:: LawGeek :: Thoughts on Things by Jason Schultz

Intellectual Property Rants, SUV Wrongs, and Random Movie/Media Reviews
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:: Saturday, December 20, 2003 ::


Nice little
Xmas tree graph from Gallup showing the rise and fall of Bush's approval numbers.

:: Jason 1:41:00 AM [+] ::

:: Thursday, December 18, 2003 ::

Had A Dream

Cory blogs a great sign in reference to Wendy's recent post about the MLK family suing folks for using King's famous "I Have A Dream" speech without a license.

via Boing Boing
:: Jason 8:10:00 AM [+] ::

:: Monday, December 15, 2003 ::

The Network Effects of Creative Commoning: Why Silver Will Eventually Be More Valuable Than Gold

So I went to the Anniversary Party for Creative Commons last night. It was a very cool event, with lots of luminaries from the tech/cyberlaw world in attendance. CC debuted its new flash animation, chronicling its achievements over the last year and previewing what's forthcoming. It's a good flick and provides some real inspiration for changing the current copyright defaults from fear-of-infringing to stuck-on-sharing.

Particularly inspiring was their new effort to create a "sampling license" that allows musicians to release music with a default license that says you can sample the song without having to ask permission, even for commercial purposes, as long as you agree to only use some but not all of the song. It's an ingenious way to create a huge library of songs that are truly Ready-To-Sample without any FUD -- a true lawyer-free zone.

The real challenge, of course, will be to have artists agree to release their works under such a license. Many people have scoffed at CC licenses, arguing that successful bands and songwriters will never give up their full rights in a blanket form because of profit loss.

Yet in the arena of sampling, it's not always necessary to choose the most successful artists. Often all you need is a good beat or three note sequence to fill in behind whatever you're working on. Thus, unlike many other forms of creativity, the identity of the underlying work isn't always as important as its availability or utility.

Enter the brilliance of the CC sampling license. Say you're an up-and-coming artist looking for a backbeat track to sample for your new song. You see two options: (1) a massive library of historically copyrighted works (All Rights Reserved) and (2) a much smaller but growing library of CC licensed works (Some Rights Reserved But Always Ok To Sample).

To access the first option, you have to hire a lawyer ($200/hour minimum), research the clearance rights, negotiate with the copyright owner for a license, sign the agreement, pay the license, and then (assuming you remember what the hell you wanted to do with the sample in the first place), lay down the track. Of course, you could ignore all of this and simply take the track and hope you don't get sued. But as Biz Markie found out, that's not a very safe way to make music or do business.

To access the second option, on the other hand, you simply download the track and go -- rip, mix, burn. No lawyers to pay, no license to negotiate, no time wasted. Free music and instant gratification, the perfect combo. Soft clay for the creative hands.

So what does this mean for the future world of sampling?

Option 1 is like a pot of gold with scorpions in it. Option 2 is like a pot of silver. Each individual piece of Pot 1 is better but also more risky and resource-intensive to acquire. You have to be careful and cautious while you negotiate the gold out of the pot without disturbing the nasties that guard it. Each individual piece of Pot 2 is less valuable, but acquisition and use are fast, efficient, and carefree. Which would you choose?

Many of us will still continue to choose gold, despite the risks, if we have the money and the need. But others will choose silver, especially if they are risk-averse or can't afford to pay or wait for licensing rights to clear. As more and more people choose silver over gold, the value of silver increases. This increases the incentives for artists to supply the silver, knowing that an ever-increasing pool of artists will be sampling from their works.

Things becomes even more interesting if one imports an analysis of network effects into the system. The theory of Network Effects says that certain systems will increase in value proportional to the number of people who use the system. For example, the telephone system is not very good if only one or two people have a phone. But when 100 million people have phones, it's extremely valuable. The Internet, email, and other networks function much the same way. Being able to email one person isn't worth much; being able to email all your friends and colleagues is worth a lot.

Sampling, by all accounts, should also work on these principles. Yet, under the current sampling system, just because one person clears rights to a song for sampling doesn't mean anyone else can. Each negotiation is generally separate, thereby requiring transaction costs for time and attorneys, etc, each time someone wants to use the track.

Under the CC licensing system, however, the more songs you have in the library, the more valuable the library becomes. This is because you know that you can use all the songs you like in any way you like as often as you like. Eventually, with enough songs, musicians will come to value the CC sampling library more because as a whole it represents more value than any particular individual song might represent under the traditional copyright licensing scheme. Add advanced metadata fields and search capabilities and these network effects increase exponentially. Eventually, silver becomes more valuable than gold.

:: Jason 3:06:00 PM [+] ::

Thou shall not steal mine copyrighted works

Donna picked up a great little hoot positing what Godlike Cease and Desist Letters would look like:

"God Considers Smiting Bible Pirates: 'God said that 'spreading the Gospel' was not a valid defense for distributing copyrighted materials. 'Rev. Jackson has published at least 35% of My word electronically, where anyone with an internet connection can download it. Thrice did I call on him to repent; thrice did he ignore me or refer me to the EFF [Electronic Frontier Foundation].''

:: Jason 11:57:00 AM [+] ::

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