June 21, 2005  ·  Lessig

So as reported about two months ago, the Free Culture Movement turned one in April. I promised a present. At the time, we were organizing a call in recording of “Happy Birthday,” from some of the leaders of the free world. Well, finally, after some struggle clearing rights, and after lots of nitpicking on my part, we’ve released the song. Check out the page at Creative Commons, donate something in support, and download the song.

Sorry for the delay.

  • Adam

    Someone ought to write an alternative Happy Birthday song, and put it in the public domain or CC it. At least AOL Time Warner isn’t going out suing children at their birthday parties, but it’s pretty ridiculous that such a commonplace cultural element, and such a short and unsophisticated song for that matter, is wholly owned by one of the nation’s few giant media conglomerates. It’s also fairly ironic that it’s being used to celebrate the Free Culture Movement…

  • http://www.gavinbaker.com/ Gavin

    Thanks sincerely, professor.

  • Poningru

    Thanks to the CC crew for cheering us up :))
    to those who Nelson and I promised more free software (Neeru et al.) here are couple of links sorry it took couple of months :)
    open source from apples own website
    oss from sourceforge

  • http://www.locarecords.com David Meme

    I am sure that many of us will have seen the recent celebration of a one year old birthday for the ‘free culture movement’ by Creative Commons. Putting aside the presumption that Free Culture ‘started’ in 2004, I have to admit that I find their way of celebrating grotesque and backwards.

    Rather than get a songwriter to create a new song, which could then be CC licensed and contribute to free culture. They have… no, you won’t believe it… licensed ‘Happy Birthday’ from the Harry Fox agency which they have obtained a compulsory license for. Naturally this means that they cannot give any rights to the downloaders as the copyright is still owned and controlled by the copyright owners. And who, you might ask, are the copyright owners? Luckily its those extremely hard-up songwriters who struggle to make ends meet — AOL Time Warner (revenue in 2004 $42.8 billion, market cap £84 billion). Good to see Creative Commons fighting the good fight.

    They are having to pay 8.5 cents a song download in order to pay for the license which they then ask us to pay for. So let me just run that past you again – to celebrate free culture, and the freedoms it transfers to you – creative commons have licensed a closed proprietary track which cannot be given any of the freedoms that they purport to celebrate. But more than that they transfer all this money, that people might assume to be going to a good cause (you can even claim a tax rebate on the donation) is instead helping fill the coffers of an already hugely wealthy, powerful and pro-copyright multinational.

    Who on earth is making these really really stupid decisions? First the extremely ethically suspect Bzzz agency ( http://creativecommons.org/weblog/entry/5424 ) and now this. You really have to question the motivations of CC, does the management really understand what free culture is all about.

    Nice call Creative Commons.

  • http://www.locarecords.com David Meme

    Ok. It gets worse.

    If you download and listen to the track (and I thoroughly recommend that you do not) it is quite simply the most appallingly sung, arranged and produced waste of time and effort I can possibly imagine. It is really really bad. Unlistenably bad. Surely their are enough free culture people into writing good music not to produce a, and I quote, ‘techno’ version. Techno, to my understanding, does not usually signal crap (although I am not particularly a techno fan myself). It is certainly not an excuse to put rubbish like this out – that they then ask people to pay for!

    This feels like a really bad office joke. It feels cliquey, sounds like it was recorded on someones office desktop computer in Microsoft Office OneNote 2003 and mixed in the lunch-break. Somewhere, someone in CC should have looked at it and said no way.

  • http://francois.schnell.free.fr francois schnell

    Am I missing something here, a pro-Copyright gift ?

    Like Adam, Poningru and David I’m very surprised with what looks like an “all rights reserved” gift for the « Free Culture » movement.

    I like Adam’s idea « Someone ought to write an alternative Happy Birthday song » and I would go even further:

    Why not officially organize a contest to create the new « Happy (« Free ») Birthday » song of the digital age?

    Why could it be fun?

    - Every body could be concern (we all have a birthday once a year after all)
    - Ripp, mix, share contest: different musical styles, different languages (probably a great way to learn about birthday and different cultures )
    - Could become the gathering anthem of « Free Cuture » students with a possible « tradition » like this: at each member birthday the group has to go in public places an loudly sing their anthem (you can’t be hostile to someone birthday … can you ?)
    - further more people will be surprised by a birthday song they never heard (that’s were you give the leaflet and engage conversation with the public to « liberate »)
    - well parts of the above could look a little stupid but it can’t be worth than the nearly « all rights rserved » gift
    - what else?

    Professor Lessig, It’s my first post here (I read your books and listened to your speeches on the net), thank you so much for your work which opened my eyes.

    When in your excellent presentations you say « What did you do about it ?», I say you’ll find more and more people stand-up and willing to follow you in this « all rights reserved battlefield » but I think you’re last gift is sending a mix message which is not encouraging action.

    For my part, last week I had the chance to give a presentation about «Creative Commons tools for education» to a national french universty coloquim gathering about 100 teachers-reserachers and ICT heads. Very few heard before of CC but the answer was (surprisingly for me) really excellent and I think CC has a great potential in French education if we can make it known (In France we don’t have any « fair use » for education and teacher understand more and more the limits of their freedom).
    Video recording (french)
    Presentation material under CC (french)

    Will we have this contest officially supported by Creative Commons or should we organize it by ourself?

    Tanks for all :)

  • poningru

    @Francois: please do not construe my comments as an endorsment of your’s or Davids misunderstanding.
    the first statement is not sarcasm it is genuine
    the second statement is an ‘inside’ comment which no one apart from 4 people involved are supposed to get.

    P.S placement of such a statement on a public forum could considered a little idiotic but I did not expect this post to turn into an debate.

  • Christian Schaller

    Is this meant as an irony filled joke from the Creative Commons? I hope so. If not I guess the next step will be Richard Stallman giving away copies of Windows to celebrate the birthday of GNU.

  • http://francois.schnell.free.fr francois schnell

    @poningru : deeply sorry, I ‘ve obviously made a mistake here : for some obscure reasons while checking quickly I thought the sender where on top of the comments (not bellow) … weird I am …my apologies.

  • Justin

    What I find interesting is that Creative Commons did not use this as an opportunity to challenge the copyright status of “Happy Birthday to You” in its entirety. If you believe the lore, Mildred and Patty Hill’s song “Good Morning To You” was first published in 1893, the additional lyrics “Happy Birthday” were added sometime afterward and first published in 1924. I assume that proper research would involve finding the 1893 book, at the very least.

    These guys are selling a document “proving” that “Happy Birthday” is in the public domain (somehow :rolls eyes:) and here is an editorial on the various allegations that “Happy Birthday” is in fact P.D. Now, without regard to whether any or all of this is accurate, wouldn’t it be worthwhile to find out? And who is in a better situation to do this type of research and give this issue the type of attention that it deserves than the esteemed professor??

    Just a thought.

  • http://www.funender.com/music/enigmapond SWL

    I find it amazing that a little thing such as this can bring up all these copyright issues. Sounds like the whole system is due for a change…and isn’t that why we’re here. I think it was good of CC to do this…if for no other reason than to show just how insane and in need of serious re-thinking it is.

  • Rob Simmons

    I completely agree, SWL. This is a perfect birthday present – highlighting the need for a Free Culture movement on its first birthday to show how insane copyright can be on something as utterly simple as the way in which all of us celebrate each others birthdays!

    And I think it’s flat-out silly to say “Let’s have a CC contest to rewrite Happy Birthday!!!” The point is that Happy Birthday as we know it is an integral part of our culture, and has been for more or less a century – IMHO we shouldn’t be rewriting all of our culture that isn’t CC licensed. And yet it is not free, and this celebration demonstrates how hard (Lessig had a struggle!) and how time-consuming (two months!) it takes to actually comply with our terrible copyright system in doing something as simple as singing “Happy Birthday” on the internet…

  • francois schnell

    Rob Simmons wrote:
    “And I think it’s flat-out silly to say “Let’s have a CC contest to rewrite Happy Birthday!!!”

    It’s exactly because it’s flat-out-silly that it had a chance to rich a wider audience and the media.

    Can you imagine what an outsider of CC could think while reading the gift page ?

    - First he learns these copyright problems about the “Happy birthday” song and he will probably think it’s unsane.

    - Then he reads the fact provided by CC:
    1252 $ for 564 dowloads
    For copyright => 564*8.5 cents = 48 $ (only 4 %)
    Meaning something like 96 % profit for CC !!!

    He will probably be reassured to see that an unbalanced copyright is so profitfull for non rights holders. No reasons here to “spread” or make an article in the media.

    - Finnaly I doubt he will download the song and make a donation. It’s not his birthday and nothing can concerne him here.

    Unsing subtle communication is great when most people don’t miss it while reading to quickly, I think “simple” is better than “subtle” to reach a wider audience and sometimes why not fly-out-silly (isn’t it what this unbalanced copyright is?)

    PS: Here’s an anim a friend sent to me today. It’s flat-out-silly and it’s spreading like mad but it still have a message (also I’m not sure they cleared all the rights …;-) )

  • J.B. Nicholson-Owens

    Does anyone have an Ogg Vorbis or FLAC version of this?

    I’m sure I’m not the only one seeing the (unintentional?) irony in distributing exclusively in MP3, a patent-encumbered format which is useless to anyone on a free software system. I see common ground between the free culture and free software movements, and I think it’s a shame to let that go away untapped by only catering to those who have either paid the patent license fee or those running proprietary software (where, ostensibly, the fee is paid for you).

    Rob Simmons: If Happy Birthday had been “an integral part of our culture” “for more or less a century”, then that is effectively saying that over a century ago, someone had the guts to write the song (or apply new words to an extant tune) and repeat that song heavily. We can’t believe that there was an acceptable window of time in which one was allowed to make things that can become “an integral part of our culture” and now that window is closed, hence “it’s flat-out silly” to try to do something we can all share and build upon. I don’t think it’s wise to believe that some elements of our culture are somehow beyond change.

    The interesting question before us is do we have the guts to take on such a huge challenge and help educate people to better understand why we want a more collaborative culture.

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