MadLab’s Shareable Music Night


On Saturday 5th March, Madlab played host to a Shareable Music Night. This rather interesting event was partly an opportunity to investigate and discuss the shareable music scene, and partly an opportunity to share and discover new music. Or, in other words, we broke up our discussion with sound system interludes. I might make this a mandatory feature of any other discussion/presentation I attend in future.

Michael Dorrington of Manchester Free Software led the discussion, delivering a fascinating presentation on the issues at stake and his experiences with shareable music, copyright issues, and free culture in general. Loz Kaye – Oldham East and Saddleworth’s Pirate Party candidate – was also in attendance and contributed to the discussion from both a political and personal perspective.

Michael started the evening by discussing copyright, dispelling the myth that authors or creators of a work need to register in order to be granted rights over distribution and expression of the piece. Copyright is automatic and prevents others from using an author’s work without their permission. We discussed how, while this may protect the author to a certain extent, default copyright is limited in its ability to enable or feed into the viral nature of today’s online communication of ideas and art. To this end, Creative Commons has become a popular way for authors to extend certain permissions while still protecting their claims to the creation of their work.

As an organisation, Creative Commons created a series of licenses that authors can apply to their work according to their needs. Apart from Creative Commons Zero (CC0), all Creative Commons licenses ensure that any use or distribution of a licensed work must be attributed to the original author. There are six main licenses that govern commercial use, modification and distribution. For the completely altruistic amongst us, CC0 waves all the rights of the author, gifting the work into the public domain.

Music is, of course, just one of the art forms that people have started to release under Creative Commons licenses. We discussed the change in the production and distribution of music over the past few years and how the internet and the shareable/free culture scene has influenced musicians and the music consuming public. While Nine Inch Nails famously released material under a Creative Commons license, it is the lesser known and emerging artists publishing under CC licenses that are creating a vast database of searchable and shareable music available for everyone.

Michael highlighted the website Jamendo, a site that allows users to stream and download music published under CC licenses for free. Jamendo currently boasts just shy of 300,000 tracks. This is an impressive figure for free, legitimate, online music. We also discussed SoundCloud, a free service that allows musicians to upload music to share across social networking platforms and websites. SoundCloud seems to be making gains where MySpace is badly losing ground and, interestingly, SoundCloud makes it possible for artists to select CC licenses for their tracks at the point of uploading.

We had an interesting and topical discussion about the role of libraries in the face of changing attitudes towards and use of copyright. Generally it was felt that libraries might future-proof themselves by focusing on the role of archiving and providing access to CC licensed and public domain materials with an emphasis of free unlimited access to those materials than the traditional ‘loan of a copy’.

On the subject of copying, Michael rounded off by showing a video that I found particularly inspiring. All Creative Work is Derivative is by artist and animator Nina Paley. It’s because of seeing this for the first time at Madlab that I’ll be changing the CC licenses on my own creative pieces from the most restrictive to a license which allows others to modify and play with my work. After all, that’s how art functions and I’m glad that the Shareable Music Night reminded me of that fact.

You can watch Paley’s excellent (and derivative!) video here:

This blog post first appeared as a guest blog for MadLab.

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