I don’t get a lot of requests about this, but I get enough that I’ll try and clear up some questions about my music and Creative Commons Licensing.
As of the time I’m writing this post, all my music is available under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike License.
Here’s the skinny on the human-readable version: You are free to copy and redistribute the material in any medium or format, to remix, transform, and build upon the material for any purpose, even commercially.
Or, as I will re-word it a bit to fit my circumstance: You can listen to my music, you can give it to your friends, you can put it on the internet, you can play it on your shows, you can use it in your youtube videos for free. You can even make money from it but in all cases you have to give me credit.
Let’s go into some details.
Let’s nip this one off right at the start: as a listener, this whole thing about licensing does not matter to you. You can listen to it, download it, burn it to discs, put it on your iPod/Zune/Diamond Rio, and probably a thousand other things that involve just you – the listener – that are not impacted in any way.
Where the licensing comes into effect is if you start to distribute my music. You know, use it in your youtube videos, make discs and give them to your friends, etc. It’s when you give copies to someone else that you should be aware of the rules, which are really slack.
Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike or “CC-BY-SA”. I think CC-BY-SA is really lenient, and not restrictive at all. Let’s break it down a little bit, since there isn’t much to the license.
Attribution: This one is really simple. If you distribute my stuff, you have to give me credit. That’s all. There are no exceptions to this (unless I specifically gave you one). All you have to do is say “Steven Cogswell made this.” You can get fancy and specific about how the CC people want you to say that, but that’s the basic message.
Share Alike: If you make any derivative (or “adapted” as CC calls it now) work from my stuff (e.g. – you use it in a remix) you also must use the CC-BY-SA license. That’s not a lot to ask. You were given the ability to remix because of SA, so you are also bound to let others do the same with your work. That’s only fair, right?
Do you like the youtube videos? Here’s a youtube video that goes into CC licenses a bit, including CC-BY-SA.
Do you like the lawyers? Complicated Lawyer-y Version of CC-BY-SA
Here, I’ll give some specific examples about how CC-BY-SA applies to my music. I’m not a lawyer, I don’t play one on tv, but I think I’ve got the idea right for at least some parts of how CC-BY-SA works.
I want to download your music and listen to it on all my computers and my iPhone and my Windows Phone Series 7 Series Phone.
No problem. For your personal use you can use it in however way you want. As it says, you are free to copy and redistribute the material in any medium or format.
I want to store it on my network server and stream it to my rad Roku player. I want to upload them to iTunes Match and Google Play Music and download them to all my devices
You are free to copy and redistribute the material in any medium or format.
I want to give a copy of your music to my friends.
You are free to copy and redistribute the material in any medium or format. Yes, even if you paid for it yourself, you may re-distribute it without paying me more money. Your friends can get it from you without having to give me money.
I want to share a torrent of all your stuff on torrent websites. I want to post them to my website and have people download them.
Maybe you didn’t expect this: Yes. You are free to copy and redistribute the material in any medium or format. Remember: you must give attribution.
I want use your music in my youtube video.
Yes. You are free to copy and redistribute the material in any medium or format. Just remember to give me attribution in the description or something.
I want to use your music in my youtube video, that I run ads on and get paid for.
Again, although maybe you weren’t expecting this: Yes. “… for any purpose, even commercially.” Remember: You must give attribution.
I want to play your music on my podcast. My podcast that I make a crap tonne of money on by selling ads for squarespace and audible and seeds and possibly guns.
Yes. You are free to copy and redistribute the material in any medium or format, for any purpose, even commercially. Remember: attribution is required. CC specifically mentions podcasts in this paper.
I want to play your music on my nationally syndicated radio program heard by millions of people and not pay you a single dime for any of it.
Yes, go ahead. Are you surprised? Remember, “You are free to copy and redistribute the material in any medium or format, for any purpose, even commercially.” Again, you must give attribution but there is no requirement for monetary compensation.
I want to put your music on my compilation CD and sell it in record stores and not pay you a single dime for any of it.
Believe it or not, Yes. You still have to give attribution. This is where things get fuzzy, because the SA (ShareAlike) part starts to come into play. Your CD work may have to be covered under CC-BY-SA itself. If you cannot abide by this, then you are not able to include my music on your CD. None of this revolves around paying me money, you’re free to not pay me money, but you have to abide by the terms of the CC license.
TV shows? Movies? Commercials?
Yes, yes and yes. You are free to copy and redistribute the material in any medium or format, for any purpose, even commercially.
Do I have to ask your permission to do any of the things that abide by the license?
No. You don’t have to ask permission, that’s the whole point of the license. If you want to play it on your show you do not need to check with me ahead of time. The license already does that. As long as you abide by the terms (attribution, and share alike) then we’re cool and you don’t need my permission first.
I want to claim your music is my own, and sell it.
Aha, No. You cannot claim it is yours because you must give attribution, – you have to say it’s mine. Selling it? Yeah, that part is okay. Not attributing me is the bad part.
I want to take your music, say it was recorded by me, and submit it to a contest in which I claim it’s mine, and then say you ripped me off.
This one is pretty specific, isn’t it? Almost like I’ve encountered this already. No. You must give proper attribution.
So, some of those things I mentioned seem pretty shady or borderline dishonest, don’t they? CC-BY-SA is intended to propagate cultural works with the minimum of fuss. Yes, you can do stuff and not pay me, there is no requirement for being paid – that would complicate the license terms.
That doesn’t say that you can’t pay me. Sure you can. The license doesn’t say whether you have to be a nice person or not.
The other thing Creative Commons does not do is make me give up my copyright on the music. I still own the copyright, and I can do what I want with it. Creative Commons licenses require licensees to get permission to do any of the things with a work that the law reserves exclusively to a licensor and that the license does not expressly allow. For example:
I want to use your music in a major Hollywood motion picture, I want to remix it though, and I don’t want my movie to be released CC-BY-SA. Can I still do this?
Yes, you can. However, you must get a non-CC license from me for this. You cannot do this under CC-BY-SA, so you have to get a new license. That means you will have to ask me, and you and I will have to agree to terms. I retain copyright, so I am permitted to license the work as I see fit. You cannot get this license from any other person who already has the music.
What mean you attribution? That’s so much work
Okay, so let’s say you want to do something with the music that complies fine with the terms of CC-BY-SA, like in your youtube video. In all the discussion above I kept saying “You must give attribution.” What does that mean, “give attribution?”
The Lawyer speak says this: “Identification of the creator(s) of the Licensed Material and any others designated to receive attribution, in any reasonable manner requested by the Licensor (including by pseudonym if designated); a copyright notice; a notice that refers to this Public License; a notice that refers to the disclaimer of warranties; a URI or hyperlink to the Licensed Material to the extent reasonably practicable;”
That’s a lot of lawyer. The important part is that you credit things to me. “blah blah blah is by Steven Cogswell.” It’s nice if you can mention where you got it from (http://stevencogswell.ca or awtfy.com, for example). You can also mention that it’s CC licensed so others know it’s usable by them.
Example: the actual, crafted by the CC people themselves (I fill in the web form), notice that I put on one of my albums is this:
Crap Chute’s Pinched Loaf by Steven Cogswell is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.
Do you think that’s a little wordy? I don’t think it’s too bad, you can shave a little bit off here and there, and you don’t need the graphic if your medium doesn’t allow it (like your youtube description field). Considering all you have to do to be fully in the clear is just include something like this, that’s not a lot to ask.
The CC folks have a topic about this in their wikiwiki thing. How do I properly attribute material offered under a Creative Commons license?.
Can I play your music on my twitch.tv stream?
This one is a little more complicated than first thought because of the way that twitch works, so I’ll just say it directly: Yes, you can play my stuff on twitch.tv, please try and attribute it to me if you have some sort of widget on screen. Note that twitch.tv itself may mess with you and mute your video-on-demand playback (although I doubt it), but I don’t have any control over twitch and what their bots do. If for some reason you’re getting messed with for using my stuff, it’s not me doing it to you.
You might say “Why don’t you just get your stuff approved for the twitch music system?” and the reality is that twitch does not actually care about artists. From their own statement on music.twitch.tv (June 2017):
If you are an artist, label or other music copyright holder and are interested in making music freely available to the Twitch audience and you have a minimum of 250,000 subscribers or followers on YouTube, Facebook and/or Twitter, we would love to hear from you.
(From the internet archive, since at one point music.twitch.tv went away)
So they only want to consider you if you’re popular on social media. 250,000 is a pretty high bar, don’t you think?
The difference between abiding by the CC license and just being a dick.
Lots of people don’t like CC licenses. That’s fine. They don’t have to use the material. Remember, if you want to use something that’s CC but you don’t want to abide by the CC terms you can always work out different terms with the creators. The whole point of why I use CC-BY-SA is not to restrict the music, it’s to open the music.
The alternatives really are: I assert a full “all rights reserved” situation, which effectively ties your hands about everything you might want to do, and you’ll just do it anyway. I could go “public domain” and essentially give up any rights I have, which I don’t want to do either.
I come from the perspective in that I’m not making any money in this venture either, so it would be ridiculous for me to try and exert any kind of stranglehold over it – because it’s not like that would help.
The thing is, none of this licensing BS would be needed if some people weren’t dicks. If I make music, and you take it and listen to it, that’s great. Maybe you take it and make money from it somehow (I haven’t), and you give me some money in return, with the result that I’m happy and you’re happy – well then everyone’s happy, aren’t they? If people all play nice, then we wouldn’t need licenses. The first person who comes along, takes your stuff, claims it’s theirs, makes money, and then you derive nothing ruins it for everyone in the future.