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Sustaining the commons

November 14th, 2007 by Graham Attwell

ccmixterInteresting letter from Larry Lessig asking for advice about the future of ccMixter, “the community music site featuring remixes licensed under Creative Commons, where you can listen to, sample, mash-up, or interact with music in whatever way you want.” I first came upon ccMixter when I was searching for Creative Commons licensed music. It is a great site and I had a go at the remix competition myself (although the result was so bad I never actually entered it).

Firstly, great that Lessig has written to all those registered on the site. And I am sympathetic to his fear of being misunderstood – in the Open Content movement we can get too paranoid about peoples’ motives sometimes. More importantly, it raises big questions about how we sustain open and free resources. Servers cost money to run. Users require support. Technical development is important if services are to grow. sadly, legal advice is critical. And, without advertising, which I personally hate, the more a service becomes popular, the higher the cost. ccMixter is not the only service facing this challenge. I think Larry’s proposal seems a sensible courses to pursue. I would be very interested in hear what others have to say – not just on the subject of the future of ccMixter but on the general issue of developing and sustaining free and open community services

“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, 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 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 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), 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 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……..”