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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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:
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
We at Creative Commons are now working through how we
can best build upon the success that ccMixter is. We
are a nonprofit. We dont 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 Id 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: ccMixters 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 dont 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
ones 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. Thats
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 thats the plan were exploring. But as I said at
the start, we wont 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, well 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. Youve
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 Ive sketched
here is a way that you could support.
If you click on the following link, it will take you
to a place where were collecting feedback.
(You must be logged in to your ccMixter account to
take part in the survey.)
Thanks again for your help.