I authored an earlier post about how copyright law is being interpreted in the case of sampling and mash-ups. Is reform on the way? Sampling, mashups, and other methods of audio artistry have caused many in the music world to question whether or not we need to update the 1976 Copyright Act to ease the burden that is laid upon the shoulders of sound collage artists.
Organizations like Creative Commons are leading the movement to redefine the licensing of works to both clarify (and many times encourage) the conditions under which the work may be used by others. This system, which functions under current copyright law, allows an artist to both maintain certain rights associated with their work, yet also offer it up for use by other artists to sample or remix.
For a song covered by traditional copyright law, a remix artist must obtain permission for both the Publishing and Master Recording copyrights to sample a work by another artist (most of the time, this involves paying royalties to one or more parties). Even artists like our favorite therapy-dependent Napster enemies, Metallica (click to hear “The Small Hours” Real Audio from an archive of Stefan’s show), who would seem likely to refuse permission for anyone to sample their songs, have actually encouraged cut-up artists to use their songs. Who would’ve guessed it? Metallica lent support during the recent crack-down on Beatallica (Beatles/Metallica parody mashups), and even allowed Ja Rule to use a sample in “We Did It Again.”
David Bowie also allows others to sample and remix his songs, but not indiscriminately (click to hear a Ziggy-approved mashup by Go Home Productions in Real Audio). Like many mainstream artists, Bowie wants to receive compensation when his works are used and preserve some control over how others reappropriate his songs. In the case that someone attaches a message or agenda to his work that he does not agree with, Bowie still has the power to refuse permission for its use under current copyright law.
Creative Commons licenses, however, take a very first amendment-inspired approach to copyright (you can choose from any option below, or compatible combination thereof):
Attribution. You let others copy, distribute, display, and perform your copyrighted work — and derivative works based upon it — but only if they give you credit.
Noncommercial. You let others copy, distribute, display, and perform your work — and derivative works based upon it — but for noncommercial purposes only.
No Derivative Works. You let others copy, distribute, display, and perform only verbatim copies of your work, not derivative works based upon it.
Alike. You allow others to distribute derivative works only under a
license identical to the license that governs your work.
Public Domain. Free for all. Literally.
These licenses differ from regular ol’ copyright law with respect to artistic control and compensation. Under Creative Commons, you may choose to prevent others from using your work, but only under the following circumstances (depending on your choice of licenses): if they do not give you credit, if they make money by using it, if they do not reproduce your work verbatim, or if they do not offer up the resulting work for other Creative Commons licensees. With a Noncommercial license, David Bowie, who might disapprove of someone using his work in a context supporting, say, the Fox network, couldn’t disallow this use of his work unless Fox was making money from it. He also could not collect royalties from others using his songs in their works under any of these licences.
Creative Commons is simply encouraging idea sharing, by making it simple for artists to identify works they may sample or use in their own pieces without having to obtain special permission or paying royalties.
A new book was just released under a Creative Commons licence, documenting how copyright law is stifling art. Check out “Freedom of Expression®: Overzealous Copyright Bozos and Other Enemies of Creativity” by Kembrew McLeod. Follow the link, and you can download the entire book as a PDF... how novel. This same fellow is also behind the upcoming film, “Copyright Criminals.”