A week or two ago, I posted an article on why you should care about Creative Commons. So, now I thought I would post an article about why I care. My previous comments on this subject are definitely part of the reason that I feel Creative Commons is important, however there are more personal reasons that I care. This won’t be the only article about this topic that I will write, I am going to try to write something about every month or so to add to this subject.
One of the things that I think about when considering artist works is their history, the artists process, inspiration and methods. The big thing that has been of interest to me is that artists don’t work in a vacuum. They aren’t creating new works out of thin air. They use other materials as inspiration or the starting points for their works.
One of the sources for these materials is frequently other artists. For example, Brahms wrote three sets of Themes and Variations which used several different sources. One was the ‘Eleven Variations on an Original Theme, in D major (1857)’, which (as the name implies) uses a theme which he penned. However, the other two works are a different stories.
For ‘Fourteen Variations on a Hungarian Melody, in D major (1854)’ Brahms used a piece of Hungarian folk music as the basis for his composition. For ‘Variations and Fugue on a Theme by Handel’ he used the Aria from the Harpsichord Suite No. 1 in B-flat Major, HWV 434 of Handel.
The Hungarian Melody and Handel Variations are important to me because they illustrate something about artists: they have a conversation or dialogue through their works. Both of these works are a way of taking, or sampling, a piece of someone else’s composition, transforming it and producing something new. In that new work, we find a continuation of thought that artists are presenting to the world and to other artists.
But it’s not just music that has seen this type of activity between artists. Writer’s frequently borrow from each other in creating their works. For example, it is largely believed that Shakespeare’s primary influence in writing ‘Romeo and Juliet’ is Ovid’s ‘Pyramus & Thisbe’.
Other writers (poets, novelists, etc.) are also known to borrow or quote from each other quite frequently. There are too many examples to lay my hands on them right now.
The point to this discussion is actually two fold: (a) artistic works are frequently not pure, new creations by an artist, (b) throughout history, artists have thought nothing about borrowing, quoting, or outright using another artists work in their own.
This is sharply different from where we are today. In our litigious, copyright laden artistic culture it has become extremely difficult for artists to continue this tradition of transformation and dialogue. Here’s just a few examples:
Chumbawamba’s follow up to their highly successful Tubthumping release ‘Shhh‘ was initially conceived with samples from many artists including The Beatles and Abba. Most of the samples were removed when the artists refused to allow the re-use of their material.
Recently, Dan Bull had a takedown order issued against a video he had put together as a commentary / criticism of a rapper suing another rapper. Confusing? Yes, this is a sign of how complicated the maze of copyright law, and the draconian nature of it’s enforcement has become. It’s also a clear sign that copyright enforcement and draconian systems are being used to interrupt the flow of dialogue between artists: Dan Bull’s work was a commentary on the works of his peers.
Recently, I started uploading my podcast to YouTube. All of the music that I use in my show is released under a Creative Commons license. And, if I transform a work (say using music stub as a backing track for a voice over), I double check with the artist no matter what license has been applied (except, possibly, if the piece is already in the public domain).
But, the fact that I am clearly within my rights to broadcast the works as part of my show, I am routinely having my videos flagged with infringement claims – and generally falsely so. Take the following image as an example:
The thing about this is that (a) the first two claims are on classical music recordings, and (b) the second two are only 4 seconds apart on two works that I don’t know. As you can see, I have disputed the claims. The works were all Creative Commons releases. What bothers me is that I have to defend my use of the material, and yet, the supposed “rights holders” have a month to deny my dispute:
And this is the part that bothers me. I basically had to fill out a legal disclaimer proving my rights. It’s not accepted that I have rights until these companies can prove that I don’t have the right to use their material. They get to declare me guilty until such time as they accept my documented proof that I have the rights that I have asserted.
What about this sounds like it is the legal or proper way to proceed with this situation? Nothing about it seems like it is reasonably legal to me. The concept of innocence until proven guilty is being thrown out the door with this system. Worse yet, I don’t even have full access to my videos. IE – I can’t download them to make a backup copy. I can only view them online.
So, in other words we now have people who are ‘claiming’ to have rights to things, whether they do or not. They can make the claim, and restrict the rights of other individuals, artists, etc. They are now directly interfering with the conversations that artists have had for nearly 500 years.
That’s one of the reasons I believe in Creative Commons, one of the reasons I support it so staunchly. The artists that are working in the Creative Commons community have, to one extent or another, dedicated themselves to making themselves part of the conversation. Making their material available for other artists to be inspired by, create new works with, or broadcasters to broadcast.