One of the things that seems to be the most confusing to people regarding creative commons licenses is the “free” part. The main thing to remember / understand is that the “free” in Creative Commons does not necessarily mean without monetary compensation. How an artist is compensated for their work is dependent on their needs.
This is one of the ways in which Creative Commons licensing helps support artists with a level of flexibility that is not duplicated within the standard means of copyright. Creative Commons allows the artist to control the freedom that they give their audience
Many artists are taking the approach that releasing their work under a license that allows their audience to copy, share and create derivative works because they believe this approach is positive. By allowing this freedom they are engaging with their audience, they are learning what people want to listen to, how they want to hear their work.
But, that isn’t to say that they are bypassing monetary compensation. Instead these artists are building a following that are more likely to purchase physical goods (shirts, hats, CD’s, records), or go to their performances.
In some cases the artist may make their works available, but restrict them from being used commercially. In this case, they are allowing their audience to listen, share and even make derivative versions of their work: however if the work is to be used in a setting where someone would be compensated for its use, such as in a video or on as part of an event where a DJ is being compensated, then the artist may require that use be cleared with him or her. The artist has the right as part of the clearance to seek compensation for the use of their work.
Of course, in some cases, the artist may choose to bypass many of these provisions, or control them even more. It’s not unusual for an artist to not allow derivative versions of their work to be created without their consent.
However, no matter what rights the artist decides to allow their audience they are not setting aside their rights to compensation. That even means that the artist may release their works on a website that requires up front compensation prior to download.
What? How does that make sense when I can copy and share their work?
Even if the artist has allowed sharing their work, they may feel that there is benefit in charging money up front. This is where the artist is judging their needs, and the needs of their audience.
For example, the artist may have sufficient expenses in producing a work they feel they need to have some form of income directly from that work. Or, they may be using the compensation in order to make live performances possible.
But how does that benefit the audience? Well, supporting the artist directly is a way of showing the artist how much their work means. If an artist produces a work, but no one grabs a copy of it or compensates them at all for their work, then it is likely to mean that no one is interested in what they are doing.
But, there is another component to compensating an artist: it is a recognition that their use of a Creative Commons license is beneficial. It allows you, the listener, the reader, the viewer to say to the artist: I support your willingness to make works available to the larger society that will not go away at some third-parties whim. You have committed your work to the Commons, where it will remain throughout the copyright term, and beyond into the Public Domain (Commons).
Now, even if that wasn’t enough, the artist may have other things for their audience that become possible with compensation. For example, one artist I supported recently sent me a login to a website with additional videos, and other information about his upcoming releases. Other artists frequently let me know when they are working on a new release, or they are on tour, and other tidbits.
Granted, not all artists do this. And not all of them charge the same amount for their releases. Some of the have a “name your price” approach, allowing their audience to vote with their money as to how much their work means.
This is why I support Creative Commons: it allows the artist to produce work, and seek the level(s) of compensation they feel is appropriate. In a respect, it is a more market oriented approach than the traditional media outlets have allowed. I have yet to see a traditional media outlet that would allow an artist to decide how to produce, release, and derive an income from their work. The choices in those matters are something that the artist trades (and possibly more) when they choose to work with a traditional media company.
Preserving the freedom of choice for the artist does not mean that they have to bypass compensation.