Category Archives: creative commons

mini-talk at CC Salon tonight

I’ll do a shorty talk at the Creative Commons salon in Silverlake, in LA, tonight. My topic is going to be the role of permissive licensing in the business of internet music. I’ll lay out a map of the industry as a whole and situate copyleft within it.

Flavorpill describes the event this way:

Creative Commons is at the forefront of the progressive copyright movement, seeking arrangements that allow the free flow of artistry and ideas while at the same time protecting intellectual rights and freedoms. A group taking the middle road, its efforts have been invaluable in the face of technology’s rush into the future. At tonight’s salon, Mark “Frosty” McNeil — founder of noted DJ and multimedia collective Dublab — and XSPF developer Lucas Gonze tackle the ramifications and opportunities that could result from current and proposed copyright policies and discuss their larger effect on the music industry.


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copyright don’t ask don’t tell

The other day I emailed a netlabel to ask if I could rehost their album art. They didn’t have a version of it online for me to include using a direct link, and it wasn’t under a permissive license that would permit me to redistribute it.

Then yesterday I emailed a fellow who had put up a sound sample under a license I can’t use to ask if I could have permission to use the sample anyway.

Neither of these people have gotten back to me. That’s not a coincidence – rights holders have an incentive to be cagey. They benefit from saying nothing. I doubt that either of the people I emailed would object to my use. But compare what they get for saying nothing to what they get for saying something:

– If they say no, I don’t help market their works. I represent viral spread to them, and they want it.

– If they say yes, they give up the opportunity to charge me.

– If they say nothing and I do it anyway, they gain both viral marketing and the ability to sue me.

Not giving permission but not saying no is all upside for rights holders.

They don’t even want to be *asked*. Let’s say a rights holder had a web app for infringers to tell on themselves, so that a user of the app would be submitting a statement to tell the rights holder that they were infringing. Wouldn’t this create an obligation for the rights holder to complain? Oh noes! If they didn’t complain they might lose their ability to sue. If they did complain they might lose viral marketing.

So that’s copyright don’t ask don’t tell. Rights holders want you to infringe without either asking them or telling them.

what is the point of the right to redistribute?

Something I’ve never understood about Creative Commons is the emphasis on redistribution rights.

For the most part, CC licenses focus on who can upload a copy of a file. A song under any CC license can by uploaded by anybody whose activity fits within the terms of the license. For example, the Attribution-Sharealike license allows third parties to upload copies without asking permission as long as they give attribution and use the same license on their uploads.

Who needs the right to upload? It’s not something that anybody making work under a CC license even needs to grant, since virtually of them host freely accessible copies on the web. All anybody needs to access these works is to know the URL of the original file.

With files that are already on the web it doesn’t make sense to do filesharing, so there’s no need to permit redistribution. Filesharing is purely a pain in the ass for users, who have to leave the normal browser experience and launch a dedicated piece of software. You could maybe make a case for BitTorrent as a way to spread the bandwidth load, but that relies on a level of popularity which almost no CC works attain. And anyhow, there’s no need for an explicit license to permit BitTorrent as long as the rights holder hosts the seed file, since that would very much imply that BitTorrenting was fine.

The only thing that you really need a Creative Commons license for is the ability to make derivative works, which gives you the ability to do remixes. This is genuinely useful because there is no other way to do it. Without a license to make a derivative work you are up a creek, and making derivative works is a fundamental operation for participation in culture.

license claims in HTML

When you put a Creative Commons license in a web page, it usually applies to that page. For example, if you generated HTML for the Attribution-ShareAlike license using the license chooser at CreativeCommons.org and put that claim into a web page at http://example.com, it would mean that the page at http://example.com could be freely shared as long as there was attribution and the sharer applies the same license to their copy.

By using the “about” attribute specified in RDFa, you can modify that claim HTML so that it applies to a different URL and not the page in which the HTML is embedded.

Let’s say you have a media file “my.mp3” (which may or may not have embedded license info), it is online at http://example.com/my.mp3, and you have a web page at http://example.com. Let’s also say you have a chunk of HTML for saying that the current web page is under an Attribution-Sharealike license.

Your web page containing that chunk would normally have HTML along these lines:

      <html><head><title></title></head><body>
      [the HTML for the license claim]
      </body></html>
    

The modified HTML would look like this:

      <html><head><title></title></head><body>
      <div about="http://example.com/my.mp3">
      [the HTML for the license claim]
      </div>
      </body></html>
    

This is a new way to publish a license claim for a media file. The existing way is to embed the claims into the file using a tool like liblicense. The reason you would use the new method is that the benefits and drawbacks are a better match for your needs.

Pros of embedding within media files:

  1. A license claim inside a file travels with the file, so that the license claims on the copy are still identifiable. If you use the external HTML method, the only way to tell that a copy at a different URL is under the same license is to do a byte-for-byte comparison of the files.
  2. A license claim inside a media file is instantly accessible to any program which is already accessing the file and only slightly less accessible to a program which already has a copy of the file. A license claim in external HTML requires the HTML page to be found, fetched, and parsed.

Pros of using an external HTML file:

  1. A license claim embedded in a media file can only be recognized by fetching the file and parsing it. AJAX techniques usually can’t be used to parse a binary file. Bandwidth and latency limits may also prevent this. In contrast, an HTML file can be parsed by JavaScript, and is often small enough that bandwidth and latency are not a problem.
  2. A license claim inside a media file is hard for web spiders to see, and most search engines won’t index it. In contrast, a license claim in HTML is easy for a spider to see and all search engines will index it.
  3. A license claim inside a media file requires a dedicated program like liblicense on the client side to edit. A license claim in HTML can be generated using a simple web application like the license chooser at CreativeCommons.org, and any decent content management system (like Drupal or WordPress) could easily do it.

You don’t have to choose between these methods. There is no reason why these two methods can’t be used together, which would give you the good parts of both.

As with all implementation proposals, this method may not work. It may be that the RDFa “about” element isn’t widely available enough, given that it is specific to XHTML 2 as far as I know. It may be that the rel-license microformat can’t be extended like this.

There’s one improvement to this method that I don’t know how to do — making it work in existing search engines with no changes on their part. If it’s possible to tweak the HTML syntax so that existing search APIs or query arguments could be used to find Creative Commons works, the entire open media ecosystem would benefit.

making commercial use of non-commercial CC tracks

In the community of people interested in Creative Commons licenses there is a permathread about non-commercial licenses. Many musicians are willing to put out music with a permissive license but want to get paid if any commercial use is made of their music. Many people with a background in free software, myself included, feel that a license with a strong viral clause such as the CC Attribution-ShareAlike license is better. The Free Culture wiki has a good article on the topic.

The topic came up in an interesting interview with Victor Stone, the CC Mixter lead and a musician with several excellent releases on Magnatune. Magnatunes’ releases are commercial, so you can’t use sources with a non-commercial clause attached. This means that Victor can’t use NC sources from CC Mixter on his Magnatunes releases. Once you’re commercial the CC license has no bearing and you have to negotiate rights to samples exactly as you would with samples from big hits.

The interviewer at emxr asks:

While Magnatune artists as well as ccMixter artists give remixers the rights to work with their materials, (in most cases) that (Creative Commons) license applies to non-commercial derivative works. Since you are publishing your remixes as commercial releases, how do you go about licensing the needed tracks for your work? In the traditional music industry, that can be a dishearteningly complicated process. How does that work in your world?

Victor answers:

For Magnatune artists it’s easy, the label takes care of it all for me. The royalties of every sale or license are deducted from my account and funneled into sampled artists’ accounts. For most other cases I’m dealing with individuals so I just pay cash up front, or like with the DJ Vadim tracks make arrangements with the label. If a big license comes through on a track they sang, played on or produced then I manually pay them. But I only work with artists who have put material into the Commons because that, to me, is a green flag that they are willing to be reasonable.

His answer gets to a soft benefit of Creative Commons licensing. It’s a green flag that they are willing to be reasonable.