Creative Commons isn’t magic

creative commons

This is a response to a Wired Opinion article by Ryan Singel Dear Facebook: Without the Commons, We Lose the Sharing Web.

Creative Commons isn’t the only way for a layman to license and it’s not particularly flexible. A longish and interesting Twitter conversation with Ryan was inconclusive so here, without the 140 character limit, is what I think and why, and some background.

First, I should say I’m not pro- or anti-Creative Commons, I just don’t see a use for it. For readers who don’t know, this is where I stand, broadly, on copyright. I speak informally for artists and fans (nobody else) and I favour enlightened copyright protection for music and so-called “file-sharing”. I grew up in an age of free music radio and liberal sharing of recordings. I oppose copyright maximalists, anti-copyright lobbyists, Big Content legislation, Big Technology legislation, the DMCA system, DRM and its lovechild subscription streaming, and many other things.

I exploit copyright in this blog and on my web site. I allow public educators, students and certain others to copy and reproduce my work freely—some (normally web businesses who don’t ask) are made to take it down, and that has happened. I do this without Creative Commons or legal professionals. Copyright as it stands is flexible enough. It gives creators a default set of rights but how they enforce them is their choice.

If we imagine copyright as a volume control which comes set at 10, the rights holder can choose their own level anywhere from 10 to zero. On the other hand a CC license comes set at, say, 5 or 3 and is less easy to change.

CC is not an alternative to copyright and it is not anti-copyright, although many people think it is. Creators (authors, writers, composers, performers, etc.) who oppose copyright should simply make their work public domain. Creative Commons is not for them. CC is a set of boilerplate copyright licenses (no different in principle to other blanket copyright licenses) and it does only one thing the rights holder in the street cannot do—it provides legal wording for certain fixed licensing circumstances.

For creators like me, the cottage industry if you like, legalese is something of a shrug. I can read licenses and contracts, and I have successfully advised artists against record labels, but I don’t use any technical wording myself. I have never needed it. Independent artists I know online exploit their copyrights the same way (including sharing) without legalese and without Creative Commons.

Plain English is easy and copyright law is not hard to understand. My “licenses” say: you can use it; you can’t put it on your web site; you must credit the source; and so on. We know nobody ever reads their iTunes terms and conditions, are they more likely to read a CC license? Musicians can and do say: buy one share one; pay what you like; share freely; you can remix it; please give me credit; etc. I can hear the blood draining from lawyers’ wallets as I say that, but hey, it works.

Ryan says:

By creating legal frameworks for licensing content in more flexible ways than traditional copyright laws, Creative Commons became a core part of the original Web 2.0 movement.

Sharing, re-mixing and permission to do it predates Creative Commons. I can see no aspect of CC that is equal to the flexibility and effectiveness of plain language and the imagination of creators.

Of course, from a user’s perspective, rights that curtail free exploitation might be inconvenient.

On Ryan’s broader point, I care less about Facebook and its dwindling relevance to music than about Creative Commons so I happily leave that question to others. But it seems to me anyone publishing content by submitting it to the permanent flux of social network site T&Cs could perhaps seek a simpler solution.

November music biz links

These are the links I liked in November, roughly. It’s a bit longer than I thought but they’re all worth a look.

IPO Some more Hargreaves I wouldn’t call it action, but if you’re following the story this is what they’re up to. Legal MP3 Sites Are Still Buried by Google Search Results hardly surprising. Most stuff is buried in Google apart from Google products, Wikipedia and Big Content or retail.

The Register UK’s planned copyright landgrab will spark US litigation ‘firestorm’

FMC Digital Distribution infographic very useful breakdown of the main aggregators.

The Guardian YouTube videos make people money, but songwriters rarely see any of it good article by @Helienne

Rolling Stone Survival of the Fittest in the New Music Industry

CMU More stats to celebrate 60 years of singles chart, 3.7 billion singles sold in UK since chart began

Chicago Tribune Future of Music 2012: A fight over Internet radio scraps

NPR A&M Records: Independent, With Major Appeal a good article about A&M with interesting comments from other readers.

Guardian Universal Music boss calls on commercial radio to do more for artists some interesting data in this article.

Ian Rogers Future Sound Presentation, November 2012 Ian is one of my top five commentators on the modern music business. He has data, experience and understanding and he’s a good communicator. Read this.

Wired Inside the Mansion—and Mind— of Kim Dotcom, the Most Wanted Man on the Net an excellent article telling the story of the Megaupload takedown. If Big Radio Had Pandora’s Royalty Rate, It Would Owe Billions there is certainly something askew among the various broadcast royalties but the lesson of the past is they don’t go down. Writers and artists do get ripped off from time to time but overall the content slice of the pie holds up.

Pitchfork Making Cents artist Damon Krukowski talks about streaming income.

OUP blog Copyright law and creative social norms some interesting points here about UK copyright. I was surprised to learn (elsewhere) the start-up USA record industry needed access to the British Empire market for scale. How things changed in just 50 years.

Hypebot Jacke Conte of Pomplamoose ignore the headline, long and interesting chat.

Ars Technica iTunes Through The Ages excellent summary from 2001 to 2012.

Guardian Powered by pure passion: the music venue that runs on love alone great article about The Forum, Tunbridge Wells.

Lucas Gonze’s blog Interesting DMCA flowchart infographic

Immutable/Inscrutable blog Forget piracy. The music industry’s biggest money-loser is an inability to connect with older people that used to spend money on music, and don’t anymore. Although this is from America and mostly about live venues a similar argument could be made here about record labels.

Future of Music Rising Tides a good summary of the ins and outs of the Pandora debate in America. Pandora is not available in the UK because they think we charge too much for music.

Soundcheck blog The Internet Radio Fairness Act, Explained… Sort Of

ReadWrite Play The YouTube Industry Has A Transparency Problem inside YouTube. A good account of the pitfalls and how it works.

C|Net Pandora’s Web radio bill is doomed — well, for now

Hypebot Alex Day And The Dilemma Of The DIY Pop Star

EC memo Commission agrees way forward for modernising copyright in the digital economy a press release, probably worth looking at in a couple of years when it has happened.

CMU Rights industries pre-empt fair use report with ‘Licensing UK’

Mac Rumours iTunes launches in 56 more countries not a very sexy sounding development but more significant for the record industry than anything else this year.

Nielsen Music 360 report from August has resurfaced in discussions about “music discovery”. I think record industry pundits make a mistake seeking “music discovery” solutions. Music discovery isn’t a business technique, it’s what people do when they find music, and that can be live gigs, TV, radio or word-of-mouth. Or web browsing. You can’t turn that into a tool or a process.

Guardian Media Network Can data geeks save the record labels? a good article but there are more questions under the surface. The record industry only markets to young people and ignores buyers over 30. Only half of all people buy any music and only a small percentage of buyers buy regularly or often. The industry peddles me-too content rather than creative work that reflects what musicians are doing. I doubt they can turn this round with data.

AOL Music blog YouTube and iTunes to Earn ‘Gangnam Style’ Creator Millions, Demonstrates Shift in Music Business Earnings and Spotify to earn him bugger all.

Digital Music News Pandora Just Reported a Solidly Profitable Quarter after a PR campaign to reduce what they pay for music it all looks a bit wanky.

Future Of Music Mythbusting: Data Driven Answers to Four Common Assumptions About How Musicians Make Money

CMU Top 10 tips for new bands far more promising than it sounds, a good article.

So, why are you on Facebook?

Facebook dislikeOnce upon a time Facebook was good for musicians. Like MySpace you could set up a page, collect fans and post stuff.

It was better than MySpace. It was clean and uncluttered and music apps provided extra functionality. The Facebook population grew rapidly. There was a reason to be there.

Today, things are different.

First came heavy-handed marketing, complex privacy controls, terms and conditions and seemingly endless platform disruption. But musicians stayed even as the original reasons evaporated.

The clean interface became regimented. Every page came to look identical apart from carefully controlled images. And if Facebook didn’t like your images they would disappear.

Timeline with its uniform, ugly layout. Dull blue and grey. Standard post layouts, so much less flexible than a 10 year old public domain forum. Font sizes, pictures, links… all Facebook, and all the same. My posts were often interrupted by strings of code and if I managed to get a picture where I wanted it would be clipped horribly. Two links in one post would be formatted differently.

Details of the black economy in fake accounts, fake likes and mysterious advertising usage began to emerge.

Pages were frozen and accounts were deleted for infringements of policy, but you had to guess the reason why. Facebook might discuss it if you were famous, otherwise forget it.

Finally the connection with fans was degraded unless you paid to reach them.

So why are musicians on Facebook any more? Certainly, there are one billion web users uncomfortable with email and photo sites who rarely go anywhere else. They use Facebook to keep in touch with each other and share pictures. But even if they are fans your updates probably won’t reach them.

For those who just want a social diary and family album on the web Facebook is understandable. Facebook has a lot of supporters, and good luck to them. But independent musicians can only still be there out of habit.

Catching up on October links

Apologies for the lag on these stories. I’ve been doing a lot of other things (getting a wood stove, decorating, watching DVD series and playing music) and before we launch into Christmas I’m catching up with the music biz tail-end of 2012.

I’ve also been thinking about some articles and planning some interesting changes for the web site in 2013.

So here, later than I wanted, is the October music biz news I think mattered and other stuff worth reading.

(First, an interesting comment about social networking whether you like it or not—How social networks can destroy your social life—I never thought I’d be asking people to turn their phones off, but it gets more likely.)

The Register On-demand streamed music services compared a useful table.

Opposing Views Music Licensing Company SESAC Accused of Monopolizing Radio Music another tale of American licensing going askew.

The Register Pandora boss urges 85% pay cut for musicians highlights a feature of all the new music start-ups: staff, investors and labels are paid well while musicians—who provide the content—are not. The Truth About Pandora’s Payments to Artists was a follow-up to Pandora’s PR in support of its proposed legislation to reduce royalties paid to the music industry for its content. Here’s another Music streaming: what do songwriters really get from YouTube or Pandora? by Helienne Lindvall at the Guardian. Music Business Stays in Apple’s Shadow some good background on iTunes.

Torrent Freak Artist Can’t Get Pirated Music Off iTunes, Google and Microsoft Stores an increasing problem for independent artists in music and ebooks.

Koltais Whatif The Music Industry Twelve Year Technology Cycle (A Retrospective Analysis) has some interesting charts, although the original shellac format (50 years) and future of digital (more than 12 years already) rather test his 12 year rule. Also, Big Champagne and RIAA shipments data are not great, although good music biz data is hard to find.

Telegraph Robots are already prowling the world looking for copyright infringement was another big trend in October—automated takedown systems seem to be getting out of control.

Ars Technica Have we lost 41 percent of our musicians? Depends on how you (the RIAA) count is an interesting analysis of music biz soundbite numbers and the pitfalls of using single sources.

BBC US judge orders piracy trial to test IP evidence I’m not sure this will be sorted out but it’s a good question and the big flaw in all the current 3-strikes systems around the world.

Public Domain Review Caruso The Pop Idol or at least the first recording industry megastar.

Next, November, in which not nearly as much happened for some reason.