attribution and reuse

Play the Web is a blog with the premise of exploring technical hurdles for making chains of derivative works:

On this blog we want to talk about media reuse on the Internet and enabling reuse in a responsible way. Media companies’ reactionary response of restricting all use is throwing the baby out with the bathwater but conversely doing away with copyright on the Internet altogether is no better. There’s a middle way and we need to build tools to facilitate that path. Tools to recognise media and enable reuse.

They’re assuming that the end result of their work will be part of The Initiative:

Our immediate challenge is discovering what licensing and ownership attributes are associated with a given piece of media. There are millions of discrete pieces of media on the Internet, how can software tell which are reusable, which are licensed, which are public domain, etc.? A simple solution to this problem is offered by microformats. By embedding meta-data with media in a standardised, machine-readable way we open the door to all kinds of applications that rely on this knowledge.

And they already have an excellent post on how to do attribution for a reused photograph:

I’m now kind of concerned with what to call “Attribution”. In the Creative Commons attribution is a legal term, but what I really want to relate is:

  1. From where did I find the content: Miss 604’s blog. (The Copied Source)
  2. From where did the original content come from: Squeaky Marmot (The Original Source or at least the source Miss 604 found)

Do you reuse content? Do others reuse your content? If so, what do you think? How would you like to see the “attribution”?

I have a couple data points to offer.

One, non-commercial users don’t care about copyright. They know zero about it, they don’t know of any reason to care, and they aren’t going to change. (Software developers, who deal with free and open source software, are an exception to this rule). Commercial users may care, but can’t use content under a non-commercial license. So in practice the issue of attribution only has a real-world impact for derived works created by commercial entities. Source works which are licensed to allow both derivative works and commercial use are the ones we’re talking about.

Two, in XSPF there is an element for giving attribution to the sources of derived works. The idea is that one person would incorporate another person’s playlist into their own, and would use this element to give credit. It is defined as a chronologically-ordered stack:

An ordered list of URIs. The purpose is to satisfy licenses allowing modification but requiring attribution. If you modify such a playlist, move its //playlist/location or //playlist/identifier element to the top of the items in the //playlist/attribution element. xspf:playlist elements MAY contain exactly one xspf:attribution element.

Such a list can grow without limit, so as a practical matter we suggest deleting ancestors more than ten generations back.


The stack framework is a pretty elegant tool for handling this requirement, and I’m happy about how we did it. However this element is rarely if ever used because no current playlist sharing sites that I know of both expect playlists to cross site boundaries and expect users to make new playlists out of old ones.

Magnetic Fields guitar tablature

Stephen Merritt of The Magnetic Fields publishes guitar tablature with lyrics and chords for his songs.

This kind of thing was almost non-existent in the days when CDs and vinyl records were synonymous with the music business. Back in the old days helping people to play the compositions for themselves was limited to helping aspiring guitar heroes to learn the guitar solos, or aspiring stars to emulate current stars. The stuff you learned was by a larger-than-life player, and you learned in order to become larger than life yourself. It was about career in the sense that a successful learner was one who established a musical career.

For performers to encourage avocational musicians to learn to play the music for themselves is a sea change in publishing. It reflects the move to a participatory and inclusive concept where it’s expected and even intended that covers will show up on YouTube.

Exploring this space is the reason why I created sheet music, guitar tablature, and MIDI for Kristen Hirsh’s song “Elizabeth June.”

O’Reilly on goose

Over on the O’Reilly Digital Media site, David Battino has published a piece called Three Free & Easy Web Audio Players which covers Delicious Playtagger, Goose aka Yahoo Media Player, and a new player of his own design.

Want to play MP3s on your site? I did. The unpredictable behavior of audio links annoyed me so much that I finally broke down and wrote my own player. And then I wrote several more. An enterprising bloke in Australia even copied my code and started selling it as his own. But web audio is a treacherous world, and we both learned that what worked well on our own browsers often sputtered horribly on other people’s. … In this article, I’ll look at two free players you can add to your own site with a single line of code. … Inspired by Play Tagger and YMP, I revisited my JavaScript-based web audio player.

In David’s own Batmosphere Multiplayer player he introduces some cool new ideas. Media links that have been made playable launch the player when you click on them without affecting the link itself, so a user can still do right-click+save-as. Also, in the popout window for the player he scales the window to the size of any album art specified by the user, which is pretty damn slick.

A cool accident of the layout of this article is that it captures a sort of threaded conversation among developers of web audio players. Playtagger came first, goose came second, the Batmosphere player came third, and each was an iteration of shared ideas. They all add small play buttons to plain vanilla media links in HTML documents — that was a delicious innovation which goose copied and batmosphere picked up in turn. Goose extended the concept by allowing publishers to customize the player using various fields of the anchor; for example, you can set the song title by using the standard “title” attribute of an HTML anchor element. Batmosphere picks up on these features and adds to the pool by letting you use the “id” attribute to specify a caption.

One subtle, important, and usually overlooked aspect of the goose anchor syntax is that it doesn’t rely on file extensions. Playtagger, for example, requires you to have a URL that ends in “.mp3”, like this:

<a href="example.mp3">my song</a>

But what if your URL doesn’t end in “.mp3”?

<a href="getmp3.php">my song</a>

What if it ends in .mp3 but redirects to an HTML page?

<a href="getphp.mp3">my web page</a>

The design of the web explicitly rules out using the extension to tell the browser what kind of file is on the other end of a link. This is to allow tools designed specifically for the job to be used — MIME types and HTTP content negotiation. And goose supports both of them.

Goose allows you to set the MIME type by using the “type” attribute, so that this *will* get picked up:

<a href="getmp3.php" type="audio/mpeg">my song</a>

And this *won’t* get picked up:

<a href="getphp.mp3" type="text/html">my web page</a>

It allows you to use content negotiation by setting the link class to “htrack”:

<a href="getaudiofile.php" class="htrack">this might be AAC or WMA</a>

For a deeper explanation of the relationship between content negotiation, MIME types, and file extensions in URLs, check out Content Negotiation: why it is useful, and how to make it work. For more details on how goose interprets link syntax, see how to link in the goose wiki.

byrne/eno drop

Embedded player for the new David Byrne + Briane Eno album:

Byrne’s comment on the site:

For the most part, Brian did the music and I wrote some tunes, words and sang.

I like this music.

When I first listened to this via the embedded player I had a hard time getting over my distrust of David Byrne’s post-peak output. Eno’s 70s releases are lifetime favorites for me, and I have a lot of respect for earlier Talking Heads, but Byrne’s stuff in the last 10-15 years is cringeworthy. I’ve gotten to like Byrne’s blogging, though, so this has redeemed him enough for me to be open to his new music.

So I gave this a long listen, going around the whole CD twice with headphone on. As you’d expect from Eno, it’s sonically delicious. It’s mainly warm and organic in the style of these guys’ later work, rather than cool and deliberately stiff in their early styles; IMO that’s a loss, but you can’t go back and doing what you really feel is always the right thing. Still, I’d have loved to hear Robert Fripp’s guitar. Eno’s vocals are strained in a bad way, Byrne’s are strained in a good way. The only spots that fall flat are when Eno is singing.

The packaging and presentation are user-friendly. For example there are FLAC files. I found myself rooting for them.

marketing songs the lazy way

I have added some new formats for my song Frog in the Well.

For people making videos, I created cuts of 20 seconds, 30 seconds, and 40 seconds. I have noticed that the length of a piece of music is a big factor in choosing it, so these cuts are to increase the number of situations that this music fits.

For people doing remixes, I created a sample pack with eight clips under five seconds. I did this because chopping up a song into samples is a fair amount of work, and eliminating that work increases the number of people who might use samples for the song.

With both of these sets of cuts, the goal was to increase the potential growth of my music. The popularity of my song can only grow linearly, as the sum of listens. For each song or video that it is incorporated into, there is a multiplier on that growth curve. If songs or videos that incorporate my work are themselves incorporated into other works, there is exponential growth in the listenership for my music.

I also created a clip to be used as a ringtone. My thinking was that supporting more playback contexts, and especially a playback context as common as cell phones, would again do good things for the potential growth curve.

Lastly, I created a page which can transpose and play back the sheet music using the Scorch browser plugin. This should increase the number of contexts that the sheet music and tablature are useful in and the number of people who can follow the sheet music. Having people incorporate my musical work by learning from a piece of sheet music that I created is again a way of hitching a ride on other people’s works.

What I didn’t do was go out and plug my song. I didn’t make CDs to mail to radio, press, and booking agents. I didn’t email bloggers one by one. I didn’t post comments on other musicians’ Myspace pages. I didn’t email all my friends. All of these ways of marketing are good things to do, but I am lazy and would rather have other people do that for their own stuff and bring mine along for the ride.

I also didn’t make a new song. It’s good to keep up a steady flow of fresh work, but winner songs don’t come along all that often and once you have one you’ll probably get more growth overall by focusing your efforts on the winner.

You can see all this stuff in context on the song page for Frog in the Well.

Here is a video that used this song as background music:

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why advertising will win

My reasoning on why recorded music will mainly be sponsored by advertising in the future is that advertising by definition always makes the most money.

CDs and downloads are products which can be associated with plays just like any other product. When you hear a song on the radio and end up buying the CD because you like the song, the song is acting as a promotion for the CD.

But what if other products can have higher returns on that play? What if you can sell ten pairs of jeans for $100 profit instead of ten CDs for $50 profit? The musician who made the song will cut a deal with the jeans vendor instead of the CD vendor, obviously.

Maybe you get a one-song CD in the bag with every pair of jeans. It might be that the rock star wears a patch with the jeans brand on their jeans jacket. It might be that the jeans vendor gets a banner behind the stage at live shows. Or it might be a plain old ad-sponsored stream on a web site.

Which one of these methods you pick doesn’t matter – how the song and product are hooked together isn’t relevant to the basic argument. The argument is that

  1. The business of recording is about using recordings to move products.
  2. The most profitable products will always be able to pay musicians the most for their works.
  3. Advertising” is the word for this kind of relationship between recordings and products.

From this perspective selling CDs based on an affiliation with a song is still advertising in the sense that the product is the CD and the advertiser is the CD vendor. CD sales don’t have to go away for this point of view to be an accurate prediction of how the recording business will shake out. But CD sales do have to become an option rather than a necessity.

For example, a pop star might record a new song specifically for a marketing campaign for a new product. BMW comes out with a new model, and Barbra Streisand comes out with a new recording to be somehow associated with the car. Maybe you can only get a CD at dealerships or can only download a copy at BMW’s web site. The download is free on the site, the CD is free at the dealership. But the car isn’t free. If BMW can make more by converting Barbra’s song into into car sales than EMI can make by converting her song into CD sales, BMW can pay Barbra more, and she will move from EMI to BMW.

What it means for advertising to “win” over unit sales (in the form of downloads and CDs) is for the product associated with a recording to become flexible. The product associated with a recording should be whatever product is the most profitable. There’s nothing intrinsically CD-ish about a song. Sometimes the product should be a CD, but sometimes not.