|Creative Commons offers flexible licenses that allow
various options for sharing your music.
Copyright affects all the music you create. It
allows you to protect your music and it’s been
the legal mechanism underpinning the recorded
music industry for about a century. Its default
setting is: all rights reserved
. This allows you to
control how your music is used and ensures you
profit from it.
But this doesn’t help the goal of getting
your music “out there” and shared. After all,
it’s your music that will grow your fan base—the more that people are exposed to your
music, the more likely it’ll generate new fans.
All rights reserved is also at odds with the
web, which is about sharing. Plus, it doesn’t
directly help you with promotion, which is
What if there was a way to use copyright
to promote your music while reserving the
commercial rights for yourself? Basically telling
the world: some rights reserved.
Enter the Creative Commons
(creativecommons.org), an organization that
offers flexible licenses. For example, depending
on the terms you decide to use, you can allow
fans to share your music with each other as long
as they attribute it and don’t try to make money
off of it. And you are able to inform artists, video
directors, podcasters, and other creators that
they can use your music in their works as long
as it’s for non-commercial purposes and as long
as they give you credit. All of this sharing can
drive exposure. It can get your music in front of
content creators, who get to sample your work,
which can give them ideas to license your
music for commercial use, or commission
new works from you.
Creative Commons is written in three
different formats: human-readable, lawyer-readable,
and machine-readable. All of the
Creative Commons licenses require attribution,
which means that anyone sharing it or using it
must also share who created and owns it. But
these licenses are flexible, and allow you to set
your own terms:
Commercial/Non-Commercial Use: You
decide whether others can use your music to make
money or whether that’s reserved just for you.
Derivatives/No Derivatives: You can
require others to keep your work exactly the
same as you released it or allow them to create
variations (derivative works) off of it.
ShareAlike: This, paired with derivatives,
allows people to remix your music as long as they
release it under the same license you gave them.
There are some gotchas with Creative
Commons. First, it’s perpetual, so once you
release a song under this license, you can’t take
it back. Second, you can’t legitimately sell an
exclusive license to any song that you previously
released under a Creative Commons license.
Third, it’s not compatible with the rules of some
Performance Rights Organizations.
But if you’re comfortable using these
licenses, they can allow you to participate in
entirely new types of creator communities. For
example, ccMixter (ccmixter.org) dominates
the remix communities on the web, and lets
musicians release source tracks in a way that remixers know exactly what they may and
may not do with the music. And sites like
curate free music, allowing fans to discover
new music and content creators to find music
to use in their videos, podcasts, and other
Also, the machine-readable license terms
under Creative Commons added a unique new
dimension to the web: a search engine that
can distinguish how a work is licensed (search.
creativecommons.org). This allows content
creators to find video, images, and music to use
in their media to share with their audiences.
Feeding these engines are major music sites like
SoundCloud (soundcloud.com), which makes it
easy for their users to license their music under
these terms. And YouTube has built-in tools for
video creators to discover Creative Commons
licensed work to use in their videos (youtube.com/yt/copyright/creative-commons.html).
Using this tool, YouTube will automatically
handle the attribution in the credits of the
video, pointing people back to you.
While Creative Commons licenses are not
for everyone, they are an exciting method for
encouraging fans to share your music with
their friends, and encourage content creators to
use your music and broadcast your name to the
world. You never know where your work will
wind up once you decide to use copyright to
promote your music.
Randy Chertkow and Jason Feehan are
authors of The Indie Band Survival Guide (St.
Martin’s Griffin), now in its second edition.