Anyone who has followed me for a while knows that I like to give my music to the world for use in any way it see’s fit; so as long as the project the music is used in is non-commercial, and I’m credited. And I’m not the only one – the rise of the internet has seen plenty of artists give away their creative works (for both commercial and non-commercial use) to other artists for manipulation and translation – ‘remixed’, I guess is a good word for it.
But I’ve never really know what rights I’m giving away when I do this. Traditional copyright law is somewhat of a legend… people believe it exists, but under what circumstances no-one really knows. I’m not an intellectual property lawyer, as aren’t most other musicians and artists – so what rights are we giving away when we ‘give away’ our works?
In response to this, I’ve chosen to adopt the Creative Commons ‘Attribution-NonCommercial License’ for music downloads available on this website. This means my music is freely available for use in projects on the condition that the project is non-commercial, and I am credited. See… nothing has changed, except now I have a clearly understandable legal framework to back it up. Good for me.
‘Creative Commons’ you ask? For those of you who have never heard of ‘CC’, it’s a US-based not-for-profit organisation that endeavours to “strengthen the public domain” (Suthersanen, 2007). What does this mean? CC allows artists to release their creative work to the wider community for free – under a legally-binding license, featuring certain conditions chosen by the artist. These conditions can include:
- Attribution – the original creator of the work must be attributed (credited).
- Non-Commercial – the work cannot be used in a commercial project.
- Non-Derivative – the work can be used, but cannot be changed from it’s original form.
- Share-Alike – the work can be used as long as the derived work it is used in is also released under an identical license.
Certain combinations of these conditions create different types of licenses, allowing for different uses of the work. You can read more about them here at http://creativecommons.org/licenses/.
WHY USE CC?
The best idea that permeates from CC is that it provides clarity about what constitutes fair use of a creative work. Each license has a ‘human-readable’ version of the code (alongside lawyer-readable fine-print) that allows for a quick understanding of how a work can be used under a certain license (check out the license deed for the Attribution-NonCommercial License, which I’ve adopted).
CC is also good news for people searching for works to use, as it is increasing the availability of creative works in the public domain, as more artists adopt the scheme. This is especially so for indie filmmakers and media artists, who are always on the lookout for great sources of music & art with which they are legally allowed to use. I also think more YouTube users should hunt for CC-authorised materials for their videos as well – too many times do I see a video with music that has been illegally used without permission (see another post I made about this) A search tool for finding CC works is available on the CC website – http://search.creativecommons.org/.
CC also helps with distribution of a work – nothing beats a free download. And with the ability for other users to help with distribution via their own works and file-sharing, it could become a lucrative way of getting your work known in the wider community. CC is also a bit of a brand these days – a lot of people recognise the name and the logo – so it’s always a good way of branding your work with something instantly recognisable.
But is CC legally binding? Yup. In 2006, a Dutch court upheld a ruling that involved a Creative Common license – proving that Creative Commons is legally binding (https://creativecommons.org/press-releases/entry/5822). That said – not every part of these licenses have been tested in a legal setting yet – but each license provides certain provisions so that if certain parts are unenforceable, that portion is removed but the rest of the license remains intact.
LIMITATIONS OF CC
In my opinion, CC is great for all things non-commercial; but in the area of commercial licensing (for projects that make money), CC falls short. It does not offer the robust protection that more widely used legal contracts offer. But CC was not designed for commercial use – it was designed to bolster works available in the public domain, and I think it does so very successfully.
And a word of caution – once a work is released under a certain license, that license is irrevocable. That means that even if you chose to stop distributing a work after it has been released, you cannot stop anyone from using that work under the provisions set out in the original license. I guess this isn’t a limitation – it’s actually a form of protection for the end user – but it is something you need to carefully consider before placing a work under a license, especially when your license can allow for commercial use of the work.
ITS A CHOICE…
I chose CC because I felt the license allows my music to be used in a way that maximises distribution and creative use, with the protection that comes with good legal code and a recognisable brand. Best of all – these licenses are non-exclusive; as the original copyright holder I am still able to sell my music without violating the conditions of my own license.
Whether it might suit you is a completely different story, and it is up to you to ask yourself this question. Check out the Creative Commons website and see for yourself what they are doing to push the boundaries of creative copyright, and see whether any of it applies to you. I found that some of the Case Studies featured on the Australian CC website was very useful in helping me decide on how I might utilise CC. Check it out yourself at: http://creativecommons.org.au/learn-more/publications/casestudiesvol1.
Creative Commons (2011). “Frequently Asked Questions.” Retrieved 30/03, 2011, from http://wiki.creativecommons.org/FAQ.
Commons, C. (2011). “Case Studies Vol. 1.” Retrieved 30/03, 2011, from http://creativecommons.org.au/learn-more/publications/casestudiesvol1.
Suthersanen, U. (2007). “Creative Commons – The Other Way?” Learned Publishing 20(1): 59-68.