremely crucial.
While negotiating with authors for relicensing their books in Creative Commons license, I started identifying certain motivation areas for any author for such free content donation. Some of the authors, publishers, and copyright holders have started learning about open access to scholarly publications. However, the readers who are likely to buy a hard copy of a book are likely to buy it even when a free, virtual version is available – that’s the idea authors who are skeptical about CC licenses need to understand.
Open source book publishing in India has gained much interest and focus, primarily because of the lack of foresight of the possibilities that are tied to the release of books. It was Pratham Books that first came up with the brilliant idea of “One book book in every child’s hand.” The subsequent release of multilingual books under free licenses was the beginning of a new era in Indian publication.
Book publishers should also think of the target readers of print and web media. Releasing content in free licenses doesn’t affect the mainstream print publications. When it comes to books, there is always a scope for reprinting and making money. After negotiations with two authors and getting 13 books about children’s literature, travelogues, popular science, and linguistic and historical research, I am sure the publishing community has not been educated in the right way about providing free access to content.
It generally takes a long time and effort to negotiate with the copyright holders to get the books out with a CC-BY-SA tag. But it is a permanent and a significant value addition for the open knowledge movement. I believe with more online readers and reviewers getting complete access to books, authors gain more respect in the society and popularity which in turn helps them to sell more of the reprints. Two prime fears are keeping many publishers away from releasing their books online for free: the fear of going out of business and the fear of losing ownership of content. But at the same time, some of the publishers are becoming aware of the mass media outreach and winning hearts of many readers by releasing content for free without copyright restrictions.
In 2013, Goa University released Konkani Vishwakosh, a Konkani-language encyclopedia in CC-BY-SA 3.0 license that they had published. This is the largest encyclopedia compiled in the language. The book is being digitized on Konkani WikiSource and content from it is being used to enrich the Konkani version of Wikipedia. The project additionally brought about 20 active contributors for digitization.
2. Release of 11 Odia language books
11 books from Odia author and academic Dr. Jagannath Mohanty were re-released under the CC BY-SA 3.0 license by the “Manik-Biswanath Smrutinyasa,” a trust founded by Dr. Mohanty for literary discussions and upbringing new writers. His wife and trust’s current chairman Allhadmohini Mohanty formally gave written permission to release and digitize these books. The Odia Wikimedia community is planning to involve undergraduate students of an indigenous educational institution, Kalinga Institute of Social Sciences, to digitize these books. The trust is also reaching out to publishers who published more than 150 of the author’s books to give permission for re-releasing them under a CC license.
The book is heavy and expensive for any normal reader. Enormous copies were sold after Odia was declared as the sixth Indian classical language; however, this did not stop the authors Dr. Debiprasanna Pattanayak and Subrat Prusty from changing the license term from All Rights Reserved to CC-BY-SA 3.0. 600-plus pages full of historical documents and manuscripts along with many undiscovered areas of Odia language’s literary heritage of more than 2500 years are now going to go on WikiSource and enrich Wikipedia articles apart from being great resource for language researchers.
4. Relicensing books and conversion of ISCII to Unicode font
Two Odia language books by linguist Subrat Prusty, “Jati, Jagruti O Pragati” and “Bhasa O Jatiyata,” have been relicensed. These are few of those thousand books in those the text are typed with fonts with ISCII standard and not Unicode. ISCII standard fonts have glyphs with Indic characters that are actually replacements of the Latin characters by Indic characters. So, a computer with one particular font not installed will display absurd characters. The publication and printing industries still use these fonts as the desktop publishing software package they use for typeset do not have Unicode engine to render the fonts properly. The conversion from these ISCII fonts to Unicode is a way that is going to be used for digitizaing these books to convert the entire book with searchable Unicode content.1 Comment »
Here at CC, we’re big fans of the Blender Foundation, which supports the open-source Blender 3D animation suite and produces beautiful animated films. The films are built entirely with open technologies and are licensed under CC BY. Big Buck Bunny, one of the early Blender films, raised a lot of awareness about Creative Commons licenses among animators and helped fuel the Creative Commons film movement.
Today, Blender is crowdfunding its most ambitious project yet, a full-length animated film codenamed Project Gooseberry. The enigmatic trailer definitely sparked my curiosity:
In this blog post, Blender Foundation chair Ton Roosendaal lays out his ambitious goal for Gooseberry and projects like it:
There’s a real growing unrest out there about how a few greedy people control this business – making their billions – while others lose jobs in the same week their company has won an Oscar. Yep, Mark Z. buys another toy for billions, which he makes by selling our digital lives. And we nerds just line up for yet another Marvel super hero movie again. Meanwhile the powers that be prepare for a separated internet – with fast and “free” commercial channels – and a slow, expensive one for the remains of the open internet we love.
I’m not fit for politics, nor do I feel much like protesting or mud slinging. I’m a maker – I’m interested in finding solutions together and doing experiments with taking back control over our digital lives, our media, and especially get back ownership as creative people again – and make a decent living with it.
The crowdfunding campaign ends this week. Check it out!1 Comment »
Creative Commons actively works to support foundations, governments, IGOs and other funders who create, adopt and implement open policies. We believe publicly funded resources should be openly licensed resources.
To support these and other emerging open policy efforts, CC is about to launch, with multiple global open organizations, an Open Policy Network and Institute for Open Leadership.
The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) has led the way in using open policy requirements in solicitations for grant requirements first with its Career Pathways Innovation Fund Grants Program (http://www.doleta.gov/grants/pdf/SGA-DFA-PY-10-06.pdf), then with its Trade Adjustment Assistance and Community College Career Training grant program (doleta.gov/taaccct). Now they are once again requiring the Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY) license on all content created with the grant funds and modifications made to pre-existing, grantee-owned content using grant funds in their Ready to Work Partnership grant program. Bravo!
The U.S. Department of Labor has announced the availability of approximately $150 million in funds for the H-1B Ready to Work Partnership grant program. DOL expects to fund approximately 20-30 grants with individual grant amounts ranging from $3 million to $10 million. This grant program is designed to provide long-term unemployed workers with individualized counseling, training and supportive and specialized services leading to rapid employment in occupations and industries for which employers use H-1B visas to hire foreign workers. http://www.doleta.gov/grants/pdf/SGA_DFA_PY_13_07.pdf
Here is the open policy text in the grant solicitation:
Well done U.S. Department of Labor for once again demonstrating how to properly implement an open policy.
The U.S. Department of Labor seal is in the public domain.1 Comment »
Creative Commons received a grant from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation to survey the licensing policies of private foundations, and to work toward increasing the free availability of foundation-supported works. We are still pursuing this objective, but here’s where we are at the moment.
Tax-exempt private foundations are non-profit institutions exclusively devoted to benefitting the public, by grant-making or direct activities designed to achieve charitable, scientific, educational or similar purposes. Because there is a limit to the funds available to even the largest private foundations, most try to use their resources in a way that will have the greatest impact on the problems they hope to solve. Thus, they make grants to organizations that have shown themselves to be particularly effective in achieving their social goals.
One avenue to greater impact that has not been followed as often as it could be is requiring, or at least encouraging, grantees to make any grant-funded works freely available for broad uses by others, so that those works can not only be distributed for education and research, but readily improved and built upon to create new works in a potentially unlimited trajectory. Even assuring public access just to read the works is important. To take one example, foundations often fund research that is relevant to the welfare of the world’s poorest people – who often live in countries where their own researchers can’t afford to subscribe to the journals in which the work is published. Making articles on advances in medicine available through the internet can speed the transfer of knowledge to places where it is urgently needed – often by years. Licenses that give people the right to download, print and distribute those articles, and to translate or otherwise adapt them to local needs, multiply the already-great value of simple access.
Increasingly, government agencies and intergovernmental organizations are adopting open policies for copyrightable works and data they create or commission. For example, all grants under the U.S. Department of Labor’s Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training Program require that copyrightable materials produced be licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution license, so that those materials may be freely used by all, eliminating the need for costly replication of effort as community colleges put together courses to train workers for new jobs. Foundations have typically made the same requirement for works produced under grants to develop open educational resources, but only a few have extended the requirement to grants for other purposes.
We believe that in almost all cases, the copyrightable works produced with grant funding, as well as works concerning the problems the foundation seeks to address that are created by expert staff or commissioned by the foundation from external experts, will have more impact on those problems if they are published under an open license. In speaking with foundations, we have learned that most of them agree with this in principle – and it’s on their list; but limited time and unlimited demands mean that the issue usually doesn’t get to the top of the list.
There are, of course, grants a part of whose purpose is to provide the grantee with a source of income; in some (but not all) such cases, the income can only be realized by selling copies of the grant-funded work rather than by providing ancillary services. Obviously, it would not be rational to insist on the work’s being openly published in those few cases. We believe that it is appropriate and desirable for a foundation to adopt principles that cover the large majority of its grants, not to invite requests for exceptions, but to be prepared to relax its policy when it furthers the grant purpose to do so.
We have accordingly drafted a model intellectual property licensing policy for foundations, covering their own works as well as grant-funded works. The draft has been vetted by a dozen or more foundations, and has changed significantly as a result of their input. The current version includes a set of alternative provisions to fit some of the variations some of the foundations have told us they would prefer. It remains a draft in the sense that any foundation should feel free to edit it to suit its own needs, and we have accordingly dedicated the current version to the public domain so that not even attribution is required. Of course, we’d love to hear from any organization that adopts it in any form, and comments will always be welcome.
Check out the wiki page where we have several pieces of information, including:1 Comment »
This guest blog post was written by Niki Korth. If you’re in the Bay Area, come see Marc read from his new book at City Lights Thursday night and come hear Niki speak at next week’s CC Salon.
Marc Weidenbaum / Jorge Colombo
In 1996, Marc Weidenbaum founded the website Disquiet.com, which focuses on the intersection of sound, art, and technology. He has written for Nature, the website of The Atlantic, Boing Boing, Down Beat, and numerous other publications. He initiated and moderates the Disquiet Junto group, where musicians respond on SoundCloud to weekly Oulipo-style restrictive compositional projects. He developed the sound design with Taylor Deupree for the 2013 documentary The Children Next Door. Since 2012, he has taught a course he developed on the role of sound in the media landscape at the Academy of Art in San Francisco. He cites Creative Commons as a major inspiration to his work and methodology, and recently paid homage to cherished CC advocate Bassel Khartabil through a Disquiet Junto prompt themed around one of his projects that remains unfinished due to his ongoing imprisonment in Syria. His new book, Selected Ambient Works Volume II, in Bloomsbury’s 33 ⅓ series, takes as its subject the 1994 Aphex Twin album by that name, and much of it is concerned with the album’s “cultural afterlife,” how our understanding of the music has been informed by its adoption by filmmakers, musicians, choreographers, and others. In the following interview, Marc discusses his projects, influences, and his perspective on the role of CC in the music community.
Where does the name Junto come from? And how is it pronounced?
Around the year 1727, when he was barely into his 20s, Benjamin Franklin had the desire to create a small society. He was an enthusiastic society-creator throughout his life. It can be informative to think of the United States of America as just one of the many clubs that Franklin created or helped create, along with militias, schools, fire departments, and so forth. “Junto” was the name he gave to one of his earliest such groups. I believe he imagined it to be a masculine version of “junta.” As for how it’s pronounced, this is at best a guess, but I think it’s pronounced like the Spanish “junta” — which in English we tend to think of primarily as a “military junta” — except with an “o” at the end, as in the English-language word “flow.” Add in whatever constituted a Boston accent at the time. Franklin’s dad was born in England and his mom, I believe, was born in the colonies.
Franklin described his Junto as a club of “mutual improvement,” and it involved regular meetings of men — exclusively men, such were the times — from various walks of life who would meet to discuss politics, philosophy, and business. It was a knowledge-sharing union — part book club, part meatspace chat room, and probably to some extent part fraternity.
I first came across the Junto when I was consumed by a biography of Franklin written by Walter Isaacson, having earlier read and enjoyed his biography of Albert Einstein. I was reading the Franklin book in the months that lead up to the creation of the Disquiet Junto, toward the end of 2011, and in many ways I don’t think that I would have ever started this group if I hadn’t been reading that book at that time. I was always a fan of Benjamin Franklin. I grew up on Long Island in New York, so Philadelphia and Boston and the whole revolutionary period were very close at hand, very prominent in regional memory. My hometown, Huntington, has numerous of these little plaques on the exterior walls of old buildings saying that so and so slept here or so and so died here back in the day. I turned 10 in the summer of 1976. I was an opportune age to have the Bicentennial play a huge role in my imagination.
When you say that the Disquiet Junto project wouldn’t have come into being if you hadn’t read that book, are you saying that the act of naming sort of brought the project into fruition?
Yeah, I think that registers. It’s more than naming, though — it’s the whole broad idea of getting people together as a creative process unto itself, and the benefits of mutual activity, of sharing knowledge and experience. All of which said, when I started the Disquiet Junto, all I was doing was experimenting: putting out a call for participation. I had no idea if anyone would join in the project, let alone whether there would be a second project the next week or the next month. I just employed the word “Junto” when I proposed the first project. I was using SoundCloud as the infrastructure, and on SoundCloud the simplest way to do this is to create what it calls a “group.” To make a group, you need to give the group a name. So, in the name slot I put “Disquiet Junto.”
Anyhow, having a vague historical precedent in mind meant adopting a history, looking to precedents, like the Junto of Benjamin Franklin, and more recently to the artistic movements known as Fluxus and Oulipo. In making creative work, I think it is important to think about who your “parents” are — that’s parents in the metaphoric sense — and you sort of adopt them, creating your “inheritance” of traits, rather than the other way around — you recognize them after the fact. This isn’t about laying claim to legacy; it’s about acknowledging influence, precedent, culture. And I think that’s one of the key aspects of the idea of the Creative Commons as a community, when you think about it in the long term. It’s the idea that open licenses develop an “ecosystem” that enables you to create a collaboration and a lineage not only forward, where others are free to later do the same toward you, but backward, retroactively. I’m hesitant to say the word “ecosystem” because when it’s used these days it can easily be replaced with “shopping mall” — the Apple ecosystem, the Android ecosystem — but it’s the best word for what I’m trying to get at.
If Junto and Oulipo and Fluxus are the adopted histories, what is the more immediate history that led up to Disquiet Junto?
Something important for me happened in 2006. I’d been running my Disquiet.com website for a decade at that point. And that year, Brian Eno and David Byrne were celebrating the 25th anniversary of their album My Life in the Bush of Ghosts, one of my favorite records, and they did a very simple thing that was informed by Creative Commons. They posted online the stems, the core constituent parts, of two songs off this record, and they said to the world: you can remix these, for free.
And at the time, I was not unfamiliar with this concept, but I was relatively unfamiliar with the idea of someone that prominent doing this so comfortably. I was a very big fan of remixes. Remixes form a huge part of the way that I understand music. I remember when I was attending college, in the mid-1980s, buying an extended version of a song that I liked, by an Australian band called INXS, and I remember being astonished by how listening to the remix could kind of make you completely rethink the way that you relate to the original, and that moment was really important, realizing that altering something does not detract from the original, but can enrich your understanding of it. Part of the reason that particular remix registered with me was because it sounded the way the music sounded in my memory — the parts I liked, the parts my memory would often play on repeat when I wasn’t actually listening to the original version of the song.
So, anyhow, back in 2006 I checked out the Eno-Byrne website for their Bush of Ghosts remix project and listened to the music that was created using their stems, and although I was inspired by the idea of this thing, I just couldn’t stand listening to it. The resulting works were just really uninteresting to me, mostly bland house and routine techno tweaks of the source material. I was disappointed — it was crazy that some of the best music that I’d ever heard was being turned into something so lackluster. So my first thought was — my immediate thought was — why isn’t so-and-so doing this, what would it sound like if person X did a remix based on this material. I wished that people whose music I admired would contribute to this Eno-Byrne thing. And so I sent out emails to some of these musicians to see if they would participate, and I don’t think anyone said no, if memory serves. This led to the compilation Our Lives in the Bush of Disquiet featuring Roddy Schrock, Stephane Leonard, John Kannenberg, Mark Rushton, and (DJ) Morsanek, among others — a dozen acts in total. I initially posted the compilation at archive.org and, later, at the Free Music Archive. Between downloads and streams, it’s nearing on 80,000.
That project led to a series of such projects, each of which followed a similar approach. I would come up with an idea, send out the description, and collect pieces by the invited musicians. Despite the Downturn took issue with a peculiar article about filesharing by Megan McCardle. Anander Mol, Anander Veig was a holiday remix album commissioned by Tabletmag.com. Lowlands: A Sigh Collective was a response to criticism of artist Susan Philipsz winning the Turner prize in 2010. And then LX(RMX): Lisbon Remixed involved the sounds of the city reconstructed by eight musicians — including Steve Roden and Stephen Vitiello — as inspired by a photo exhibit by Jorge Colombo, best known as the artist who does “the iPhone covers” for the New Yorker, though he is much much more than that. And all these projects of mine were posted for free download, with a Creative Commons license.
My next project after those was significantly more open-ended. I got 25 musicians to make pieces of ambient music based on each other’s Instagram photos: essentially they were asked to imagine that the assigned image was the cover of their next single, and to then go and record that single. It’s titled Instagr/am/bient. That came out at the very end of 2011, five years after the Bush of Disquiet project, and between Free Music Archive, SoundCloud, and the Internet Archive, Instagr/am/bient is nearing 120,000 streams and downloads.
This project was as essential an experience for me as was the Eno-Byrne Bush of Ghosts remix opportunity. Several things made Instagr/am/bient different, key among them that it was more of an open call than my earlier, invite-only projects, and because the compositional prompt was also less deterministic. My experience of it was also different — I came to be interested in how a group of 25 musicians doing something had a lot more energy, a lot more online communication, than a group of 8 to 12 musicians had in the past. Instagr/am/bient was a self-contained Creative Commons community — they each made music based on each other’s photos. I wondered, then, what would happen if I opened the floodgates wider still — and that thinking in turn led me to try out what became the Disquiet Junto approach.
Could you say more about this collaborative aspect of Instagr/am/bient and how it led to your conceptualization of the Disquiet Junto?
The important aspect of the Instagr/am/bient project was the fact that the musicians were supporting each other, and the relationship wasn’t just between the musicians and the audience, but amongst the musicians themselves. Each participant was creating the “prompt” — the Instagram photo — that served as the inspiration for another’s composition, as well as taking one of the prompts for their own composition. So the process created an “ecosystem” — there’s that word again — where the musicians themselves created the energy source — forgive the somewhat hippie tone to that phrase — for the project.
In turn, by sharing the “final” product with a Creative Commons license, those who are listening in on the conversation are allowed to actually join the conversation, and potentially expand it into a new conversation. So listening becomes a context for production. As one example, an Instagr/am/bient track by the OO-ray, aka Ted Laderas, who is based in Portland, Oregon, titled “Silhouettes,” based on a photo by Naoyuki Sasanami, who is based in Tokyo, Japan, has been used subsequently in dozens, I think, of videos by various people.
This experience of Instagr/am/bient was a big part of making me think: Wow, what if that unexpected result was the goal? What if I decreased the importance of the listener-as-consumer, what if the listener is secondary, and the interaction of the musician-participants is primary, but we as listeners can still enjoy the end result, and listen in to the “conversation,” to observe the interaction between the musicians. To be clear, this isn’t to put aside the role of the listener-consumer — just to delay it a step, and to first extend the musician interaction.
How does this idea of diminishing the role of “the listener” inform live performance?
We’ve done four Disquiet Junto concerts so far. They’ve happened in New York, Chicago, Denver, and San Francisco. The thing I explain before each of them is: We’re all here in the audience to watch and listen to a concert. But what we’re really here to do is to watch the musicians interact with each other. At each concert, everyone performed original work based on the same compositional prompt. This sort of changes the concept of “listening” — it’s like, don’t just watch the people playing and absorb it, but watch them interact, watch how they pass the proverbial baton to each other, watch how they in the audience themselves react to the performances. So it’s sort of like having the online version of the Disquiet Junto collaboration happen in person.
So, is it a live composition among the group of participants? Are they making new compositions, or playing preconceived works from the original prompts?
So far, these live Disquiet Junto concerts have all involved around five to seven solo performances per concert, though some of the participants bring in collaborators. Each concert has a prompt from the Junto as their subject. If memory serves then so far they’ve all used the same prompt, which is the first prompt from the Disquiet Junto project series: record the sound of ice in a glass, and make something of it.
We’ll be doing something similar alongside the launch events that are happening for a book I have just had published by Bloomsbury. This book is about Aphex Twin’s 1994 album Selected Ambient Works Volume II. My book is part of the 33 ⅓ series. Its U.S. released date is mid-February 2014, and in England it’s April. For each of the bookstore readings I’m doing about the book, I’m trying to arrange for there to be musicians present who will be playing something that was inspired by the Aphex Twin album, and that’s filtered through a prompt from a previous Junto project. In this case it’s wind-chime based piece, informed by a track on the Aphex Twin album that is often referred to as “White Blur I.”
I should mention that the Creative Commons was a significant influence on my Selected Ambient Works Volume II book. Much of the book is concerned with what I term the album’s “cultural afterlife”: that which happened to the music after it was released. I explore how the album’s tracks, which are all but one lacking titles, were given names by listeners. I interview a composer who transcribed the tracks for traditional chamber music ensemble, and two directors who used the music in their films, and a choreographer and sound designer from two different contemporary dance ensembles who used the music in performances. I talk about unofficial, unlicensed remixes, as well as official, sanctioned licensing of the music. My sense that our understanding of the album has been informed by these subsequent uses takes a cue from the old Brian Eno and Peter Schmidt koan from their Oblique Strategies set: Repetition is a form of change. The music itself hasn’t changed in 20 years, but its repeated use and reuse has changed our understanding of the music.
It sounds like a lot of your projects involve you acting as a facilitator, or framework builder, of collaborations. Is it difficult for you to imagine doing this without access to a large network of musicians, as you have? In other words, do you have any advice for people who may be interested in trying to do something similar, but don’t have access to as wide of a network?
Well just to begin with, it’s totally cool that you used the word “network,” but that’s a word that I tend not to use. There’s something a little possessive inherent in the term that doesn’t feel collaborative to me. It’s kind of OK as a noun, but as a verb it really is not a word I’m going to use.
Because it’s only one person’s network?
It can imply that one person’s network is exclusive from another’s. It can put the person whose network it is in contrast with the network itself. It’s a person’s network, rather than a network in which the person is a participant. This is why the word “community,” for all its overuse, is preferable. The word “community” isn’t sufficient, but it’s better than “network.” The word “network” tends to emphasize size, rather than being about connections, and better yet the interconnections. When I hear “network” I see “Rolodex.”
What about “internet”? As a word or concept, not the internet itself? Since what we understand as the Internet is a network of networks, that would seem to emphasize the connections and overcome the possessive character of the term.
I’m not sure I’m ready to use it that way, but I do like this idea of using the word “internet” to describe something that is not “the internet.” This discussion reminds me of a recent interview with Kim Stanley Robinson, the science fiction writer, where he says something similar about the word “sustainable.” He takes issue with it for various reasons, key among them that it allows people to continue their capitalist and consumerist ways without reflecting on the role those ways play in the issue in the first place. He tries out a different word, “permaculture.” Rather than “it’s sustainable so I’ll buy it,” this other word emphasizes that it is permanent, so it’s more like “it exists, and I’m going to continue to use it.” So, I feel like “network” is like “sustainable,” and I’m trying to find a “permaculture” alternative to it. Perhaps “community.” Perhaps “internet” could work. Doesn’t feel quite right at the moment, but it’s an interesting nudge in the right direction. Come to think of it, pretty much the only time I think I actively employ the term “network” is in terms of “network” — or “networked,” more often — communication and creativity, which aligns with your “internet” idea.
Anyhow, with that “network” stuff out of the way, let’s get to your question. So, for people who don’t have a wide address book of potential collaborators but want to try building something like Disquiet Junto, I would say: Just work with the people you know. Look, I didn’t think that I had this “network,” either. Sure, I had gotten to know musicians, mostly tangentially, over the years, and I knew that a sizable percentage of the audience of my Disquiet.com website self-identified as musicians, in contrast with “listeners who don’t make music.” But when I posted the first Disquiet Junto project, I felt like I’d bought a keg of beer for a party that no one might even show up for.
If you’re creative and you have a group of like-minded people who inspire you, then that’s your group. It doesn’t take much. It’s not about an end result. It’s about an ongoing, refreshing, rewarding sense of engagement. Just work with the people you like working with, and it’ll build from there. This isn’t about scale. It isn’t about: Well, we have this many hundred participants, but how do we get to a thousand? You don’t make a garden in your backyard and start worrying about increasing your tomato haul or the density of flowers. You just tend to it, and watch it grow, shaping it as it goes, as time passes, as the seasons change, as you learn from experience.
Man, first “energy source” and now “online community as a garden.” I sure can come across like a digital hippie. Please let people know that’s not how I come off in person.
So how did you first become interested in Creative Commons? How did you first hear about it?
I have no idea. I mean, I have no specific memory. I imagine that it was an article in Wired — because back then, that was the main channel through which things like that were communicated. Or maybe, since I was into the Internet Archive so early, it could have been through there that I saw a license, and then I followed that through.
Since 2012, I’ve taught a class at the Academy of Art on the role of sound in the media landscape. I talk in the class about an early open source text, The Cathedral and the Bazaar by Eric S. Raymond. And I talk about the ideas discussed there – about the decentralized, at times frenzied and random organization of a bazaar and how it contrasts with the perfection-oriented, often exclusive and severely hierarchical mindset of the cathedral as an organization.
And even though this book was released in 1999, which is already 15 years ago, and Creative Commons was founded just 2 years later, many students are not aware that these alternatives to closed-source, super-hierarchal production methods exist. That said, they’ve come up in the culture, so it isn’t alien to them. It can be exciting for them to think about these alternatives – that by sharing and enabling more eyeballs, or eardrums, to encounter your work, you can get better feedback that helps you to develop it, and very often giving people the license to remix your work can help you to see and hear it in ways you never imagined before. More important that that, the model of the Creative Commons maps in ways to human interaction that the more traditional marketplace model does not.
Have you had any non-computer or non-music based experiences that have also contributed to your sharing-driven creative outlook?
One specific experience comes to mind: I took a two-week trip by myself to Scotland when I was in my mid-20s, and I was amazed by the “Right of Way” laws in the United Kingdom that permit free travel on certain routes between public places, even when those routes involve passage through an area of private property. This was completely mind-blowing to me at the time, since I came from the United States where “private property” is synonymous with “restricted” and “off limits” and often involves someone who’s more likely to shoot than to call a lawyer.
When I was in Scotland I walked along these Right of Ways, completely fascinated by the opportunity, the concept, and the experience. And there is a connection between this idea, and these memories, and what I’ve done since that point in my life. There’s something in that walking through the shared geography of Scotland that relates to how I think about culture. In the early 1990s, my head was deep in what some people tried to call “avant-pop,” especially writers like Jonathan Lethem and David Shields, who were doing inquisitive meta-works that involved pre-existing texts and drew from influences in an acquisitive manner, and to me this relates to the idea of property being left open for creative use. It’s like a creative stroll.
I also think about how artistic awards shape culture. I’m not a big fan of things like the Oscars. Think about contemporary Hollywood films. Their composition and construction is often motivated by the pursuit of the Oscar, and the Oscars in turn dictate that movies have to operate following certain types of roles, with main stars, supporting roles, and so on. Imagine if the system was changed, and there were an Oscar for the best ensemble drama. The very next year there would be movies that de-emphasize a main role in favor of a collection of roles. This isn’t just about the Oscars. There are reward structures throughout culture that define the way that people and works participate, how they’re conceived. The law plays a role. The law codifies the way that music is handled and that defines how cultural objects are shaped. I’m not saying get rid of the law. I’m saying look at the unintended ramifications of the law.
What was your motivation behind doing the Disquiet Bassel project?
Just about every Disquiet Junto project originates not as a project but as me thinking about things and trying to shape my thoughts into the form of a compositional prompt. I don’t set out to make a project involving the tone of rooms. I become fascinated, for example, by the idea of room tone and then I try to figure out how to explore that fascination by asking people to make music related to the idea. I try to turn my interest into a compositional prompt as a means of exploring it further.
So, what happened with the Bassel situation is that I was taken by several factors, in particular the passion of people whom I admire, such as Barry Threw. I knew about the Free Bassel activity, and had talked with him about it, but a video I saw of him speaking really hit me. I read a lot of Kafka at way too young and impressionable an age, so the idea of prison is a powerful one for me, especially wrongful imprisonment.
Although I’ve never met Bassel Khartabil, I read about his activity in the open-source community and about his work promoting Creative Commons and the role of open source in a part of the world that has a very different take on freedom of expression, and I was really moved by it all. And I was aware that, with the second anniversary of his arrest coming up, the timing was useful to get people’s attention.
Could you say more about the idea of risk-taking, and the process of facilitating collaborations and open submissions that can be very unpredictable?
It was several months into the Disquiet Junto when I realized that part of what made it function was that people who participated felt comfortable failing. Initially the idea of the four-day window for participation in each project was to give people a solid deadline. But an unintended result was people felt comfortable posting work because listeners would understand that the work wasn’t necessarily finished. It gave them an “out.” A community of people making music under the same restrictions can be, in its own way, freeing.
I think we had like 40-60 participants the first week that I did Junto. At the time I didn’t even know if there would be a second one. At the time it felt like hubris that there was a four-digit number for the project — “0001” — which is certainly a naming structure that I borrowed from the Long Now Foundation. You know, how they have a zero before the year to make you think in terms of 10,000 years, not 1,000 years? For example, right now it is 02014, not 2014. Who knows if we’ll actually get to one thousand? Who cares? I like this idea of a numbering system that forces you to think about the future, whether or not you get there.
What areas of the future are you forcing yourself to think about?
I’ve been really interested in the idea of what a record label is, and in many ways I think that the best record labels are like communities. Think of the acts that were on Motown, the acts that were on Blue Note — they were more like subsets of a broader, loosely structured community that the audience was able to get a taste of through the release of the music. Musicians and songwriters would move between albums, between groups. A backup singer or instrumentalist would later be a headlining musician, and the audience was along for the ride. Whereas record labels now are more like marketing firms that find the act and then obtain the rights, so it’s more like licensing products. Sure, there are collaborations. Elektra, ECM, Ghostly, and Warp are great examples of record labels where artists still intermingle in interesting ways.
I am really interested in: What should a record label be like today? How has the Internet changed things. If you were to reverse-engineer a record label, then I feel like the Junto is closer to what a record label might try to be than an actual record label is today. I think it’s always important to ask, when you import something to the digital world, when you port a pre-digital system to a digital system: How does it change, and what pre-Internet assumptions have come along as baggage?
And in saying that, it’s important to clarify that when I talk about Creative Commons licenses, I’m essentially always thinking of it in terms of a particular license, which is the one that gives the ability to remix, the one that allows for “derivative” works. And I’m troubled by the fact that a lot of Creative Commons use does not actually employ that. For example, I’ve written a lot about the netlabel community. There are about 600 netlabels at this point that actively release music by musicians with the permission for that music to be downloadable for free. And that’s an incredible world of music. But an oddly small percentage of those netlabels employs the license that allows for creative reuse, which I find disappointing. So I’m always pushing for people to think beyond the non-commercial download, and to think about the creative re-use. I’m also wrestling with the word “derivative.” It seems to have a negative cast to it. There may be a better word, a word that makes the benefits more self-evident.
What interests you about creative re-use? Why do you think it is important, for yourself as well as others, and how did your view of it impact the prompt you created for the #FreeBassel Disquiet Junto?
I don’t take much stock in fixed cultural objects as ends unto themselves. For example, I don’t really have favorite movies or books — I love Citizen Kane, Dawn of the Dead, and Playtime, but I especially love them in the context of their creators’ other work. I have favorite authors, favorite directors, favorite actors, and I enjoy work in that context. When I read a Don DeLillo novel, or a Mira Grant novel, or a Richard Stark novel, or a Michael Brodsky novel, or a Joanna Scott novel, or one among many types of things — novels, comics, essays, tweets, Instagram captions — by Warren Ellis, I enjoy it in the context of their broader work. Same for musicians and architects, even journalists and politicians. And that’s just speaking of the individuals’ own “careers,” for lack of a more nuanced term.
An original piece of work is also part of a broader community, part of various ongoing continuities — it’s about the type of work that it is, how it fits into the broader scope of that work. You don’t just write a sonnet from scratch. It is always informed by and reflects back on previous sonnets. You always draw material and references, often subconsciously.
So, I started thinking about the work that Bassel hasn’t finished due to his ongoing imprisonment, such as his Palmyra project, which involves mapping an ancient architectural site using computer graphics. And I thought: this is something that we can help to keep alive, while he’s not around. And not only can we keep his projects going, but we can do so in new and unexpected ways. We aren’t taking his CGI architectural endeavor and completing it. We are, in the course of the Junto project, creating sound and music to accompany his work. This is something he might not have even considered. There’s something, also, metaphoric about how adding sound to his CGI work brings that work to live. This idea of keeping something alive, of keeping his ideas alive, is part of the reason the idea struck me as worth pursuing.
What did you think of the resulting works? In reading through the comments people wrote about the story behind each of their compositions, I was really interested in how many people researched the history of Syrian music and integrated some of these sounds/ideas into their works. This adds a lot of depth and also brings it away from being political, approaching it more from an angle of cultural history.
I’m always anxious when I do anything related to social or political issues in the context of a work like the Disquiet Junto. I generally steer away from it. It’s amazing how a turn of phrase can turn something from a collaborative project into a heated side conversation, so I am always trying to create a situation that is warm and inviting. In this case, that meant something that came from a place of mutual concern and caring about this person, about Bassel, about creative work that has been cut off. For the Junto members, I think the idea of the unfinished artistic project was what they related to in particular. I didn’t want people to be put off by it in the sense of thinking their compositions needed to address the political situation, necessarily. It was important to me that the Bassel project wasn’t “special,” that it was just another project in an ongoing string of projects. It could only work if we treated it as business-as-usual. Part of business-as-usual is asking people to, when posting their tracks, describe their creative process. That’s where a lot of the communication between the participants occurs — that and them commenting on each other’s tracks. And this isn’t to say all my projects are pacifist, but the ones with a strong unified opinion, like Despite the Downturn and Lowlands: A Sigh Collective, are focused on art as their primary subject.
You make reference to Oulipo as an influence behind Disquiet Junto. Could you say more about this? What relation do you see between Oulipo and creative reuse, especially in the digital age?
The most concise way to get into that is to compare it with another popular form of creative reuse: fan fiction. Fan fiction often works within the universe created by and defined by the source material, whereas Oulipo tends to walk up to the edges of that universe and say, “Oh, there’s a wall here, so let’s break through it or paint on it” or something like that. The difference isn’t a binary one. Lots of fan fiction actively flips the source material, changing gender, setting, plotlines. Oulipo is a little less of a collective, communal effort, and often works with material that isn’t as hallowed as the subjects of fan fiction, but the parallel is clear. I think Oulipo — along with Fluxus — exists as a keen pre-digital premonition of the collective consciousness that seems at work within, that seems alive within, communal creative activity.2 Comments »
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