Open Content, Remix Culture and the Sharing Economy

Loose notes from SXSW 2007 panel: Open Content, Remix Culture and the Sharing Economy: Rights, Ownership and Getting Paid

Eric Steuer, Creative Commons
Glenn Otis Brown, YouTube
John Buckman, Magnatune
Laurie Racine, Eyespot and DotSub
Max Schorr, GOOD Magazine

What is the business model of the Creative Commons? How is the rise of open content and alternative licensing models playing out in terms of authors getting paid?

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All music on Magnatune’s site is CC licensed as share-alike. If the music you’re putting on the site is free, you don’t owe us anything. If you want to license the music through the site, you can grab free music for the film through the site and then license the music later if it turns out you’re getting the film picked up. lonelygirl15 uses their music, for example.

Star Wreck: 3,000 people contributed to this over years. Kind of a mix between Star Trek and Battlestar Galactica. With a CC license. Over 5,000 downloads. Recently got a deal with Paramount, who gave them special funding to change some of the special effects to it wouldn’t look so much like Trek.

Two distinct/parallel paradigms emerging from media companies. Some looking to extract UGC from users, others trying to extract/create mashups. Huge change in thinking required of media companies. They can now play in so many new playgrounds.

Letting people who have no money use your product anyway. e.g. offering a lower-fidelity version for free. The most interesting models are the ones that straddle the worlds of free and pay. People really like ethical capitalism. They want their money to go into things they believe in. e.g. Labels that pay musicians and don’t cause them to commit suicide. Every page at Magnatune has a close-up of the musician looking you in the eyes. “I am the filmmaker. Support me and I’ll do more of this.”

People ask the wrong question: “How can I ‘break’ into the big industry?” If you want to help yourself, you need to find people who need you too. If you need a distributor, find the small art-house theaters who might be interested. If you try for the big industry off the bat, you won’t succeed.

The most powerful thing is something small that’s done just right. Everyone in this room can make a masterpiece. If you do your cool thing in a small and beautiful way, put it up so people can see it, you’ve got a foot-hold.

YouTube is an example of a great idea gone horribly wrong. “Screw copyright.” Sell to Google. Oh wait, now we’ve got to remove a third of our content (that’s a rumor – the percentage is nowhere near that level).

We can no longer refer to “big media” as one big thing with one big attitude. Some are trying to change their models, others are not. Some are being creative, or more lenient, etc. No longer a single-minded industry.

An evolutionary process is taking place, and the direction is toward openness.

Not everyone on the panel is ready to go so far as to say that there should be a legal requirement for content to be open. You can’t (nor should you) mandate openness.

The amount of legalese that goes into agreements is totally off-putting. Show of hands: How many of you have ever uploaded content/media to a site without reading the whole EULA – most hands go up. That’s a very bad scene. We need simple and plain EULAs, outside of lawyer language. Google sometimes summarizes the user licenses in big bullet points, with a link to the more detailed view.

For many, understanding what a “non-commercial license” really means is difficult to grasp. The EULAs are so complicated because they try to cover every situation known to man. People vary a lot on what they think “non-commercial use” really means.

Do you want open content to be a hard-line party, or a big-tent party? Trying to get photographers to agree with bloggers to agree with DJs is nearly impossible. So big-tent approach is more effective. Give people choices and then collect the data. CC is good at offering enough range to give all content creators the tools they need.

There’s incredible opportunity in education for open content – especially in the territory of remix, etc. But how do you tell a college to release open content? Answer partly depends on whether it’s a state-sponsored or a private college. But even public universities are skittish about this. Non-tenured prof is afraid s/he won’t be invited back next year once their whole curriculum is on the internet.

The year after MIT went open content, survey of students: 30% of students said that open content was the biggest reason why they applied to MIT – it meant that much to the students.

Q: How many people who use a CC license actually register with the US Copyright office? A: No idea. But not many. Remember that when you create something, you don’t need to register it – you own the copyright automatically. Magnatune tells people not to bother. Not much protection is offered. But you’re better off putting your CD in an envelope and mailing it to yourself so you have back-dated proof.

Side note: Statutory damages are totally out of proportion to any real damages that are caused.

The music biz is $18 billion/year. $6 billion of that is sales to consumers, $12 billion is licensing. e.g. When Britanny does a song for Coke. Licensing is a huge component of industry profits. In every market you have consumer-consumer and consumer-business. The latter is always the largest slice of the pie, but the consumer side gets all the press.

Debate: Is the DMCA evil, or really really evil? (audience laughs)

In Europe, less-popular musicians are much more able to make a living, in part because of levies and taxes that affect consumers, with strict laws about how that money should trickle down to creatives. Doesn’t happen here, in part just because our system didn’t evolve that way.

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