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Tagged: creative commons

Interview on Music Manumit Podcast

Thanks to Tom and Doug for inviting me to chat on the Music Manumit podcast this past weekend! You can listen to our discussion here about being creative about the career and business side of being a musician.

Music Manumit

mp3 audio | ogg vorbis | stream | torrent

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Vatican Blogger Meeting Considers Copyright Questions

This post originally appeared on Techdirt. For more general coverage of the Vatican blogger meeting, check out Ironic Catholic, Elizabeth Scalia, Hermeneutic of Continuity, CNA, Catholic Herald, etc.

A recent blogger meet up hosted by the Vatican received some attention for comments with which Techdirt readers would be familiar on copyright, attribution, and new media business models. For example, Italian blogger and author Mattia Marasco highlighted the importance of attribution, but said that copyright is “an old model,” when it comes to new media, and Dutch podcaster Father Roderick Vonhogen said that journalists will have to get used to their material being reused, but those who focus on quality will make it. The ideas are nothing new (and just some of many expressed at the event), but it’ll be interesting to see if the Vatican is listening. Marasco and Father Roderick are not Vatican officials, though in recent years the Pope and other Vatican officials have expressed concern over “an unduly rigid assertion of the right to intellectual property.” (The Holy See has, however, asserted its own right to protect the figure of the Pope, but it’s unclear what exactly that means.) The Vatican also announced an upcoming website, which will make extensive use of social media and apparently use a non-commercial Creative Commons license (according to Father Roderick [33:40]). Not bad for a 2000-year-old institution. There was also a call for the Holy See Press Office to consider bloggers, when releasing advanced copies of Vatican documents. The meeting was intended to open a dialogue between bloggers and the Vatican, so it’ll be interesting to see what the Vatican takes to heart from the encounter and how they continue down the new media path.

The comments are on Techdirt.

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Taking a Free Culture Approach to Music

This post originally appeared on Roots Music Canada.

When I tell someone that all of my recordings are downloadable for free, I’m often asked, “but… how will you make money?

“Well,” I’ll respond, “since it doesn’t cost me anything, I may as well let people share and listen to my music so that they might connect with it and become interested in the associated scarcities—physical goods, the creation of new music, authenticity, personalization, live performances, etc… It makes more sense to charge for the scarce things than for the abundant. People need to hear and like music before they’re willing to buy, so I want people to download it.”

“Okay,” a musician might respond, “and you still have royalties and licensing.”

The fun begins: “Er… no, actually, my music is available royalty-free, even for commercial use.”


“Yep,” I’ll continue. “There are only two requirements: attribution, and that derivative works remain under the same licence. Otherwise, people are free to do what they want.”

At this point, the person I’m talking to is either incredibly curious, or convinced that I’m certifiably insane.

Why on earth would I do this?

Copyright Conundrum

Copyright is supposed to provide an incentive for authors to create because we, as a society, see a benefit in more works being created. However, it’s been radically expanded in both depth and breadth. Unlike the original 14-year terms, copyright now extends well beyond the author’s death; works used to enter the public domain within a few decades, but now it takes a few generations. Also, it used to be that copyright only regulated large corporations—you needed a printing press or a broadcast tower to trigger the law—but now it affects the everyday activities of anyone with a computer.

It’s become an astonishingly unprecedented restriction on our culture. Can you imagine if Shakespeare had to negotiate licensing agreements for each of the stories he repurposed? Yet, some seek to criminalize sharing and we must hire lawyers to get permission just to build on the culture around us. We must pay [PDF] for the privilege of dancing to copyrighted music. James Boyle, author of The Public Domain, said that “we are the first generation to deny our own culture to ourselves.” Society has become too focused on the unnatural notion of “intellectual property.”

20th-century culture was largely passive and read-only—a broadcast culture. But it’s wonderful and natural that we seek to reinterpret and build upon the culture we find around us, and it’s exciting that digital technology makes it easier. Creation is a fundamentally social act—not a solitary one—and its social dimension is something to be celebrated; it’s a beautiful expression of our humanity. I embrace an active culture with which we all have the freedom to engage… but current copyright law makes that illegal. James Boyle also points out that “no work created during your lifetime will, without conscious action by its creator, become available for you to build upon.”

As a creator, I’ve taken that conscious action to set my work free.

Free Culture

I use a Creative Commons (CC) Attribution-Share Alike (BY-SA) licence for all of my music and writing (including this post). CC BY-SA is a free licence—not free as in price, but free as in freedom. A free culture is the opposite of a permission culture: anyone has the freedom to use, share, remix, cover, rewrite or adapt my music.

Now, “remix” can be a funny word for songwriters. For some, the immediate word association is “techno,” but derivative works can include music videos, films, new songs, covers, as well as recordings that are “remixed” in the strict technical sense. I can also take freely licensed photos from Flickr to use as artwork for my songs. “Free culture” isn’t about quirky viral videos and the responses they inspire, but the broad spectrum of possibilities when freedom and collaboration can scale. Using a free licence opens up new potential for creating art and connecting with fans by removing the legal barriers to artistic freedom and widespread collaboration.

Commercial Use

Free licences allow commercial use: my music can be sold—by me, or anyone else—and I’ve waived the right to collect royalties. This was by far the biggest hurdle.

Most CC licences aren’t free. I initially used a Noncommercial (NC) licence with my band back in 2005—that seemed like a no-brainer at the time—but I later became convinced of the problems with NC restrictions. For example, NC restrictions limit derivative works to the realm of the hobbyist; once money enters the equation, NC licences still present a permission culture (hence their non-free status). Plus, NC restrictions rule out many basic uses you might want to allow: a blog with ads or a non-profit fundraiser could both qualify as commercial, and a remix of your own NC music by someone else is off-limits to you commercially. NC restrictions don’t allow a free culture to flourish… but, they do leave the door open for music licensing opportunities.

Giving up the prospect of royalties and licensing was hard. Ultimately, I decided that free culture and new media were more important for me. Copyright restrictions apply to bloggers and webcasters as well as radio stations, and SOCAN collects from large corporate radio, but also from kids’ gymnastic clubs and buskers. I’d rather focus on free culture and the Internet as a passion and competitive edge than be confined by a read-only, broadcast-based permission model. Royalties make as much sense on the Internet as they would in a conversation; it’s not broadcast, it’s a communications medium. I’ve decided to go the free culture route with the Internet in mind, even if it means no royalties from traditional mediums.


CC BY-SA is a “copyleft” licence—meaning, all rights reversed; it imposes a copyright restriction against restricting people: all derivative works must be released under the same licence. Someone is free to include my music in a video and sell it, but the derivative work must also be BY-SA, so I’d be able to profit from the derivative in the same way that people can profit from my original. It’s mutually beneficial. (If someone wanted to use my work without “sharing alike,” e.g. a TV show, with many other rights holders involved, that’s one case where traditional licensing is still an option.)

In terms of someone else just selling my stuff (e.g. CDs with my music), I’ve come to view that as an opportunity rather than a liability. If Sony wanted to distribute my music, with no cost or contract on my part… who am I to complain? They’d be helping me. CC BY-SA filmmaker, Nina Paley, argues that when others make money off your content, it’s free market research. “If any [competitors] do exceptionally well, I’ll know what merch I should be selling,” she says. Paley uses the Creator-Endorsed Mark to signal to consumers which distributors are actually sharing profits with her. Brad Sucks, a Canadian BY-SA musician, has also found ways to profit while allowing commercial use.

If you’re focused on innovating and monetizing real scarcities, allowing commercial use simply presents new opportunities.

Moving Forward

Licensing my music freely was a huge decision, and I’ve only scratched the surface of my reasoning here. I may have closed many doors, but I’m excited about the doors I’ve opened. This approach isn’t going to work for everyone, but with artists like Nina Paley and Brad Sucks paving the way, I’m committed to exploring how it can work for my music.

Read the comments on Roots Music Canada

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GSoC 2009 Wrap Up: Creative Commons Drupal Module

This post originally appeared on the CC Labs Blog

This past year was my last at the University of Toronto, making this summer my last chance to participate in the Google Summer of Code. I searched hard for a project and mentor organization that would suit my interests, and when I noticed that the Creative Commons Drupal module was in need of some developer love, I knew exactly what I wanted to spend my summer doing. With John Doig as my CC mentor, and Kevin Reynen (the module’s maintainer and initial author) as an unofficial Drupal mentor, I’ve been privileged to have spent the past few months updating and extending the module.

A couple years ago, development for Drupal 4.7 was begun, but it was never quite completed. CC Lite came to be the reliable choice for Drupal 6. However, CC Lite’s scope is limited — it allows you to attach a license to content in Drupal, but that’s about it. The main CC module’s vision is broader — to fully integrate CC technology with the Drupal platform — and I hope I’ve helped to realize that just a little.

Some of the module’s features:

  • it uses the CC API for license selection and information (so, for example, when new license versions are released, they become available on your Drupal site automatically)
  • you can set a site-wide default license/jurisdictoin, and user’s can set their own default license/jurisdiction
  • ccREL metadata is supported, output in RDFa (and, optionally, RDF/XML for legacy systems)
  • supports CC0, along with the 6 standard licenses and the Public Domain Certification tool
  • you can control which licenses and metadata fields are available to users
  • basic support for the Views API has been added (including a default /creativecommons view)
  • there’s a CC site search option

The module is still listed as a beta release, as some folks have been submitting bug fixes and patches over the past few weeks, though it’s quite usable. Special thanks to Turadg Aleahmad, who’s helped with a lot of the recent bug fixes towards the end of the GSoC term, and committed to being active in future development. If you’re into Drupal development, we could use help with testing, and any translations would be greatly appreciated too.

Right now, the focus is on getting to a stable release, but we’ve got lots of ideas for the future too. Thanks to John and Kevin for their support through the summer, and to Turadg for his recent help. I look forward to seeing the module put to good use!

Check it out!

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The ‘Creative’ Technology Behind The AP’s News Registry

This post originally appeared on Techdirt.

The Associated Press’ attempt to DRM the news is a bad idea for a variety of reasons, but its claims for the news registry’s capabilities seem pretty misguided, once you examine the technology behind it (the “magic DRM beans”). Ed Felten dug into the details of the registry’s microformat, hNews, which the AP announced a few weeks earlier, and here’s where it gets really interesting: the hNews rights field is based on the Creative Commons Rights Expression Language (ccREL).

If the AP thinks it’ll be able to build its “digital permissions framework” with Creative Commons technology, it’s in for a letdown.

I’m not sure if I’m “allowed” to quote the press release, but this is how it describes the news registry:

[It] will tag and track all AP content online to assure compliance with terms of use. The system will register key identifying information about each piece of content that AP distributes as well as the terms of use of that content, and employ a built-in beacon to notify AP about how the content is used[…]

The registry will employ a microformat… [that] will essentially encapsulate AP and member content in an informational “wrapper” that includes a digital permissions framework that lets publishers specify how their content is to be used online and which also supplies the critical information needed to track and monitor its usage.

The registry also will enable content owners and publishers to more effectively manage and control digital use of their content, by providing detailed metrics on content consumption, payment services and enforcement support. It will support a variety of payment models, including pay walls.

Microformats provide a syntax for expressing machine-readable licensing metadata in the HTML of a web page. ccREL was intentionally developed so that others could innovate freely on top of it, but the AP is trying to use it for something it’s simply not designed to do — “protect” and control. The Creative Commons has responded, explaining that ccREL is a tool for rights expression, not rights enforcement. (That doesn’t mean the AP isn’t allowed to try this, but it’s not going to work very well… it’s like trying to lock a door with posters.) Felten described the AP’s claims for the microformat as much ado about nothing, saying “the hNews spec bears little resemblance to AP’s claims about it,” and the Creative Commons clarification echoed the point:

Microformats and other web-based structured data, including ccREL, cannot track, monitor, or generally enforce anything. They’re labels, i.e. Post-It notes attached to a document, not locked boxes blocking access to the content.

There’s no “encapsulating” or “wrappers” — it’s just annotation.

This ecosystem of technology is about rights expression, not enforcement, and it’s more about telling people what you can do than what you can’t. There are tools built on top of Creative Commons technology, like FairShare, that “track and monitor” usage of content across the web, but these are search engine tools (similar to Google Alerts) rather than any sort of “built-in beacon.” Other tools, like Tynt’s Tracer (which Creative Commons blog uses), use javascript to append attribution and licensing information when you copy/paste, but that’s hardly a “wrapper.” These tools are based on the idea of granting permission, not requesting it. Participation is not enforced; anyone can remove or adjust metadata before reposting HTML, Tracer’s attribution is just plain text that can be changed (as I did when quoting the blog here), and FairShare can’t actually stop anyone from posting your content. These tools are based on a decentralized, permissive view of the web; they aren’t designed to create centralized registries and exert control.

If you re-read the AP’s description of the technology, it sounds a lot less scary, but a lot more hopeless. The tools are designed to convey further rights to users beyond what copyright allows, not further restrictions that limit user rights already granted by copyright law (e.g. fair use). This is a great way of tagging news articles, but it’s next to useless as a digital lock. They would be smart to employ this technology to make their content more usable and more valuable, but hoping it’s going to help them lock it down will only lead to disappointment.

Read the comments on Techdirt.

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Google Summer of Code: Moving Toward Version 1.0

My Google Summer of Code project is divided into two phases: updating and then upgrading the Creative Commons Drupal module. The module was largely abandoned as it was being developed Drupal 4.7.x, and now Drupal 6.x is the current series (with 7.x under development). The first phase is to update for Drupal 6.x and complete existing features; the second phase is to expand its functionality.

I’ve got the module running in Drupal 6.x, and now I’m chasing down bugs, cleaning up the user interface and polishing up existing features. Development snapshots are available on the project page, updated nightly. I’m pushing for a 6.x-1.0 release (or at least a beta) in the next couple weeks, ahead of midterm evaluations (July 6-13).

In Phase II, I’ll focus on new features for 6.x-2.0 — search integration, licence detection, language localization.

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Google Summer of Code: Creative Commons Drupal Module

A few weeks ago, I started my Google Summer of Code project with the Creative Commons. My proposal to update the CC Drupal module was accepted back in April, and over the last six weeks I’ve been getting my bearings. Kevin Reynen from Denver Open Media, the project’s maintainer, has given me CVS access and maintainer status at, and John Doig, my mentor, has been providing me with some guidance around design decisions so far. The Department of Computer Science at UofT has provided me with some great lab space for the summer along with other interns and students working on independent projects.

May 23 was the coding start date. I’ve been off to a slow start, but just made my first commits over the last few days. For now, I’m working on porting this module to the latest version of Drupal. There’s a CC Lite module that already exists. It’s functionality is basic, but I’m using that as a reference. In the next few weeks, I should have the module working and fairly easy to use (the UI needs some cleanup). Then, onto some cooler things: I’m going to be investigating some more advanced features, like automatic licence detection using liblicense or integration with other modules, like Flickr or Search. I’m not sure how many of these features will be feasible, but the goal is to at least lay the groundwork so that they can be implemented beyond this summer.

I plan to use the module myself for a few sites, and hopefully I’ll be able to continue development beyond the summer. More updates coming as more progress is made…

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Why Girl Talk Doesn’t Allow Commercial Use

Last July, I asked, why doesn’t Girl Talk allow commercial use? Girl Talk (Greg Gillis) makes commercial use of samples from all sorts of artists for his own music, yet he uses a Noncommercial Creative Commons license himself. Though, he points out that anyone else could use his material commercially, if it were fair use. That’s how he defends his own commercial use of samples from other artists. Still, it seems a bit ironic.

I had a chance to ask him the question directly in the Globe’s Download Decade Live Chat this Tuesday. I didn’t realize it was happening until the last minute and was rushing out the door, so my question was worded a bit awkwardly:

4:32 [Comment From Blaise Alleyne]
Greg, huge fan of your work, came to see you in Toronto in the fall. One question that’s bothered me though — why CC BY-NC-SA? [edit: it’s actually CC BY-NC] In other words, why forbid commercial use? I know you argue that fair use still allows commercial use (basis of your work), but I’m sure you’re well aware of all the legal ambiguity there. And, you’ve said that you don’t want your songs appearing as an endorsement in a commercial, but that sort of thing could happen anyways through collective licensing agreements. Also, the Share-Alike provision protects from exploitation much more than the Non-Commercial provision (i.e. if a company wants to use your song in a commercial, they’d have to release *their commercial* under the same license!)So… why not adopt a free culture approach entirely a

4:32 [Comment From Blaise Alleyne]
(opps, didn’t finish that comment…) So, why not fully adopt a free culture approach and allow commercial use of your music?

And his response:

4:35 GreggGillis: Basically, by going with CC BY-NC-SA, that means that someone can’t just take any one of my songs/albums/etc and just put it on a commercial or sell or a product with it without asking. But, people are protected under Fair Use, the same way I am protected under Fair Use. So I’m completely open to people remixing / recontextualizing my work and selling it if they believe it is transformative and does not negatively impact me.

I was disappointed at first because I thought this was his whole response; he was just restating the arguments I anticipated.

I’d heard him use the “put it in a commercial” response back in November at the Kool Haus, when he was trying to respond to the slightly outrageous “Is Girl Talk Killing Music?” piece by Marc Weisblott in Eye Weekly. Except, this was at the end of the show and he was shouting and everyone was drunk, dancing and excited, so he kept it brief. I wasn’t sure whether to attribute the ambiguity to the setting or to his understanding then. I think it’s clear he realizes that commercial use is about more than just commercials, but that just strikes me as a really bad way to talk about commercial use. Using “commercials” to explain commercial use is guaranteed to make a confusing topic even more confusing.

4:36 GreggGillis: In all honestly, I was open to going “completely free” with it. The label, who releases my music, Illegal Art, suggested going with the CC BY-NC-SA and I thought it was a good idea.

4:39 GreggGillis: If you are familiar with my work enough to sample it and make something new out of it, then I’m guessing you would most likely know that I would have no problem with people re-working my material in the same way I re-work other peoples’ material. The CC BY-NC-SA just seemed like a safe move. I’m approached by people asking to license songs pretty often. I didn’t want to make it a free for all.

It’s interesting that it was the label’s suggestion. I suspected that the NC choice had to do with retaining potential royalty streams, and he does mention licensing. Is NC the “safe move?” Sure. But I think the unintended restrictions and the ambiguity of the license make something like CC BY-SA a better choice in the long run.

The argument that people would need his permission for potentially objectionable uses doesn’t really make sense when you consider the ways in which that could happen anyways though collective licensing agreements. A company could easily use a Girl Talk track to sell a product, if all they needed were performance rights (so, maybe not in a commercial, but at an event).

But I do not believe he’s being hypocritical. I had read the Eye Weekly article in print, and was quite annoyed when they said the NC license “prohibits anyone from pulling a Girl Talk on Gillis,” but I just noticed that the web article links those words to my Techdirt post! Argh… Gillis would never take legal action against someone else for remixing, and it’s not actually hypocrisy when you consider fair use — just a bit odd and disappointing. I think Gillis and other artists would be better off removing the barriers to commercial use, but I don’t think he’s a hypocrite.

To be even more clear… I think Girl Talk is making great music, doing great work promoting the art of sampling, helping to legitimize remix as art in the minds of many and challenging restrictive copyright provisions which make this sort of art form impossible if each sample has to be negotiated individually, not to mention the business model experimentation with his last album. I’m just picking on him for the non-commercial restriction and making an observation that even an artist like Girl Talk seems to have some attachment to a permission culture. I think we can do better.

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#Twuneup Covers Edition

Last week, I attended the February #Twuneup — Covers Edition. #Twuneup is basically a monthly listening party (this was the second) run by a group of people in the Toronto Twitter community who share a love of music. There’s also lots of music sharing that happens on Twitter.

I found out about it too late to get a spot at the first one (space is limited), but this time I was quick to sign up. I was happy to learn that live performances were encouraged, so I busted out the T-Qualizer (perfect event) and played my cover of The Patient (Tool):

There were a couple other fun live performances too!

I also met lots of cool people. I first noticed @photojunkie last summer and I’d met him at #hohoTO, but the rest were new faces. @modernmod and @nicopop were the other organizers. I had a chance to meet @johnpapa, @alkerton, @rlangdon, @3rdparty, @pageby_paige, @zachaysan and lots of other cool people.

I had a great chat with @leilaboujnane (from Idée) and she gave me a Creative Commons sticker, before she even knew that I’m a CC BY-SA artist! I was going to put the sticker on my guitar case, but then I realized it had a clear background (black-on-black wouldn’t work to well). So… I put it on my guitar!

CC sticker on guitar

Rannie (@photojunkie) has photos on his site and Bev (@bev_w) has a Flickr set.
(Photo by bevw)

Lots of fun! I hope to make it back in March.

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Why Doesn’t Girl Talk Allow Commercial Use?

[This originally appeared on Techdirt.]

Legal trouble for Girl Talk — an artist named Greg Gillis who released a “mash up” album using the pay what you want model — is almost inevitable, but the situation gets even more interesting when you consider how the music is licensed. Girl Talk uses a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial license for Feed the Animals, even though the songs on the album were made by using hundreds samples from other artists. Gillis claims his songs are fair use on the basis of being transformative and because the clips used are very short.

Aside from potential legal claims over the license if the fair use defense fails, why would Gillis — an artist making commercial use of samples from others — put a noncommercial restriction on his work? It seems a bit hypocritical. Granted, he does claim that “the CC license does not interfere with the rights you have under the fair use doctrine, which gives you permission to make certain uses of the work even for commercial purposes,” but is the noncommercial restriction for other uses really necessary?

First of all, as Mike Masnick pointed out in his critique of a noncommercial copyright, the distinction between commercial and noncommercial use is extremely blurry. Equally blurry in this case is the distinction between transformative and non-transformative use. At what point exactly does a derivative work become transformative? But, more importantly, Mike asks “if someone else is able to do something commercially useful with my content, why should that be a problem?” Girl Talk ought to be a perfect example of this, yet Gillis seems to deliberately limit the possibilities through his choice of license.

Why attempt to limit the positive externalities? Maybe some of the artists sampled on the Girl Talk album will really like a song their music appears in and want to include it somehow on a release of their own, make use of it on their website, etc. Should those artists then be required to pay for the use of a song which includes samples of their own music? Maybe, but it seems like respecting “upstream” would help an artist like Gillis maintain a better relationship with the artists from which he’s sampling.

Furthermore, what about people who might do something with the album that’s potentially commercially useful for Girl Talk? For example, if someone were to make an interesting remix or video using Girl Talk’s music , not only would they be required to refrain from commercial use themselves (unless it was fair use), but Gillis would require their permission to make use of it himself. If he had used a copyleft license like the Creative Commons Attibution-Share Alike, both he and any artists making derivative works would have the ability to monetize their efforts. Instead, derivatives are relegated to the realm of the amateur because, with a noncommercial license, the barriers of a permission culture are still intact for artists trying to make a living from their work. One would hope that Greg Gillis, of all artists, might realize the benefits of removing these barriers, especially on commercial use.

[This was largely inspired by a couple Rob Myers posts — Noncommercial ShareAlike Is Not Copyleft and Why The NC Permission Culture Simply Doesn’t Work — which convinced me to license my music under a free license.]

[Read the comments on Techdirt.]

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