Free Culture

If we are to oppose a hegemonic system built on securing, protecting and exploiting rights, how do we make money out of creativity? Free Culture does not mean monetarily free, it refers to unopposed movement of creative ideas and is more akin to expanding fair use doctrine. But how can financial incentives still exist in a free culture?

YouTube’s deal with Warner Bros in 2006 (BBC 2008; BBC 2006) allows for transformative or derivative work of copyright work owned by Warner in accordance with YouTube Terms of service (YouTube 2010b sec.8). Other labels have followed suit, meaning that if a contemporary track is on YouTube and posted by the copyright holder, it can be used in derivative works.

YouTube employ a Content Management system, which recognizes Copyright material (YouTube 2010a). Copyright owners are informed of the infringement and can decide whether to track, block or monetise. For example, a fan video may link to the download of the track or original film via iTunes or Amazon. The rights owner may watch to see how popular the file is, or just choose to block it. This approach fits both the exploitation and the education model of copyright.

Artists are also challenging the traditional exploitation model of protection of copyright. In 2007, Radiohead released “In Rainbows” as download only and allowed the audience to pick the price paid (BBC 2007). Radiohead made more money from downloads of this one album than they had from downloads form their six previous EMI releases combined. This was mainly due to their previous contracts covering revenue from downloaded material. (Patry 2009).

In 2002, Lawrence Lessig, Hal Abelson and Eric Eldred launched Creative Commons (Lessig 2009). The artist decides what he will allow others to do with his work, with stipulations relating to attribution, sharing, derivation and commercial use (Creative Commons 2010). A simple contract is generated which can be attached as part of meta-data of a file or displayed on the source page. This not only has the effect of easily stating what can be done with a work, but also provides a means of tracking the copyright owner should this be needed.

Since leaving their record label Interscope (a subsidiary of Universal), NIN have been releasing their work under a Creative Commons license, granting rights to share and transform the work. Trent Reznor explains that giving out free music contributes to more people turning up to the show. By allowing access to tracks and even master mixes of tracks, fans get a feeling of ownership in the creativity of the tracks and part of the good will that translates into sales (Jayasuriya 2009).

The concept and application of Creative Commons seems to satisfy our original two models. It supports copyright as ownership and supports the spirit of copyright as promoting education. Reznor have shown this by still distributing work in the traditional way, incentivising work in physical formats while giving it away freely in digital formats.

There are marketing possibilities to using file sharing. By giving product away for free, awareness is increased. In a world were everyone wants attention, brand loyalty is vital. It also suggests that the most eager music fans are downloading, and they are the ones more likely to spend money (Doctorow 2010). They are not relying on copyright as the incentive to create work; they are actively waiving certain rights for promotional purposes. This is only possible due to the significantly reduced cost of copying and distribution via the Internet, as well as the strength of their existing fan base.

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