There has been considerable talk about the Creative Commons movement and what it means for copyright owners in music, but few people are clear about how it actually works and what the implications are of making work available in this way.

Creative Commons was started in the United States by Professor Laurence Lessig, a law lecturer at Stanford University. 

The idea comes from the open software movement where rights owners do not assert ownership, allowing others to re-use their work without worrying about copyright.  

According to Scot Morris, Director of International Relations at APRA, Creative Commons is “touted as a third way”.

“It falls between the anarchistic view that everything should be free on the Internet and the existing ‘permissions’ culture, which is how they describe the current copyright regime,” Morris said.  “It is based on the premise that there must be a large source of public domain materials that people can re-use without permission.”

Creatiuve Commons licences may appeal to musicians and composers who are starting out in their careers and like the idea of utilising the viral marketing opportunities of the Internet, as well as to those in the industry who are not interested in making money from their work.

Although, according to Morris, when it comes to seeking maximum distribution of your work, there is no guarantee that a Creative Commons licence will achieve this. It allows others to share your work, but does not necessarily mean they will.

“This is where publishers are important – they can work with a writer to match them to other writers, pitch the work for synchromisation and recording opportunities and generally market the services of the songwriter,” he said.  

The way the CC licences are drafted and the broad grant of rights, which is irrevocable and very extensive, means that writers will be giving away their rights for good, without the prospect of being able to be paid for the use of the work or the ability to enter into publishing agreements or to collect royalties from copyright societies.

You can’t change your mind, so what happens if the work you choose to put under a CC licence turns out to be the big hit?

The fact that Creative Commons was established by academics has played a part in the form that it takes.

 “Academics seek to have their works published and cited as broadly as possible,” Morris said.  “They are not so concerned with remuneration, as they are paid to research and write.  However, songwriters and composers do care about controlling the use of their music and benefiting from the existing income streams that copyright affords them.  This includes royalties from blanket licences administered by APRA and its sister societies around the world and from synchronisation and mechanical royalties, administered by societies or music publishers.

“Indeed the blanket licences offered by societies are all about providing easy instant access to the world’s repertoire of music on reasonable terms,” Morris said.  “And as new business models that provide for returns to songwriters and composers are only now just developing, we believe that mechanisms should be developed by creators themselves and not by academics and copyright users.”

APRA and other societies offer their members complimentary licences to allow downloading from the songwriter’s own sites.

“We are also talking to the CC people to see if we can develop licensing agreements that more adequately reflect the way songwriters and composers choose to administer their rights through societies and publishers, so that they can more effectively retain their commercial and moral rights,” Morris said.

More information about Creative Commons can be found at the Australian Copyright Council’s website: www.copyright.org.au

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