November 14, 2007  ·  Lessig

Some of you have seen the fantastic site we built at CC called “ccMixter.” Launched after Wired released a CD which invited people to remix CC licensed music, ccMixter has built a community of remix artists. Thousands of tracks within a system that tracks who remixed what. So, e.g., the technology enables you to say “this track was made by remixing these three tracks, and it has been remixed by these four other tracks.” Making transparent the community that is remix, on a platform of CC licensed content.

We launched ccMixter as a demonstration project. As with all our demonstrations, we expected eventually it would spin out to something self-sustaining. How and whether we do that with ccMixter is now something we’re beginning to consider. We’ve asked the ccMixter community about their thoughts about a change. (You can read the missive I sent to them last night in the Extended Entry below). But I wanted to state here some important framing values about this that will not change.

We are considering this change because we want ccMixter to flourish. We could likely continue to support it as it is. It’s not cheap, but it isn’t terribly expensive. We’ve been very lucky to have a brilliant musician and technologist (Victor Stone) incubate the project. I’m sure we could persuade him to continue.

But if the ccMixter community is really to flourish, it needs support beyond the support a nonprofit can provide. So we’re considering how we might permit that support to be secured.

Here are the principles that will guide this change:

  1. CC will not profit off of CC artists: We’re not an agency; we will set up no arrangement where the success of CC artists translates into financial success for CC. We’re happy to receive gifts from our community; we’re not about to receive commissions. We are therefore keen to restructure ccMixter so that any commercial benefit flowing to CC artists won’t seem an indirect benefit to CC.

  2. ccMixter will never lose its current commerce-free face. It will always be “free” in both the costless and free-speech sense. It will never have ads. It will always be a .org. The community that exists there now can continue just as it exists now. No one will have to make any change to how they contribute to the ccMixter community, if no change is what they want.

  3. Any change in ccMixter will be completely transparent, and only with the support of its community. The transparent part of this is simple. The support of the community part is complicated by fiduciary obligations imposed upon a non-profit like CC. But we will work hard to make sure that we do only what the community believes (properly interpreted of course) makes sense. Our ultimate aim here is to enable more for that community. We achieve that aim by understanding it.

  4. All the software and creative work will always remain “free”: First, the (award winning) code is free (licensed under the GPL); we will contribute the copyrights to that code to the GNU Project as soon as we can convince RMS of the capabilities of the maintainer. Second, the music is free (all licensed under terms that permit at least noncommercial sharing and remix).

I’m sure there will be more that I add to this list as we work through this. But I’d welcome other comments in the comment section to this post. We’ve not done something like this before. We need lots of eyeballs to make sure we do it right.

Here’s the letter I wrote to the members of the ccMixter community:

Hello,

I am writing to ask for your advice about a Creative
Commons project that you know a great deal about:
ccMixter. Let me start by saying “thank you” for
participating in that project. By sharing your gifts
with the community so that other musicians can learn
and create together, you have helped us make it clear
that culture is enriched when artists work together in
a legal and sane way.

As you know, ccMixter.org started as a tie-in
promotional remix contest with WIRED magazine . Thanks
to you, it has grown into a vibrant community of
quality musicians sharing not only their love for
music but the music itself, and not just with each
other but with everybody through Creative Commons
licensing. As part of a larger initiative to spread
the word about music in the Commons, that one-off
remix contest site is now part of the larger Creative
Commons Sample Pool that boasts over 50,000 CC
licensed music samples including 700 amazing a
cappellas. As sponsors of ccMixter.org and the Sample
Pool initiative we are both honored and heartened that
the music production community has taken to these
projects.

We at Creative Commons are now working through how we
can best build upon the success that ccMixter is. We
are a nonprofit. We don’t have the resources or
expertise to turn it into a business. Nor do we want
ccMixter to lose its special commons-like character.
We are therefore considering a move that I’d like to
get your feedback about.

This move would change the “ownership” of ccMixter,
and add to its potential. It would not in any way
change its importantly “free” character. In reading
the description that follows, please keep this promise
in clear view: ccMixter’s core character — as a free,
non-advertising space where people can share and remix
(at least for noncommercial purposes), will not change.
Instead, the change we are considering would simply
complement this core character, with added
functionality, and value, that we believe could help
sustain the site, and make it much more significant.

It is this change that I want to get your feedback
about. The plan currently being discussed is to
identify a competent commercial entity to take over
operations of ccMixter. Subject — again — to the
requirement that they keep the existing ccMixter.org
site as it is, this commercial entity would be free to
add commercial services beyond the services currently
provided. Again (and I know, even if I say this 100
times, there will still be some who don’t hear it),
ccMixter.org would remain as it is. It would be kept
free from any commercial interference (fees, ads,
etc.) and continue to have all the music owned by you,
licensed under CC; in other words, everything exactly
the way it is. But the company would fund the free
site by creating a new business-to-business website
devoted to serving commercial consumers of music.

This new site (call it ccMixter-Plus) will be for
commercial purposes and require that the artist signs
a (non-exclusive) contract with the company to
participate. By signing with the company, the artist
will allow the company to license music for the
financial gain of both the company and the artist.
Registered users of the free ccMixter site will be NOT
automatically be signed to the business site, That
decision will be between the artist, company and
fellow artists. No one will be required to sign. No
one’s rights to use ccMixter.org will change depending
upon whether they sign. The only change would be to
offer to artists who want it a way that they might
commercialize some of their (and everyone who wants)
creativity. And its aim would be to enable this
opportunity with minimal hassle.

So, again, ccMixter (the free site) would continue to
work the same way it always has. But it would now also
serve as a “community A&R” pool for signing artists to
ccMixter-Plus (the music licensing site). The profits
from the business, in turn, would fund the free site,
and guarantee it can continue to grow as one of the
most interesting music remix sites on the web.

How would the company be selected? As a nonprofit, we
have no choice but to auction the right to run
ccMixter-Plus to the most appropriate bidder. That’s
not necessarily the highest bidder, but the obligation
of our board must be to promote the objectives of
Creative Commons. We know that Victor Stone is eager
to participate in this new organization. Our board
member, John Buckman, founder of Magnatune, and member
of the board at EFF, may also be interested in funding
the organization. But the auction to determine the new
owner would be open to all. No insider can or will have
any special access or advantage.

So that’s the plan we’re exploring. But as I said at
the start, we won’t do anything without the support of
our community. You have made ccMixter. So I am asking
you to give us feedback about this plan. If the
feedback is strongly negative, we’ll try to find
another way to help ccMixter grow. But I am hopeful
that the response will be strongly positive. We
launched ccMixter to demonstrate an idea. You’ve
turned that idea into an extraordinary reality. I am
keen to find an effective way for that reality to
grow. Please let me know if the idea I’ve sketched
here is a way that you could support.

If you click on the following link, it will take you
to a place where we’re collecting feedback.

http://ccmixter.org/media/survey

(You must be logged in to your ccMixter account to
take part in the survey.)

Thanks again for your help.
Larry Lessig
Creative Commons

  • http://www.negativesoundinstitute.com gurdonark

    Dear Professor Lessig:

    So many times when I filled out the little text boxes on a poll, I think to myself “I wish I had space and time to do a more detailed answer”. I was pleased to see this weblog entry, whose comment space may be used to provide this space and time.

    I participate in ccmixter and am extremely pleased with its operation and the service it provides to not only remixers but also to people who wish to use CC licensed music for their projects. In contrast to the stereotypical person who seeks exposure for his/her music with some long-term desire for some form of commercial success, I am not seeking careers or stardom from my quirky music. I am solidly in the “love my non-music day job” camp. I also seek to support the new “sharing culture” through CC licenses, through co-ownership of a netlabel, through strong moral and modest financial support for other netlabels whose work I value, and through dialogue to promote CC music and culture. I am less worried about getting my music onto an episode of the television show “Lost” than amused and pleased when a Danish experimental home-video fellow posts a blip.tv with my work on the soundtrack.

    I read with interest your open letter about the future progress of ccmixter. I think it is very important for you and Creative Commons to seek out ways to help ccmixter continue to grow and bloom. In the long run, ccmixter provides an ideal non-profit “spin off”. Further, the possibility that its user base may provide a synergy for a ccmixter+ arrangement to help generate support for the mixter is interesting.

    I am pleased that you set out four inflexible principles, including:

    1. CC will not profit off of CC artists: We’re not an agency; we will set up no arrangement where the success of CC artists translates into financial success for CC. We’re happy to receive gifts from our community; we’re not about to receive commissions. We are therefore keen to restructure ccMixter so that any commercial benefit flowing to CC artists won’t seem an indirect benefit to CC.

    This is a good point. I think it is important that mixter not be an agency, commission merchant, or subscription service. Other commercial services, many of which now authorize CC licenses, now serve this function. In general, though many of them have their own virtues, they lack the cachet of CCmixter for podcasters, film-makers and website builders who need CC music. You’ve built a strong signal. It’s important to avoid making mixter into part of the noise.

    At the same time, the process of setting up a mixter+ should involve a way to monetize the access to the benefit of CC. In an earlier generation, people might argue that fund-raising of this type through an auction or similar process would be undesirable. However, I think it’s important that if a mixter+ relationship is sufficiently valuable that people might bid for it, that CC be open to realize that value for the promotion of Creative Commons uses. I suggest as a matter of symmetry that any proceeds, if any, of such a monetization should in the spirit of the thing be devoted to projects promoting CC music. Commercial funding offers real possibilities to help CC spread.

    ccMixter will never lose its current commerce-free face. It will always be “free” in both the costless and free-speech sense. It will never have ads. It will always be a .org. The community that exists there now can continue just as it exists now. No one will have to make any change to how they contribute to the ccMixter community, if no change is what they want.

    This is very important. The community that we have now has a personal value to its users which is why we come and stay. It is different than a “social network” per se, but instead a “mode of sharing” which is user-friendly. A concomitant of this principle is that any commercial concern offering a mixter+ must be independent of the core ccmixter.org. I believe that ccmixter.org could be a stand-alone non-profit, and achieve your inflexible goal. I am skeptical that ccmixter could be owned by a commercial concern and maintain that goal.

    All of us over 25 have experienced at least one key service being acquired and changed. I think of AOL’s takeover of Compuserve. I was a user of both services prior to that takeover, and did not and do not have
    negative things to say about AOL. Yet prior to the takeover, Compuserve had vibrant forums which were a uniquely successful (in the sense of providing a good place to be) closed social networking community.
    These forums lost their character after the takeover. I am concerned that this may be inevitable with a for-profit takeover. I am all for for-profit companies. I just know their priority need not be our priority–preservation about what is vibrant about the mixter.

    I am concerned that any spinoff of the mixter be created such that a core non-profit ensures the continued operation of the base functions, while any for-profit mixter+ contracts with the non-profit to provide the additonal services/options. I know, vagely, that non-profit issues will dictate a set of things that would work and not work in this vein, and I trust that an appropriate mode could be found to ensure the core functions are presided over by a non-profit immune from the temptation to commercialize the users.

    Any change in ccMixter will be completely transparent, and only with the support of its community. The transparent part of this is simple. The support of the community part is complicated by fiduciary obligations imposed upon a non-profit like CC. But we will work hard to make sure that we do only what the community believes (properly interpreted of course) makes sense. Our ultimate aim here is to enable more for that community. We achieve that aim by understanding it.

    This is much appreciated, as is your poll and open letter. I see your effort as an opening of dialogue rather than a comment period before a fait accompli.

    In the mixter community, we tend to be non-monolithic. A few of us are professional or near-professional.
    A goodish few want to take the next step to become professionals. Many of us are avowedly non-professional, while some of us (as with myself) are amused by the idea of anyone imagining that we imagine that our music could ever be professional. Why ccmixter works now is that it caters to all of us. The way in which it could work better is by having the clout to continue to spead its “word” about how Creative Commons music can transform the way we share and experience music.

    For me (and I believe for many in the netlabel movement), CC music
    is about a transformation of music culture. It is not only a logical standardization of licenses, but also
    a logical outgrowth of prior movements such as mail art, tape exchange, and even the folk music tradition of a shared common song heritage. These movements posited the simple idea that the sharing of the arts need not be controlled by institutions or population centers of a mainstream culture.

    CCmixter brought to the mainstream the simple yet compelling concept that if people make their music and samples more open-source, then a body of shared work can be available throughout the internet and in other uses. Netlabels, in many ways, are taking this idea and CC licenses already into places mixter does not fully go. Yet mixter has an important role as mixter shows the promise of helping educate a broader public of the possibility in this type of sharing.

    My dream for ccmixter is that it not take any step to diminish itself, but that it have the clout to promote and grow. If a spin-off option keeps its virtues and mission but gives it more ability to spread its word, that’s a good thing, even if a commercial concern is involved. But it’s important to keep to the base principle of keeping its virtues.

    All the software and creative work will always remain “free”: First, the (award winning) code is free (licensed under the GPL); we will contribute the copyrights to that code to the GNU Project as soon as we can convince RMS of the capabilities of the maintainer. Second, the music is free (all licensed under terms that permit at least noncommercial sharing and remix)

    This is a good thing. I hope that CC will continue to fund sofware options to facilitate CC music. A “user-simple” web template for a netlabel website might be an easy-to-make but invaluable to share such project.
    CChost could be adapted with expertise, but the technological gap should not bar the creation of more CC sharing sites.

    Thank you again for soliciting our points of view.

    Best, Robert Nunnally
    who records as gurdonark

  • http://www.gavinbaker.com/ Gavin Baker

    I think the plan is quite reasonable.

    I hope there is some flexibility in the desire to hand ccMixter over to a commercial entity; if anyone (say, a group of users) made a proposal to run ccMixter on a non-commercial basis, it should be considered equally with commercial proposals. I’d like to see this clarified.

    I’m not sure how necessary the “no ads” inflexibility is. It might make more sense to say “the board will prefer proposals that do not foresee deploying advertising”.

    It’d be wise, I think, to keep the door open to business models besides those envisioned in the ccMixter+ model. I could imagine using ccMixter as the foundation for a number of services for the musician community, such as a job/gig board, promotional tools, tie-in with self-publishing or print-on-demand services (e.g. Lulu)… you get the idea.

    One weakness in the plan is that CC can impose whatever conditions it wants on the transfer. Once it’s sold, though, couldn’t it be re-sold, with different conditions?

    But I’m not terribly concerned. I expect ccMixter will end up in good hands. And if something goes awry, switching is at least feasible, since all the code and the music are free.

    This would seem a great match for two entrepreneurs who already serve on CC’s board, John Buckman or Joi Ito :)

  • CoffeeTrim

    Hi there.

    Well, despite opening up a ‘ccmixter plus’ (as the project is introduced onto the mail) could at first sounds juicy, as actually musicians would have more satisfaction out from their productions.

    What at the mean time is such a gamble is that CCMixter is not born as a mp3 download store nor the artist involved so far neither.

    I am not underestimating artist & platform, I am rather saying that things turn onto another ground when you have to face things like commerciability and appereance.

    My experience thought me that is very hard selling music when the artist and the music itself is too tied with free distribution & free download.

    In other speech if you have released 25 tracks under the name of ‘Dj Purple’ (it s an example) you will surely have hard times when you put the 26° for sale.

    Why?

    Because people know you as an Indie producer, so next to go against your ‘reputation’, potential ‘customers’ won’t buy your track as there are already from you too many for free.

    Well, if you can sort this thing out by chosing an optional nick name, you get the same problem with the portal name…

    CCMixter Plus sells music..ok.

    But why should I buy a track from CCMixter Plus if I can download loads of free nice tracks from CCMixter?

    Well, i think that this kind of point would have been senseless if CCMixter was a dj-music-oriented portal, so despite you can download/share/remix each track, you are not allowed to play tracks during dj sets (as that is using tracks for commercial purposes), so, in theory you would have had to buy the track from CCMPlus in order to play during a party.

    CCmixter do not go toward this kind of music though, as the most relevant genre within is the mellow-urban flavoured one.

    Guys, it’s very disappointing when you work hard for a track and you do not get feedback, at the same way is a pitty when you put for sale a track that do not get any audience.

    Please, think about that if you open up a music store you have to design a marketing plan too, as selling is involved and competition is HUGE.

    At this stage, despite i think that it could be a good idea, i do not see the right ground to make things working, as I said, ‘recycling’ portal name & artist would be a painfull falling down.

    Thank you for your attention.

    Best Regards.

    CoffeeTrim

  • http://blog.miraverse.com/ Michael Tiemann

    I am very keen to see ccMixter succeed, and am also keen to build facilities that can draw from and contribute to the creative commons it represents. I invite ccMixter-ites who would like to contact me to do so and look forward to more actively participating in ccMixter’s present discussions.

  • http://www.pureblogic.com Kila Morton

    Hello. I am putting together a website called Pure Blogic. The site is about resources for bloggers. I came across your post as I was doing research for content on my site. As I read your post, a thought came to mind. Bloggers often try to monetize their blogs to derive income. They do this in a variety of ways. They sell ad space, they use Google Adsense and they sell classified ad space to get money. Before you start thinking about giving away ccMixter, which is a wonderful site, why not start by selling ad space to advertisers since you already have a following. You can also sell space to artists who want to promote themselves. Set up a relationship with a credit card processor and allow artists to sell directly from your site. You charge a monthly fee and the artists gets to sell their music. If you don’t want to do that, you can also sell subscriptions for additional services – free members, premier members, super premier members. That would allow you to generate income. No matter what, anyone you sell the site to is going to try to profit from it in some way. Since this is a site you obviously care about, you may as well be the organization that controls the site and profits from it. You are going to care about the quality far more than someone who just comes in and purchases the site because its your baby. You can also simply ask for donations. You can spin the site off into a certified non-profit, collect donations and do fundraising. There are a lot of options. I hope it works out in a big way. I think the site and the idea behind it is just wonderful.

  • http://blog.emxr.com spinmeister

    I’m supportive of the concept in principle, because I’ve seen the co-operation / sponsorship of free software around a commercial entity work very well in quite a number of cases. If it can be done in the field of software, why not in the field of music?.

    In the particular case of ccMixter, my reaction will entirely depend on WHO the commercial entity is. Who backs it, who runs it. If it’s an established business, do they have track record consistent with the ideals of the creative commons and ccMixter? If it’s a new business, is it backed and run by people with track record and a business plan consistent with those aforementioned ideals?