2006 October

Featured Commoner: McKenzie Wark interview posted

Eric Steuer, October 12th, 2006

We’ve posted a new Featured Commoner interview with McKenzie Wark, a professor of cultural and media studies at the New School in New York. Wark is the author of A Hacker Manifesto and chose to post the draft of his next book, GAM3R 7H30RY, on a Web site designed in coordination with the Institute for the Future of the Book. GAM3R 7H30RY allows readers to post feedback online using windows that are arranged like note cards on the page. The book-in-progress is licensed under CC’s BY-NC-ND license. Read on!

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CC Talks With: McKenzie Wark

Margot Kaminski, October 11th, 2006

Photo © Ara Koopelian, CC-BYMcKenzie Wark is a professor of cultural and media studies at the New School in New York, and author of A Hacker Manifesto, published by Harvard University Press. He chose to post the draft of his next book, GAM3R 7H30RY, on a site designed in coordination with the Institute for the Future of the Book, an organization that seeks to explore, understand and influence the shift of intellectual discourse from printed page to networked screen.

GAM3R 7H30RY is described as an experimental networked book, and allows readers to post feedback online using windows that are arranged like note cards on the page. The entire online work is currently CC licensed under the Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.5.

Creative Commons contacted Wark to discuss this project, his choice of licensing, and his thoughts on the future of print publishing.

Creative Commons: Can you give us a bit of background about the project? How and why did you start it?

McKenzie Wark: GAM3R 7H30RY grew out of my last book, A Hacker Manifesto, which, incidentally, was about intellectual property. I wanted for the next book to find some way of sharing the book with readers before it reached its final versions. A lot of authors do blogs and things either before they write a book or after it comes out. I wanted to share the actual text of the book as a work in progress, so readers could contribute to it mid way.

The usual blogware just wouldn’t do for that. Neither would a PDF, which provides no adequate way to link comments back to points in the text. And that god awful comments function in MS Word is just the bane of my existence. So we needed a new tool.

So in collaboration with the Institute for the Future of the Book, we created a new kind of interface that would present a longish text in a useable way online, and enable comments, both about specific paragraphs and more generally about the project.

The idea was to get both gamers and academics to come together around this idea of what I call gamer theory – which is that computer games are a new dominant cultural form, and hence call for new kinds of critical concepts. It went up in May 2006 and produced a steady trickle of really useful comments and dialogue. I wrote the title GAM3R 7H30RY, partly so I would have a unique search string, and I’ve found very interesting and useful stuff on other people’s websites as well.

CC: How did you decide to use a Creative Commons license for this project?

MW: It’s a question of goodwill. Users of mainstream services like MySpace are now very nervous about ownership questions – and rightly so. Who owns what you contribute to somebody else’s website? So just as a matter of principle I wanted everyone to feel like they could have “ownership” of GAM3R 7H30RY, where noncommercial purposes are involved. The CC license is now widely understood as a key to that goodwill gesture, at least in the new media circles where this book was likely to travel.

What the media corporations refuse to countenance is the fact that communication has always been in part a commodity economy, but in part also a gift economy. They want to use intellectual property law and the technical crippling of media technologies – what I call Digital Restrictions Management – to shut down the gift part of the communication cycle. It’s crippleware for the whole culture. Having written against this in A Hacker Manifesto, I wanted to make damn sure I wasn’t contributing to it. Hence the CC license for the web expression of the project.

CC: What behavior did the license enable that traditional all-rights-reserved copyright wouldn’t? Were there any unexpected benefits due to the license?

MW: I think it allows readers to contribute their thoughts and ideas to the book without feeling like they are just doing my job for me. People are waking up to the fact that the so-called participatory side of the blogosphere is really just another version of outsourcing. Not only do we have to put up with the ads in commercial online media, we have to produce the stuff ourselves now. You write it, but they own it.

So in its own small way, GAM3R 7H30RY was about making it clear that there is also a gift economy side to participatory media. I give my book away, in its not-quite finished state, for free to anyone who wants to read it or share it, as a way of encouraging people to help improve it. And they are! I have some terrific material from readers that will go into the finished book.

I also intend that site to stay up in one form or another so people can use it in teaching. I think the CC license should make people feel comfortable about doing that too.

CC: Are there any plans to translate the site/project into print? If so, why? How might a print version differ from the online one?

MW: I’m in talks with my publisher, Harvard University Press, about this right now. It’s new territory for them, so there’s a learning curve. This is a major and respected academic press, so they don’t do things without thinking them through.

One thing we would have to work out is a way to license the print book in a way that doesn’t prevent the online conversation from continuing. We still need university presses, or something like them. We still need their expertise in filtering and editing manuscripts, managing a backlist and publicizing works. And all that has to be paid for.

So the question is: how can the gift economy of the online “book” and the printed book with a cover price work together? I think the practice of how you do it is actually quite clear and no big problem. It’s just a question of getting the legal conventions to catch up.

Creative Commons is a big help there. But in reality I’m doing with GAM3R 7H30RY pretty much what I did with A Hacker Manifesto and my other books: I’m giving away ideas in lots of forms that are transitory and fragmentary, which persuades some readers that they would like to respond to that by buying an actual book – a well designed, well edited, well bound object that will look great on the coffee table, that you can hand to a friend, that you can store on your shelf. In other words printed books still have lots of functions. Not to mention being easier to read.

CC: If you are planning a print version, do you predict (or have you had) any trouble with traditional print publishers over licensing or other transferring issues?

MW: When I did A Hacker Manifesto, I had to assign all rights to Harvard University Press. I think they understood from the get go that a lot of my ideas will circulate freely on the Internet, but that I would not do anything that would hurt their efforts to benefit from the rights for which they paid me.

That book did well enough that they are prepared to at least think about a different licensing arrangement this time for GAM3R 7H30RY (should they accept it). What I’m saying to them is that I can assign to them the rights that they can actually make a living from, but that we leave out of the contract what I would call the “fantasy rights” that are usually in these things.

What got me interested in all this in the first place was the ridiculous state of academic journal contracts, where you sort of assign all these mythical powers in all territories, ‘til the end of time. Rights that nobody in a million years could ever figure out how to profit from, but that some lawyer with no clue about how the reading-writing relationship actually works dreamt up.

Maybe that’s a big part of the problem: Lawyers just don‘t read like normal people. They read and write with the meter running! This warps their judgment about the subtle nature of the intertwining of the gift and commodity economy in culture.

CC: If the project does go into print, will you be posting a CC-licensed version of the final version?

MW: I hope so – it depends, as Laurence Sterne wrote in Tristram Shandy, whether “I can strike a tolerable bargain with my book seller.” I have some bargaining power, but not as much as Lawrence Lessig does! So we’ll see.

CC: How did this experience differ from your normal writing process? Was it a positive or negative experience, overall?

MW: I was asked by Bob Stein, the moving force behind the Institute for the Future of the Book, if I would have liked to have been in dialogue with readers when I wrote A Hacker Manifesto. And I said: “hell no!” That was a sitting alone on the mountaintop kind of book. Writing does not always benefit from being in instant contact with its intended audience. You lose the capacity to surprise that audience, and to really challenge its beliefs in a sustained way.

But I have a lot of respect for Bob and I liked the team he has put together at the Institute, so I thought: maybe for the next book. So I was very happy when they agreed to design and build a brand new, purpose-built website for GAM3R 7H30RY. Jesse Wilbur built it, after long conversations with me and Ben Vershbow, also from the Institute.

At first I was very nervous about readers coming in to the process at this mid-point in the writing process. Writing is a pretty solitary art, and particularly early on you can be a bit sensitive to how people respond. But generally, readers extended this huge amount of goodwill to me and to the project. I’m really thankful for that.

So now I not only have the official reader’s reports commissioned by Harvard University Press. I also have this unofficial “peer review” material from the website. It’s peer review in a different sense. Some people call it peer-to-peer review. People have to prove their “credentials” in what they write on the site, rather than simply have it taken for granted that because you are professor such-and-such your opinion should matter.

I had terrific official reader’s reports from Harvard – they’re very good at that process. But like most writers I’ve also had terribly ignorant and lazy official reader’s reports, presumably from supposedly respectable sources. Peer review doesn’t always work as it should. I think what we’re experimenting with here is not something that can replace peer review but a sort of check and balance. A sort of collaborative filtering.

CC: What are your feelings about the networked book- will authors take to it? And do you think authors can remain commercially viable while networking and CC-licensing their work, prior to print publication?

MW: To take the last first: one of my all time favorite books is Guy Debord’s Society of the Spectacle. There’s a lovely edition for sale from Zone Books. Today its Amazon rank is about 18,000 – but I’ve seen it as high as 5,000. This edition has been in print for twelve years.

You can also get the whole text free online. In fact there are three whole translations you can download. In the ’60s Debord was editor of a journal called Internationale Situationiste. All of it is freely available now in translation.

The Situationists were pioneers in alternative licensing. The only problem was they didn’t have access to a good license that would allow noncommercial circulation but also bar unauthorized commercial exploitation. There were some terrible pirate editions of their stuff. Their solution to a bad Italian commercial edition was to go to the publisher and trash their office. There has to be a better way of doing things than that.

But in short: the moral of the story is that if you give a nice enough gift to potential readers, they return the gift by buying your stuff. Debord’s works are now classics. Constantly reprinted, a nice little earner for his widow. But it is because of this huge gift of stuff to readers that readers – generations of them – return the favor by buying the works.

Culture has always worked like that. The real question to ask is the reverse: how is anyone except the media conglomerates going to make a living when they have commodified culture to within an inch of its life? How are they even going to make a living off it? It’s never been done before in the history of the world.

On the networked book: this also is something that is not as new as it looks. Literature has always been networked. As the German media theorist Friedrich Kittler and his followers argue, there would be no novel without a postal system. The book as artifact and the book as vector, or relation between points, always go together.

What the networked book needs, however, is new tools, new conventions, new economies. That’s where GAM3R 7H30RY and experiments like it are interesting. It’s about reinventing the connective tissue between books, across space and time, and between different kinds of reader. It’s about making an end-run around monopolies of knowledge and culture. Creative Commons is a key part of that process. But so too are new media tools, and perhaps even more importantly, new cultural, social, and literary conventions. We need to relearn how to read and write.

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Beatpick Artists Included In Mercedes Benz Mixtape Compilation

Mia Garlick, October 10th, 2006

Beatpick, which bills itself as the Fairplay Music Label and releases tracks online under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license, has had two of its artists handpicked by Mercedes Benz for inclusion in Mercedes’ Mixtape compilation 14. Mercedes entered into a separate, non-exclusive licensing deal to use the tracks from the artists Foley and Napolitano Lounge Connection.

The online-compilation “Mercedes-Benz Mixed Tape” is available via the Mercedes site. All of the tracks, as well as background information on artists and music, are available in 192 kbs mp3 to all visitors to the site free of charge. In addition, the compilation tracks are featured in a high quality Digipack Promotional CD, that is sent to the press in order to promote each new Mixed Tape edition (with a small compensation payment going back to the artist for these CDs).

Tracks that appear in the Mixtape compilation have the chance to be included in a “Best Of Mixed Tape” compilation, which is put together every 6 months and sold through iTunes, with the artists receiving a cut from the price of the downloads. Previous tracks selected also featured in a Merces-Benz podcast that debuted in December last year within a few hours as number one in the podcast charts and remained in the Top Charts successfully. As a result of the extensive promotional efforts, Mixed Tape becomes a powerful platform for artists and labels interested in self-promotion and the possibility of reaching a bigger audience: Mercedes counted 22 million downloads in 24 months. Mercedes’ aim is to especially push artists and labels who are not part of the ordinary rotation on TV and radio.

This is another great story of CC-licensed artists gaining recognition and new opportunities for their music to be heard and enjoyed, with the potential for additional revenues. Perhaps we are starting to see the “new reality”

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This is our ‘Mona Lisa’

Mike Linksvayer, October 9th, 2006

An article in Fortune magazine about expensive museum acquisitions includes this bit about the impact of a work’s copyright status on demand for viewing the original (emphasis added):

An example of the long-term benefit of an iconic artwork such as “Adele” can be found at the Art Institute of Chicago, home to three of the most famous paintings in America: Georges Seurat’s composition of colorful dots, “Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte” (acquired in 1926); Grant Wood’s portrait of farmer, wife, and pitchfork titled “American Gothic” (in 1930); and Edward Hopper’s fluorescent-lit diner, “Nighthawks” (in 1942).

Generations of Chicagoans have grown up with the three paintings and consider Chicago’s stewardship of them a point of civic pride. And because each image is in the public domain – anyone from an ad firm to a television producer to a T-shirt designer can use the images without paying for them or needing contractual permission – the paintings automatically market themselves, the museum, and Chicago.

Perhaps a forward-looking museum should encourage artists to CC license works about to be acquired.

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NYC concert recap

Eric Steuer, October 6th, 2006

Last Friday night, Wired and Flavorpill hosted a concert in New York to help raise money for Creative Commons. The show featured amazing performances by Peeping Tom, Diplo, and Girl Talk, as well as short introductions by Wired’s Chris Anderson and CC’s Lawrence Lessig.

We’re happy to report that the show was a smashing success. It was a sold out event, with people lined up outside offering to buy tickets for $100 a pop. The show itself was incredibly fun, creative, and invigorating — Girl Talk rocked out behind his laptop, mashing together what seemed like thousands of sounds. Diplo played rapid-fire mixes of Brazilian hip-hop and American dance music while a VJ executed a live video set. Peeping Tom capped off the night with a blend of funk, metal, hip-hop, and pop. Great stuff all around. It was amazing to see so many people come out to support CC — and to see them dance and celebrate to the sounds of remix.

Thanks very, very much to Melanie Cornwell of Wired for making the concert possible. Also thanks to Sascha Lewis and Lynnel Herrera of Flavorpill, the helpful staff at Irving Plaza, the artists, and our friends at Free Culture for helping to make this a wonderful night.

Girl Talk rocks out behind his laptop. Photo by Flickr user jm3, licensed under CC BY-SA.

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10/13: CC Salon in New York f/ Marisa Olson, Paul Slocum of Tree Wave, and more!

Eric Steuer, October 6th, 2006

New Yorkers: Please join us for our very first CC Salon New York City on Friday, October 13, from 8-10pm at Nublu, 62 Ave. C (between 4th Street and 5th Street). Nublu is a great East Village music spot where the Brazilian Girls first started jamming. Note: Since Nublu is a bar, CC Salon is only open to people who are 21 and older.

October’s line-up:

  • Marisa Olson
    Marisa Olson’s performance-based work revolves around the shared histories of popular music, cinema, and sound recording technologies. Her interdisciplinary practice incorporates internet art, videos, audio recordings, drawings, and installations in tandem with live performance, to make statements about life, communication, and the voice in contemporary digital culture. these works are often infused with mixed metaphors about the relations between talent, fame, and failure. Marisa studied art at Goldsmiths College, History of Consciousness at UC Santa Cruz, and Rhetoric and Film Studies at UC Berkeley. Her work has most recently been presented by the Whitney Museum of American Art, the New Museum of Contemporary Art, the Berkeley Art Museum/Pacific Film Archive, New Langton Arts, the Art Gallery of Knoxville, Side Cinema-UK, and the New York and Chicago Underground Film Festivals. She’s also Editor & Curator at Rhizome.org, an organization celebrating its 10th anniversary of supporting the new media community. While Wired has called her both funny and humorous, the New York Times has called her “anything but stupid.”
  • Paul Slocum of Tree Wave
    Paul Slocum is a musician and new media artist living in Dallas. Computers and computer culture are often the medium and subject of his work. Some of his projects are The Dot Matrix Synth, an 80’s dot matrix printer with re-programmed firmware to transform it into a sort of musical instrument, The Century Callback Project, a phone number that calls you back 8 times in a century, and The Time-Lapse Homepage, a video made with HTML. He is also half of the band Tree Wave that makes music and video with obsolete assembly-language-programmed computer and video game gear. Some of Paul’s performances and exhibitions include Transitio MX (Mexico City), The New Museum of Contemporary Art (NY), Deitch Projects (NY), Le Confort Moderne (France), README 2005 (Denmark), The Liverpool Biennial, Eyebeam (NY), and Fluxfactory (NY).
  • More to be announced!
  • About CC Salon: CC Salon is a free, casual monthly get-together focused on conversation, presentations, and performances from people or groups who are developing projects that relate to open content and/or software. Please invite your friends, colleagues, and anyone you know who might be interested in drinks and discussion. There are now CC Salons happening in San Francisco, Toronto, Berlin, Beijing, Warsaw, Seoul, Johannesburg, and now New York.

    Thanks to Fred Benenson for putting this together!

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Evolution Control Committee added to line-up of Oct 11 CC Salon SF

Eric Steuer, October 5th, 2006

We’re pleased to announce that the Evolution Control Committee will provide the music for the CC Salon / Fundraising Campaign Launch Party taking place in San Francisco next Wednesday, October 11 (check out our Upcoming.org page for time, place, and all of the other details. ECC is one of the key players in the development of mash-ups — you can read more about their work at Wikipedia.

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Future of Music Policy Summit starts today in Montreal

Eric Steuer, October 5th, 2006

Our friends at the Future of Music Coalition have been producing a cool conference called the Future of Music Policy Summit since 2001. This year’s summit started today — and Creative Commons is a proud sponsor of the event. Check out the terrific program, featuring a presentation by David Byrne entitled Record Companies: Who Needs Them? and a panel called In Perfect Harmony: International Copyright Issues. Guaranteed to be interesting!

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Open Music Comes of Age

Victor Stone, October 5th, 2006

In December of 2003 Magnatune recording artist Lisa Debendictis released an album called Fruitless under a Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license with an original composition and performance called “Brilliant Day” (stream here).

In March of 2004 John at Magnatune was encouraging me to get in touch with artists on the label to remix and Lisa was gracious enough to let me re-record her solo vocals to “Brilliant Day” so I could use as source material for remixing for what became Chronic Dreams.

In November of 2004 at the launch of Creative Common’s remix community site ccMixter it was a no-brainer to release the a cappella under a Attribution-NonCommercial license. The a cappella track has since become one of the most remixed tracks on the site.

In July of 2005, a remix, also under Attribution-NonCommercial, was posted by ccMixter star Pat Chilla the Beat Gorilla called “Brilliant Daze (days are confused)” that, as of this writing, is one of the few tracks on the site with a perfect 5.0 rating.

One year later, in July of 2006 Pat’s myspace page, Lisa’s website and user registration at ccMixter were starting to flood with questions and praise for Lisa and Pat. It seems the “Brilliant Daze” remix was picked up by a teenage girl making videos in her bedroom, lamenting her restrictive parents and gushing over her boyfriend not as background music, but as the basis for a music video. In accordance with the Attribution clause of the license the video posted to YouTube was accompanied with full credits and links to Pat at ccMixter and Lisa’s web site (click on ‘more’) and a large percent of the 100,000s of viewers were moved to follow up.

It is now over 450,000 views later and though it has since been revealed as a viral marketing campaign, one thing that the lonelygirl15 phenomenon does prove, once and for all, is that by opening up music, allowing everybody to share and musicians to derive and collaborate the result will touch a huge audience.

Is CC licensed music viable? Half a million downloads can’t be wrong.

Recently the inventors of lonelygirl15, in accordance with the NonCommercial clause of the license have been in touch with the musicians to work out payments for use of the work in a commercial setting. Congratulations to Pat and Lisa.

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Red Hat interviews Jamendo’s Laurent Kratz

Eric Steuer, October 4th, 2006

Red Hat Magazine has posted a good interview with Laurent Kratz, CEO and co-founder of Jamendo, a large (and rapidly growing!) site for Creative Commons-licensed music. In the interview, Kratz discusses his company’s business model and how artists can use openness to expand their audience and make money. Read on … and look out for another interview with Kratz coming soon (conducted by yours truly) at creativecommons.org as part of our Featured Commoners series of articles.

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