July 29, 2003  ·  Lessig

The Pet Rock Stars have completed two songs from the blogathon. As previously reported, the work in progress, and the final songs were posted under a Creative Commons license. Within a day, their creativity has sparked other creativity. Erik Ostrom has posted a cover of Southdown, one of the two songs the Pet Rock Stars wrote. Here are the two songs Shannon Campbell and Scott Andrew wrote: Southdown and Nothing New. Here’s Scott’s take on all this re-creativity. And here is the song Erik Ostrom made: Stork Carpets.

  • http://home.telepath.com/~hrothgar Timothy Phillips

    The field of theconcerns implicitly raised by this thread overlaps with the fields of concerns raised by these two articles:

    In Defense of Mimicry (National Writing Project)

    Spin Cycle (Christian Science Monitor)

    yet “Spin Cycle” and “In Defense of Mimicry” are getting far less attention from copyfighters than they deserve.

    As interesting as “In Defense of Mimicry” itself is the lame “Editor’s note” that has been appended. The note states:

    “The whole realm of working with other people�s words�from proper citation and plagiarism to copyright infringement and permissions�is hot precisely for the reason Dierking exposes: it�s gray. Copyright law isn�t definitive around issues of ‘fair use.’”

    So the “whole realm of working with other people’s words”, for these supposedly experienced editors, does NOT include the public domain!

  • Rob

    From their perspective, there is no public domain. Therefore, why mention it?

    Nobody’s going back and borrowing words from roaring 20′s songs. Nobody’s covering Scott Joplin. Every song that is covered by a new artist today is a song that is under copyright protection. I know I’m getting old, songs that were new in the 80′s and 90′s are being covered now.

    But it’s not really about copyright at all. I think in their hearts a lot of artists don’t mind their work being imitated or even directly copied; in the music world, they probably did a lot of that themselves. It’s about money, about getting paid. In our capitalist society, if you don’t get paid, you lose. In the realm of writing, where plagiarism is the ultimate sin, what is really lost when someone copies someone else’s words? Do the ideas somehow have less merit due to the fact that someone other than their inventor wrote them or spoke them? No, all the talk about “attribution” and “proper citation” is really about getting paid, either for the work in question or for future works that an author could charge more for because they wrote novel X which was a bestseller, so they should get more for novel Y.

    Have we finally reached the point where our greed is no longer sustainable? We hire armies of lawyers to sue those who violate our copyrights. If we win, we pauperize the offender. If we lose, we pauperize ourselves. In any case the lawyer gets paid, and what did he really create? Nothing. I knew I should have gone to law school…

  • JPD

    I’m skeptical about whether the Creative Commons licenses will really be used by any artists doing significant work. This strikes me as a geeky experiment that preoccupies geeky people who happen to play music, or geeky people who happen to write books.

    Writers and musicians doing really significant work, I suspect, are more selfish and less geeky than the people using these licenses. They’re motivated by a selfish passion that doesn’t much care about whether other people are free to recycle their work. Would Faulkner have availed himself of a Creative Commons license? I doubt it.

    Would Faulkner have used work made available by a Creative Commons license? I doubt it.

    The creative works cited here, as having Creative Commons licenses, seem more like geeky experiments than valuable creative work. They shout, “Hey, look at what we can do with a Creative Commons license! I bet Larry Lessig will publicize what we’re doing on his blog!”

    Not exactly a recipe for great art. The best work, I think, is work done by people who — for better or worse — have other things to worry about than which Creative Commons license to use.

  • Mocking JPD

    I�m skeptical about whether the Free Software licenses will really be used by any programmers doing significant work. This strikes me as a geeky experiment that preoccupies geeky people who happen to write software, or geeky people who happen to write applications.

    Programmers and Designers doing really significant work, I suspect, are more selfish and less geeky than the people using these licenses. They�re motivated by a selfish passion that doesn�t much care about whether other people are free to recycle their work. Would Bill Gates have availed himself of a Free Software license? I doubt it.

    Would Bill Gates have used work made available by the GPL? I doubt it.

    The creative works cited here, as having Free Software licenses, seem more like geeky experiments than valuable creative work. They shout, �Hey, look at what we can do with a Free Software license! I bet Richard Stallman will publicize what we�re doing on his blog!�

    Not exactly a recipe for great computer science. The best work, I think, is work done by people who � for better or worse � have other things to worry about than which Free Software license to use

  • Rob

    Unfortunately, Mr. Mocker, your mockery falls short of your mark. All the arguments JPD made against the CC license and you quoted in attempted satire are in fact the arguments made by Microsoft against Free/Open Source Software. So it comes across as not so much mocking as reinforcing the arguments by showing how they can apply to another industry.

    JPD said:

    Writers and musicians doing really significant work, I suspect, are more selfish and less geeky than the people using these licenses. They�re motivated by a selfish passion that doesn�t much care about whether other people are free to recycle their work. Would Faulkner have availed himself of a Creative Commons license? I doubt it.

    We will never know whether Faulkner would have used a CC license, as he is no longer creating. I have to disagree with your “selfish passion” theory as an argument against the CC license, however. Always in interviews with artists, when asked why they created what they did, they respond in terms of something they felt they had to create for their own satisfaction. It’s never “I wrote this novel so I could rake in the bucks.” I think you’re right when you say they really don’t care one way or the other about people re-using their ideas; that being the case, why would they care whether their work was under traditional copyright or under a CC license? The only answer I can see is…money.

    The second argument, that CC is obviously a failure because there are no “significant” works of art being released under it, is a little premature I think. CC has been around for less than a year, while traditional copyright goes back centuries. Let’s get back together in 200 years and see if CC can still claim no great works. And there’s that pesky money thing again…unless artists can make money under CC, they have no incentive other than altruism to use it. Even so, I can see established artists who are already financially secure possibly electing to use the CC license…give them time. I don’t think Prof. Lessig has grandiose plans for CC to totally supplant traditional copyright within ten years, if ever, and if *any* work gets released under CC it’s a victory for the public domain.

  • http://www.shannoncampbell.info/journal Shannon Campbell

    Being one of the so-called “geeky people” referenced in the third comment, I take severe offense to the statement that people doing significant work would probably not utilize the CC licenses. Have you listened to my work?

    Have you listened to Scott’s?

    It borders on arrogance to say that my own work is significant, but then again, I’m not sure what you mean by significant. I think there’s a very large possibility that significance in relation to music is undefinable, because peoples’ ideas of music that changes the world is so vastly different. I could name 20 people that think Bob Marley was one of the greatest songwriters of all time, and another 20 that think he was an overrated dope fiend. How about 20 that think Stephen Foster’s work was invaluable – and another 20 that think he was a blithering bigot?

    Yeah, the way we went about what we went about could be considered geeky – but I’ve already gotten numerous emails asking about our setup, and how we ever accomplished what we did. Emails that use words like “pioneers,” even though I hardly think that’s what we are.

    My songs do extremely well on the internet – I receive somewhere between 5,000 and 10,000 downloads a month, and those are just the songs hosted on my server. Due to the incredible amount of bandwidth they eat up (8GB last month), people continue to step forward to donate server space.

    And I haven’t asked for a penny, not in the years and years I’ve been offering my material freely on the internet. I believe in what I do enough that emails and comments are enough to sustain me, and although I have had quite a few generous contributions towards the recording of a new album I never begrudge the thousands of people who download my songs and never give me a penny. It’s enough that they’re listening.

    You’ll notice that the material on my personal website is not licensed under Creative Commons – a situation which is about to change shortly. When the CC licenses first popped up on the scene, I was too unsure of exactly what the language meant to trust my blood, sweat, and tears to them. After much discussion this past weekend from my buddy Scott, and the many examples of just what can happen when the CC licenses are used, I’ll be implementing them shortly, and with great pleasure.

    What’s becoming available on the internet these days, for artists of all modalities, is a blessing – and the naysayers are nothing but the Flat Earth Society of the 21st century.

    And by the way, Mr. Lessig – thanks for your kind words, and for seeing what we’ve done for what it is, and not what you think it should be.

  • http://www.scottandrew.com scottandrew

    They�re motivated by a selfish passion that doesn�t much care about whether other people are free to recycle their work.

    I would add that our selfish passion don’t much care about whether other people consider our work significant or not, either.

    And: what Shannon said. Fo’ shizzle.

  • http://www.troutworks.com/Joycelog Troutgirl

    The mistake JPD makes is a common one: not understanding that “great art” doesn’t pop up from the middle of nothing, like Athena emerging from the head of Zeus. S/he appears to wholeheartedly buy into the little myth of the heroic artiste, living in solitary squalor in an attic somewhere and never speaking to anyone for years, then emerging with The Great and Totally Original American Novel in a paper bag. In fact, art generally emerges from complex and serendipitous networks of relationships and influences. For every “great” work of art, there have to be thousands of active artists out there trying their hardest — should they be scorned if they don’t become Faulkners, or praised for doing their utmost to express themselves?

    Also, I find JPD’s view of artistic collaboration and borrowing to be quite reductive. Websites like this one have exhaustively chronicled dozens of examples of “great art” or commercially-successful ventures that exist because of borrowing. James Joyce’s Ulysses. Seamus Heaney’s Beowulf. Disney’s Snow White. The current film League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. On and on and yawn. Of course this type of borrowing happens at all levels of artistic merit — but it certainly does happen at the top pretty frequently. Creative Commons is just a mechanism to enable it to happen more often, with works that are not yet out of copyright as all the above examples were.

    What really interested me about Scott and Shannon’s collaboration was the chance to get an inside peek into how two songwriters and musicians blended their talents. When I see how much it evidently helped each of them to be able to draw on the skills of the other, I have a much greater appreciation for how much a little nudge from an unexpected direction can impact a creative artist. If Creative Commons is one means to provide that nudge, as in the case of Mr. Ostrom’s cover, I think it can only be a good thing.

  • matt

    It seems a lot of the arguments above are missing a crucial point about CC licensing – it’s not entirely about fighting the corporate IP machine; one of its major (if not THE major benefit) is that it provides a simple way to define copyright terms.

    Its accessible. Most people have no clue how copyright works; and even if they wanted to share their work, wouldn’t be able to create a legal framework by which to do it. What CC does is provide a choice that is simple to use and understand, both for the original creator of a work, and anyone wanting to use it.

    Think of the license, the logos, and the Commons Deeds as documents not meant to protect a work, but as communication.

  • The Mocker

    “Unfortunately, Mr. Mocker, your mockery falls short of your mark.”

    Rob, my point was that the same argument could be applied to free software and it would be equally worthy of ridicule. Sure, the argument is the one that Microsoft uses, but don’t you mind it amusing? There are indeed many, many great works of free software, not the least of which is the Apache server we’re all using to view this content, or the linux software this site is being served from. The GPL has been around 12 years now and there are quite a few showcase projects. Creative Commons is going on 8 months, and there are arguably some significant projects (I’m thinking of Cory Doctorow’s book as one prime example), but who knows what it will be like in 10 years?

  • matt

    This goes a fair bit beyond the rather esoteric bits of the web – gcc is used to make things light traffic light controllers, engine control systems, and telephone switches. From a point of the ubiquity of its products, it could be some of the most successful software ever.

    A couple of for-instances: 1-800 numbers, 900 number, calling cards, number portability and SMS messages for a couple of major US carriers are all handled by switches programmed using gnu-derived tools. One level removed, perhaps, from an end product, but its hard to deny that it’s “significant”, even if you think only a nerd could care about a web server. It seems plausible to me that this sort of second-level use is where CC might flourish – not necessarily the works themselves, but in their integration into other works.

  • JPD

    Interesting comments. I agree with you, Rob, that it is too early to tell what the significance of the Creative Commons licenses will be in ten or twenty years.

    But Rob, when you say that the first Hollywood films were incredibly amateurish, you’re talking about an early foray into technology. I’m not skeptical about the power of this technology to transform the world. Your example makes it sound as though I am saying, “Oh, this internet fad will never amount to anything.”

    I am skeptical of the power of this intellectual property scheme, the CC licenses, to spur the creation of significant works of art, because I think that the most talented artists aren’t as interested in intellectual property constructs as the people who read this blog are.

    The best example somebody could cite here was Cory Doctorow’s book. Bad example. That is a book written by a geek, for geeks. I’m not saying it’s not a good book, but it’s not representative of literature as a whole — it’s written by an EFF employee; of course he cares about Creative Commons licenses.

    In my view, insisting that CC licenses have a chance of catching on in a significant way among significant artists of various genres, is like insisting that Linux has a fighting chance of catching on among ordinary computer users. (The average computer user needs Linux on his machine, about as much as he needs a hole in his head.) Both of these things — CC licenses and Linux — are, and will remain, the province of idealistic geeks, who find moral issues in technologies and intellectual property constructs, that most people couldn’t care less about.

  • http://home.telepath.com/~hrothgar/pd_size_model_1.html Timothy Phillips

    JPD seems to take “significant artist” to be identical to “representative” artists. A “representative” artist, by JPD’s definition, appears to be one who does not care about the moral implications of copyright. Apparently anyone who uses a CC license, by JPD’s definition, cares about the moral implications of copyright. Therefore, closing the circle, anyone who uses a CC license cannot in JPD’s view be “significant”.

    If “significant” is taken to be a judgement about the quality of the work or works, not of the philisophical tastes of the author, then one can reach a different conclusion.

    Some of Charles Ives’s (died 1954) music was, according to reports, intended to be placed by its author in the public domain. According to one of his biographers. He agreed to submit music to be published in _New Music_ provided the periodical did not claim copyright in it:

    It seems that [Charles Ives] had been incensed to find that, according to its custom, _New Music_ had taken out a copright in the composer’s name for the part of his Fourth Symphony that it had issued. Ives stalked up and down the room, growing red in the face to an alarming degree and flailing the air with his cane: “EVERYBODY who wants a copy is to have one! If anyone wants to copy or reprint these pieces, that’s FINE! This music is not to make money but to be known and heard. Why should I interfere with its life by hanging on to some sort of personal legal right in it?”
    –Crowell and Crowell, _Charles Ives and his Music_, p. 121.

    If this anecdote is true, and if _New Music_ abided by the condition, then some of Ives’ work that was published in _New Music_ subsequently to this incident might now be in the public domain.

    Copyright is now CLAIMED in many of Ives’s works–in my opinion, falsely in some cases, though I would never have the resources to litigate the issue against those who would, let us imagine, argue that the 1922 publication of _114 Songs_ was a “limited” rather than a “general” publication. But at least one composer, some of whose works are taken by historians and musicians to be “significant” works, is reported to have tried to release some his works to the public domain because he did not want to interfere with the life of his works. Whatever one may think of Ives and his music, this example shows that it is possible to define “significant” in such a way that it is not automatically exclusive of those who have an interest in the moral and philosophical interest of copyright.

  • JPD

    Great example, Timothy. That is an example of a significant artist who did care about the concerns underlying CC licensing.

    For artists like Ives, who did care about these issues, the CC licensing scheme is perfect.

  • Tom C.

    dont forget bob dylan whos been basing many of the melodies, lyrics, and some entire songs hes become renowned for on folk and blues songs from the 30-50s. he was able to take old traditions and make something contemporary and relevant out of it that we can all still enjoy.

  • Chris

    Important points have bene covered, but I’d just like to point out…

    Rob said:

    “It�s never �I wrote this novel so I could rake in the bucks.�

    True, but now you need to ask whether that is the truth or whether it is because their PR team/common sense tells them they will end up as a pariah if they admit that they are only in it for the money…

  • natt

    Considering how many novels do “rake in the bucks” I think it’s a pretty good bet that it’s not just a PR angle in the general case. People tend to greatly overestimate how much creative artists make from their work.

    That being said, there’s still the apochryphal Lennon and McCartney line about going home to write themselves a new swimming pool.

  • http://journal.drowning.org/ Erik Ostrom

    Somehow I missed out on the comments here, but I feel like I should say something, late though it is.

    First, I think JPD’s comments about artistic motivation ignore the creeping context of intellectual property law. I don’t know about Faulkner, but Shakespeare could base Romeo and Juliet on a poem he’d read precisely because he didn’t have to worry about Arthur Brooke suing him for copyright violation. Artists driven by selfish passion today may or may not be familiar with intellectual property law, but they can be prosecuted under it either way.

    I’m just not sure what to make of the comments about my own work (as one who has adopted a CC license). I don’t think my own songs are “significant,” except to the people who like them. But I don’t think my awareness of IP issues is what makes them insignificant.

    We all think about things other than our art. William Carlos Williams was a practicing physician. Faulkner drank. If they had time for these activities and could still write Paterson and As I Lay Dying, then our next great genius can spare a few hours to think about copyright. Or maybe the genius after that.

    Finally, I can’t speak for anyone else, but I’ll happily concur that my cover of “Southdown” was a “geeky experiment”. What’s wrong with geeky experiments?

  • http://www.20six.de/honymann Honymann

    I agree with Erik here: Experiments that have appeared “geeky” on first glance have often produced the most innovative ideas…

  • http://honymann.blogspot.com Ynohann Turniere

    I think that “significance” in art always is some very personal. That is what gives art an emotional component as well, which is so important for art, especially music.