Creative Commons music resource Jamendo has done a redesign, the second since 2012 (which is never a good sign).
As with the 2012 “improvement”, the current redesign also includes the “feature” of taking away functionality from users. There is no more complex searching. You get a text box, and that’s it. No refining by tags, keywords, genres, license, country of origin, language, nope, nobody needs any of that. And those of us that used it, well, too bad, but we don’t count.
That is the download page for “I Will Crawl” by Jeffrey Philip Nelson. As you can see, the license is CC-BY, attribution-only. And Jamendo is telling you, before you download it, that you do not have permission to use it in a video.
The problem with that is it lacks the quality of truth. You do, in fact, have permission to use it in a video, so long as you give proper attribution to the artist.
I kicked about this the moment I saw it, complaining on Twitter and also on GetSatisfaction about the dishonesty involved. I got, as you can see, no direct response at all.
But my complaint was noticed, because the scare-language was removed.
Note that the change also introduces inaccuracy through imprecise phrasing. “You can download this track for free.” That leaves what you may do with it after download deliberately ambiguous.
Because Jamendo appears to be run by lying corporate weasels, the scare-language was only removed from the CC-BY licensed downloads.
The problem here is that it’s just not true that you can’t use this music in videos. You can, so long as you abide the terms of the licenses.
Jamendo is lying to its users about the very thing on which it has built its business: Creative Commons licenses.
This is the straw that broke this camel’s back. I’m done sending any traffic at all to Jamendo. I may continue downloading music from them, but anything I share will be mirrored at the Internet Archive, and that will be the link that I share.
I’m also very open to starting a crowdfunding campaign to mirror Jamendo’s entire library of music, and setting up a site where users can find what they want, without the lies, without the abuse, without being told that they’re stupid, without any of Jamendo’s bullshit. If any database programmers have ideas on how to get that going, let’s talk.
[Jamendo] just snuck in a change to the licensing terms that changes the revenue share from the industry standard 50/50 split to a grossly unfair 30/70 split (which goes up a few percentage points on volume).
I begin to think that the folks at Jamendo couldn’t pour piss out of a boot if the instructions were on the heel. Abusing users and artists? Morons.
I have a friend who was published through a small publisher. Not a New York imprint, but an actual, out-in-the-boonies small publisher.
The reason I say “was” and not “is”, is that this small publisher suddenly lost several authors and artists, all at the same time, is facing tax fraud allegations in multiple countries, stands accused of skimming profits from authors, and has had criminal charges filed against her in her state of residence.
My friend is not one of the authors who walked. His first instinct was to sit tight and just wait for the rights to his books revert to him.
That, by the way, is a terrible idea, and I’ve already advised him to talk to an intellectual property lawyer about filing a cross-complaint to get the rights back as soon as possible, given that the publisher will obviously not be able to fulfill the terms of her side of their contract.
And the reason I advised this was made clear when another writer joined in with a bit of his experience. He had works with a publisher who was facing a trial, and the publisher knew he would lose. After failing to “sell” the rights back to the author, they were sold to a holding company, which then changed owners seven times in six months. As he put it: “They effectively made the properties nuclear waste that is sitting on a list somewhere in title/name only.”
Does he still hold the copyright? Technically, but only technically.
This is a common story these days, and not a surprise with the copyright law the way it is. But let us not dwell on that for now. Let us, instead, look at how my friend might have avoided this hassle and expense with Creative Commons licensing, specifically a Free Culture license.
If you decide to go with a publisher, rather than publishing yourself through Amazon, you can still insist that your work go out with a CC license. The publisher will fight it, naturally, as it makes available to anyone rights that are generally the purview of the publisher exclusively.
So, perhaps, you will have to take a smaller advance, or give other concessions, to get that license included in the book.
Now imagine that the publisher gets arrested for fraud six months later, and decides to hold all the copyrights of all his authors hostage, either to improve his negotiating position, or to squeeze a little money from his clients when he can’t get any from any other source, or even simply to screw with people because he’s getting screwed with himself. Happens all the time.
But you don’t need to worry.
Because you can put out your own edition of your book immediately. Without asking permission from anyone.
The only restriction you have is that you have to put it out under the same license, of course (that’s what “share alike” means), but you’ve already done that.
You’ll also probably have to mock up a new cover, since the license almost certainly won’t apply to the one the publisher put on his edition of your book.
And if you really want to twit him, you can even release yours as “the only author-approved edition”, which it will be, since you and the publisher will at that point be at loggerheads.
This is one of the great advantages of free culture for artists. No longer do the products of your mind need to be signed away to corporate suits to be held hostage whenever there’s a regime change or the CEO decides he doesn’t like your tone of voice.
The era of Buddy Holly having to beg for permission to record his own music is over, if you want it to be.
You can do business with the big five publishers or the record companies, if you want. But if you require your work to go out with free culture licenses, you are no longer owned by them. They can try their manipulations and abusive tactics, and you can just walk, use all your material again, and let them keep their editions of it hostage if they want, or release them once they realize that won’t hold you any more.
Free culture doesn’t just benefit consumers of culture, it’s a boon to creators as well.
It has come to be the post I refer to most often on social media, somewhat to my surprise, and the more I link it, the less happy I am with how non-comprehensive it is.
So today I return to the well, and aim to do a better job of explaining what the Creative Commons is, what Free Culture licenses are, and how to go about finding songs whose lyrics you can use in your books with minimal fuss and no legal vulnerability on your part.
But before we go exploring the Commons and Free Culture, let’s deal with what all new writers are actually trying to do.
Do Not Use Mainstream, Major Label Songs In Your Writing
you may cast me off
but i remain
you may tell your tale
but i’m the same
You’ve been working on your novel for a long time, and it’s the greatest book ever written, and the only thing that could make it more perfect is if you could just use this one perfect song lyric as an epigraph.
I don’t care how perfectly “Stairway to Heaven” or “Under The Milky Way” are suited to your story. If you quote them, there will be legal consequences.
You can — probably — get away with referring to the name of the song, and the band name, in the story. But I wouldn’t even go that far, personally.
There is a theoretical limitation to copyright known as “fair use” in the United States. In theory, people have the right to use a portion of a copyrighted work in a larger, original creation.
In reality, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) (or your local equivalent if you’re outside of the US) is going to bring suit against any use for which they did not get paid and to which they did not give permission.
It doesn’t matter how cool the band or artist is with fans making use of their works (and some are, but they don’t get the final say). The major labels and the RIAA sue, basically, everybody. Unless you’re Stephen King or Dan Brown, you don’t have the resources for the knock-down, drag-out legal fight that would ensue. As far as they are concerned, there is no fair use until it has been litigated, and the purpose of that is to create a very expensive barrier to entry for any use.
The Creative Commons is a non-profit organization founded in 2001 by Lawrence Lessig and others, with the goal of promoting general licenses so that artists and creators can choose to waive certain rights otherwise protected by copyright.
A work released under the Creative Commons does not include the phrase “all rights reserved”, but instead says “some rights reserved”, with the particular license making clear which rights those are.
The goal of these licenses is to encourage people to share creations that they like with others. Some licenses restrict you only to that, while others grant more and wider permissions. And culture consumers can do so without fear of being punished for, say, making a mixtape-playlist and giving it to a friend.
What are Free Cultural Works?
A thousand footsteps outside my door
Well they don’t seem to matter anymore
I’ve seen the signs along the wall
Mine is the greatest sign of them all
Freedom to use the information in the work for any purpose.
Freedom to share copies of the work for any purpose.
Freedom to make and share remixes and other derivatives for any purpose.
The important point here is that any Free Culture license allows commercial use of a work, and derivative works.
If you write a book and it has somebody else’s lyrics in it, you have created a derivative work. If you then sell that book, you are making a commercial use of that derivative work.
With a Free Culture license, you already have permission to do both of these things, without penalty or even notifying the creator, so long as you abide the terms of the license.
The Creative Commons licensing structure has two licenses that fall under Free Culture.
The Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY) license is just that — you can do pretty much anything you want with the licensed work, so long as you give proper attribution (generally with a link to the original source), indicate whether changes have been made, and make clear that your use is not condoned or supported by the original creator.
The Creative Commons Attribution–Share-Alike (CC BY-SA) license requires the same things as the Attribution license, as well as requiring you to release your derivative work under an identical or compatible license.
Note that this does not mean you need to give your work away for free. It does mean, however, that you need to stop worrying about “piracy”, because you are giving permission to copy and share by using the license.
(And, really: relax. It’s not piracy, it’s free advertising. How many of your favorite authors did you discover by buying a book blindly? If someone reads your book, loves it, and makes a copy to encourage his friend to read it, that friend might become your new biggest fan. If he does, you’ll get plenty of purchases from him in the future, so why would you think about punishing him for that first read?)
At the moment, apart from earlier iterations of the same license, there is one non-Creative Commons license that is compatible with CC BY-SA — the Free Art License (FAL), also known as the License Art Libre (LAL).
If you read that license closely, you will find that it is, in every essential, the same as CC BY-SA. So if you find a song under an FAL license, you can put your book out with a CC BY-SA, and you’re covered.
(There is also the Creative Commons license to dedicate works to the public domain, the CC0 license, but to date, very few songs have been released under it.)
Yeah, yeah, yeah, but how do I find a Free Culture song to quote?
It’s cause I like to fight about it so I,
Bite down taste blood then spit it out.
I learn quick, I make connections,
I don’t dream just pay attention.
There are places to look, and ways to search, that can help you zero in on something appropriate. But you’ll be ahead of the game if you commit to listening to a lot of CC-licensed music to begin with.
It’s not difficult, and for the most part costs you only time and hard drive space. The only thing is you have to be willing to wade into unexplored waters and judge for yourself what’s good and what’s not. For some people that might be difficult, or at least it might take you a while to get your bearings.
But it’s worth it. Making CC-licensed music a regular part of your listening means when you think “man, this tune would be perfect for this video I shot”, there’s a good chance you’ll be able to use that tune with a clear conscience and no worries about RIAA lawsuits or DMCA takedown notices.
If you’re looking for a lyric Right Now, the first thing you want to do is go on a general CC search. Creative Commons has a CC Search tool (which is apparently being replaced, but hasn’t been yet).
To start listening to CC music generally, the place to start isJamendo. It is, I believe, the oldest CC-music site, and has thousands and thousands of works, all under one CC license or another. Jamendo has some drawbacks. Older works disappear with disturbing frequency, and even finding a pointer to where they once were is difficult. So, for instance, I have a number of albums I downloaded from Jamendo and, due to moves from one computer to another, and other exigencies, the licensing info got lost, and I can no longer look up what license they had because they’re not even listed on Jamendo anymore. Jamendo also used to have a thriving community and lots of artist-fan interaction, which is now gone. And those “improvements” suggest that the owners of the site are perfectly willing to cripple it further without notice or regard for what you or I think. That said, it really is the best place to dive in to CC music.
Another long-time CC music archive is the Free Music Archive, which hosts lots of CC-licensed music (lots of overlap with Jamendo), along with other music that’s free to download but not so clearly licensed (and some public domain music as well).
BandCamp is a wonderful music outlet, and many artists on it use CC licenses, but there are two drawbacks — you cannot search by license, and when you download, at least the last time I did, licensing data is not included, not even in the music files’ metadata.
The Internet Archive also houses a lot of CC audio, but it’s difficult to search by license, to find the sort of CC music you’re looking for, and to be sure that it’s legitimately under that license. I recommend going here only after you’ve got a lot of experience with searching out bands and songs, and having a good feel for what’s likely legitimate, and what’s probably somebody stealing music and passing it off as his own. (It’s pathetic, but yes, people actually do this.)
There are a number of Creative Commons artists on SoundCloud, but I’ve found searching there to be substandard, even while the formats available tend to be superior.
MagnaTune is a pay service, so you know that artists are getting some financial support, and often they use CC licenses.
CCMixter is a service I’ve almost never used, but it definitely makes music available under CC licenses, so it’s worth checking out.
Too Long; Didn’t Read
No one likes the freak, no one likes the odd man out.
I’d rather live my life alone,
Than live a life of doubt.
I won’t let you force yourself on me,
I refuse to be a victim to your society.
If you’re a writer, especially an indie writer, you don’t want to quote lyrics from mainstream songs in your book, or you invite lengthy litigation courtesy of the recording industry and their flesh-eating lawyers.
If you absolutely must include lyrics in your book, and wish to avoid legal bills, you can either invent them, or use lyrics from songs with Free Culture licenses (and abide by the terms of those licenses).
Unless you are under a severe time crunch, the very best way to find that one perfect lyric is to start exploring Free Culture music yourself, at any or all of the sites linked above.
As an addendum, I can add another way to explore Free Culture music. Last year, I did a first installment of a podcast meant to expose people to cool CC-licensed music.
I have playlists for two more hour-long installments ready to go, and can easily put together many more, almost without thinking about it. And each of the playlists to date is entirely Free Culture.
If enough potential listeners are interested, I’m willing to take it up again, but, given my extremely limited financial means, I do need to make it pay. If you’re willing to support such a podcast, and/or know others who would be, leave a note in the comments or hit the contact form to send me a private email. If enough people seem interested, I’ll sit down, figure out what I’ll need to get back up and running, and put together a crowdfunding campaign. (Given my personal quirks, I may be foolish enough to do it with Bitcoin through the Lighthouse de-centralized crowdfunding platform, but we’ll see.)
Bruce H. McCosar is another O.G. Creative Commons musician who seems to have stopped releasing albums, which is a pity. But he has hours and hours of music available, and all of it is Free Culture-licensed, which means that even if he vanished in the the middle of the Bermuda Triangle intestate, his works will live on.
Between 2006 and 2010, McCosar — a middle school science teacher by profession — released eight solid albums of instrumental rock, post-rock and jazz.
Martian Winter was the fifth, released at the tail end of 2008. It combines his rock and jazz influences in interesting ways, and makes a very good soundtrack for writing or outlining.
As for what it means to him personally:
Like NASA’s Spirit rover, I survived a long journey, and found myself in a new land.
Like Spirit, I find myself under a darkening sky. Time goes on, and the light fades.
During Martian Winter, Spirit shuts down. But Spirit always returns.
That day is today. Listen to the newest transmissions from your sister planet.
So, it’s not nearly as spacy or Vangelis like as the previous Writing Music Monday album, but it’s still not a thing easily to be slotted into genre strictures. It’s a personal work, and feels it.
Being who I am, every single copy that has gone out (post publication, at least) carries a Creative Commons license, so it’s already in the commons in theory. The question is, should I re-up the KDP program, take it wide to every ebook retailer I can, or take it wide and set it free by posting it to the Archive, Feedbooks, Unglue.It, and Leebre (if they’ve got their stuff together and that’s a working option come 7 September).
If I keep it in KDP, I can run promotions again and be pretty sure about my numbers, rather than only having a loose idea of my readership.
If I go wide and put it in every ebook store I can get access to, my potential market grows a bit (but I’m guessing not a whole lot, given Amazon’s dominance).
And if I go free, my readership will probably grow exponentially, though when any particular downloader will bother to read it is open to question.
I am somewhat tempted to hold off “freeing” Spring until I get the not-a-sequel The Doppel Man written and ready for release, so that I can bring in more free readers and entice them into the new Neon Noir series that follows on from it.
All of these options have pros and cons. I’m even thinking of not setting it free myself, but letting a reader notice the license and do it himself. Not thinking seriously about that, but thinking about it a bit, maybe.
But what seems to be the way to mass readership (for some definitions of “mass”; seriously, just ten thousand regular readers and most of my financial problems would be gone) is to plug away at one, maybe two, series. And the problem there is that I tend to think in stand-alones, not series. Though the way that I ended Spring did leave open the possibility for two series, one of which, as noted above, is going to be written in the near future. The other, I’m not sure when it will happen, as I have to flesh out just how it would work and where it would go.
What I don’t want to do (and, honestly, am probably incapable of doing) is to get trapped in a “marketing” mindset, where everything I say, write or think is insincere, always bullshit-positive, just vague enough to give myself deniability, and so on. I seriously just want to tell stories, and get paid enough that I can survive on them.
How about you, other writers? I’m not interested in arguments over whether the Creative Commons is a good thing or not (it is, and if you don’t agree, good for you). But how do you/would you factor the free release into your publication scheduling and marketing? Feel free to leave comments.
If you look at Davis’ examples, you can see they’re pretty damning. Most troubling, as Ace pointed out on Twitter, is the fact that the scene that clued audiences in to the fact that this show was something different—Rust Cohle’s (Matthew McConaughey) rants about the nature of humanity and his generally misanthropic outlook on life—was lifted almost word-for-word from Ligotti. These revelations follow previous reports that Pizzolatto “borrowed” from Alan Moore for the series’ closing lines. Pizzolatto, it seems, thinks that these ideas are just flying around through the air. Like Kelso in Heat, he knows how to grab them—and obviously feels justified in doing so.
And then he asks:
If everything is a remix, then why bother getting upset about yet another mashup?
As you probably know, I am very much a proponent of “remix culture”, specifically of “free culture” and the Creative Commons. I share CC-licensed music with you just about every week, with a bias towards Free Culture licenses. And every piece of writing I put out is CC-Licensed (look over to the right sidebar, at the bottom; see?), nearly all of it tagged with wide-open Free Culture licenses.
Because, see, Remix Culture isn’t plagiarism culture. Go to Creative Commons and look for the most open license you can find. What you’ll find is the Attribution license, which lets you do any damn thing you want with the work in question, including make money off of it without paying a thing to the creator — but you must give the creator credit for creating it.
(Yes, yes, there is a way to dedicate work to the public domain, the CC0 License. Not something most writers use, frankly, but it does exist and can be chosen if the creator so wishes.)
And in all cases, the license is chosen freely by the creator.
Poor Thomas Ligotti wasn’t even given any damn credit. (Pizzolatto did apparently mention him as “an influence” in an interview or two. Amazing that he had even that much conscience.)
Pizzolatto would have some defense as a remixer if Ligotti had truly been just an influence. For example, if his detective was a misanthrope along the same lines as Ligotti’s. But stealing the whole speech almost verbatim? That’s not influence, that’s copying. And without credit.
Certainly, you can find a few individuals who maintain that Intellectual Property is a “myth”. I’m going to deal with their arguments at some future point, but not soon. For the moment, I’ll just say that it’s a fairly (not completely) silly response to some very not-silly problems with IP as it is enforced in the real world today, and has been for quite some time. The problems are real, and should be dealt with, not dismissed simply because one proposed solution is so apparently bonkers.
If you wish to steal their works, go for it. They either won’t mind, or will provide you with delicious hypocritical publicity. So that’s a win-win.
But here’s the key: you can only do any of this with the creator’s permission. Fail that, and you fail to respect the creator and the creation.
To be clear, “there are no new ideas”, just about anybody who writes or creates will acknowledge that. Everything is a remix, because nobody invents everything ex nihilo.
That is a different thing from stealing exact wordings without acknowledgement.
Do I “remix”? Oh hell yes.
“For the fragile Muses…” was inspired by an offhand comment made by Vienna Teng in a live performance about the genesis of her song “The Tower”. Which collided with my own experience of musical friends when I was in university. Then got stuck with one of my personal obsessions, the idea of being or needing to be a guardian. Which…
See how that works? If you know that it was inspired by Vienna Teng, you can see that in the story. But I didn’t freaking steal her song or her lyrics or her melody or anything. It was a starting point, to which I brought other elements of my own.
Spring That Never Came had even more disparate inspirations. The monologue in the first chapter is, I admit, very close to one I had the dubious privilege to witness first hand. I changed cultural references to fit the timeframe of the story, and condensed what I heard down to a relatively brief and coherent piece of exposition.
And my heroine, Tammy Kirsch, is definitely modelled on Christa Helm. I came across this blog devoted to the mystery of Helm’s murder and was fascinated not just by the blogger’s obsession, but with the seeming pointlessness of her death and what turned out to be the futility of her talents.
But out of all these old ingredients came a story that was wholly new.
That’s the point of saying “everything is a remix”. Not that you can steal from everyone with impunity, but that you take those influences and notions and ideas, and work them out in your own way into something else.
Oh, and one last thing. It’s funny that Bunch began his post by quoting from Michael Mann’s truly great crime epic Heat. Funny, because it’s a “remix” of Michael Mann’s own earlier TV movie, L.A. Takedown.