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SHARE THE WEALTH

June 1, 2006
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Brazilians aren't shy, so Crammed Discs artist Cibelle happily added her song "Noite de Carnaval" to a Creative Commons remix contest.

I've always had a strong interest in intellectual property and how creative people use technology to collaborate and share their work. I studied at UC Santa Barbara and became the music director for KCSB, the progressive radio station. Later, several friends and I started a hip-hop group and a record label, which we ran as a collective. After school, I worked in journalism and eventually became music editor for Wired. In the November 2004 issue, Wired distributed a CD with music by the Beastie Boys, David Byrne, Danger Mouse, Gilberto Gil and others. All the music was licensed to the public under Creative Commons' terms. I fell in love with Creative Commons' mission to provide new ways for creators to share their work with the world, and now I work as the organization's creative director. In my jobs, I have examined the places where musicians and technology intersect to better create, distribute and collaborate. I've learned that successful musicians and companies see technology as an opportunity and not a threat.

What are the stipulations of Creative Commons licensing, and how does it differ from traditional copyright?

When you create a song, photo, film, etc., you automatically own the full copyright to that creative work. By default, copyright is “all rights reserved,” meaning nobody can use your work in any way that you don't explicitly consent to. However, many would prefer to grant certain across-the-board usage rights to the public. That's where Creative Commons comes in.

We're a nonprofit organization that offers free copyright licenses that anyone can use (without needing to involve a lawyer) to mark their creative works with the freedoms they want them to carry. For instance, you'd use Creative Commons if you are happy to allow fans to legally share your songs online and make copies for friends, or you wanted people to be able to legally remix your song or use samples from it in their compositions. This lets you hear how people build on your creativity.

Getting a Creative Commons license is easy and free. Go to www.creativecommons.org and answer a few questions, such as: “Will you allow commercial uses of your work?” and “Will you allow your work to be modified?” Based on your answers, you get a legal license that clearly states what people can and can't do. A common misperception is that you give up your copyright when you use Creative Commons. Not true! Our system is a complement to traditional copyright, not an alternative.

How can Creative Commons licenses help artists, whether they are established or are just starting out?

There are several motivations for using Creative Commons, involving exposure, credibility and income.

Consider Fort Minor, the hip-hop group fronted by Mike Shinoda of Linkin Park. Mike applied a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial license to the audio source files of Fort Minor's “Remember the Name,” so any producer could legally download the component tracks and make remixes. In conjunction with Warner Bros. Records, we organized a Fort Minor remix contest at the Creative Commons remix site, www.ccmixter.org. We received hundreds of entries, each one a fresh take on the song. The Creative Commons license helped Fort Minor expand public awareness of the original song while also allowing them to interact with producers and musicians they've never even met.

Another recent ccMixter remix contest was structured differently. Crammed Discs in Belgium used a Creative Commons license for audio source files from three Brazilian artists — Cibelle, DJ Dolores and Apollo Nove — and asked people to remix them. The artists chose the three best remixes of their songs, for a total of nine winning tracks. These winners are being packaged as a Crammed/ccMixter remix compilation, which will be sold online through digital music stores. Usually with this type of release, record labels commission remixes from big-name producers. But Crammed recognizes the huge number of people out there without famous names making incredible music. Crammed is using Creative Commons to level the playing field and give the winning remixers a money-making opportunity.

Next there's Minus Kelvin, a jazz and electronic-music composer who by day teaches high school physics and calculus in Sacramento. About a year ago, he began creating sample-based songs and remixes using tracks from ccMixter as source material. He posted the remixes back to ccMixter for other remixers. Eventually, the label Runoff Records found Minus Kelvin's ccMixter collaborations and was floored. Runoff promptly signed Minus Kelvin to a production deal, which resulted in a second gig to compose music for three seasons of the UPN TV show America's Next Top Model. In short, Minus Kelvin used Creative Commons' noncommercial licensing to free up his work for people to share, use and remix. That approach helped him score commercial deals with a label and a TV production company.

Lots of people also use Creative Commons for purely noncommercial reasons. They believe it's important, empowering and even honorable to contribute ideas to the rich pool of creative content on the Web.

Does using Creative Commons bar an artist from receiving publishing royalties, mechanical licenses, etc.?

Creative Commons offers commercial and noncommercial licenses. Under the noncommercial licenses, the artist retains the right to collect publishing and mechanical royalties for the music because he or she is granting the public the right to use the licensed work only noncommercially. A Creative Commons commercial license allows other people to make commercial uses of your work, so using it waives your right to collect royalties from the work.

Can Creative Commons licenses be retracted later?

Should you eventually be signed to a label, change your mind, etc., you cannot actually revoke a Creative Commons license. You can, however, stop distributing your work under that license at any time. In that situation, anyone who obtained a copy of your work while it was still under a Creative Commons license would be able to continue to use the work under that license's terms. Anyone who obtained a copy of the work after it was no longer offered under Creative Commons would be required to respect the work's full copyright.

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