Free! Music! Contest – fewer choices, more freedom

The following guest post is by Christian Hufgard, chairman of Musikpiraten, and member of the OKF’s Working Group on the Public Domain.

The Free! Music! Contest is a contest for bands and artists releasing their songs under a creative commons license. In its third year the focus is set on enabling remixes – and freeness. Unlike the last two times, this year only cc-by and cc-by-sa licenses are allowed to be used. Why did the organizers decided to reduce the choices? Most of the songs that won the last two years used nc- or nd-licenses, so it is pretty likely that the change will mean fewer participants.

What is wrong with nc (non-commercial) and nd (no drivatives)? Users are allowed to distribute the music and, if a song is not nd-licensed, to create derivative works. But due to the nature of music, the derivatives are mainly fan-made videos. Creating a remix based on a fully mixed song is much more complex and reduces the possibilities. There are some great artists out there like Girl Talk that mash up songs, but this is not what “derivative work” means: these mashups are in most countries covered by fair use rules. On the other hand commercial websites can get in trouble for license violations if they promote nc music. To sum up: nc- and nd-license are free as in “free beer”. You are allowed to consume and share art, but that’s it. In this way, the contest was more a “Shareable Music Contest”. Not a very sexy name…

One option could have been to ban nc- and nd-licenses. But this would not have solved the problem of creating derivative works. To solve this, an additional rule was introduced: A single track from every song has to be released through the creative commons remix portal ccmixter.org. This way the contest is truly a “Free! Music! Contest”. The art is not only shareable but also remixable and free for all uses – as long as the author and the license are mentioned.

But artists releasing their work under creative commons are pretty afraid of freedom. They fear that others might profit from their work without getting something in return. To work around that fear, the registered song does not have to be licensed cc-by or cc-by-sa: the rule only applies if a song is chosen for publication on the CD, which is to say that it is one of the contest’s winners.

Reducing the artists’ choice of the license, the contest achieves more freedom for everybody else.

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