[cc-community] Copyleft And Commerce

Rob Myers rob at robmyers.org
Thu May 25 15:26:36 EDT 2006

I've been without email for a couple of days so I've had to follow  
the discussion on copyleft via the archives. :-)

There are two interesting examples of commercial CC projects that pay  
for themselves. Loca Records license their music BY-SA and make money  
through CD sales and performances. It can be done. :-) And Elephants  
Dream, a short (11 minute) computer animated film, was paid for by  
pre-sales of DVDs (the "street performer protocol"). Elephants Dream  
is also a seed project, it has all the 3D files and other media  
needed to make a complete short film, but it is BY rather than BY-SA.

The most successful Free Culture project, one that has outperformed a  
proprietary alternative, is Wikipedia. It's FDL-licensed rather than  
BY-SA-licensed, and it is a community project rather than a   
commercial project. But its use of FDL is historical, and Wikipedia  
does help sell a for-profit company. Wikipedia could make lots of  
money from adverts and from sales of DVDs and print versions,  
although that might affect the willingness of people to contribute.

Wikipedia is instructive in another way. It, like the GNU C compiler  
and Emacs, is a "seed project". That is, it is a base project that  
other projects can build on. The BY-SA world is conspicuously devoid  
of seed projects. cc-mixter, which is BY, has acapellas and  
individual music tracks on, but without an FSF-style body driving the  
creation of work and policing the contributions, the tracks  
contributed to mixter may use samples from CDs that do not allow  
relicensing or other problem media.

There really should be a Free Music Foundation that pays session  
musicians an honest rate to lay down drum and guitar tracks,  
commissions songwriters to perform acapellas, and gets the  
documentation required to prove that the tracks are clean for use in  
other BY-SA work. They may accept contributions from commercial  
projects *if* they pass due diligence. This really is the sort of  
project that is needed, there are artistic and video and literary  
equivalents that are needed as well.


1. We need seed projects for BY-SA work, done with the rigor of the  
FSF's work, and funded by the community (which may include commercial  
interests). There are non-SA projects such as Elephants Dream and  
Open Clipart that help, but we need BY-SA ones to build a commons.

2. We have realworld examples of free culture projects that pay for  
themselves, whether through sales and performance or through the  
street performer protocol. We need more people following these  
examples in more media. Hopefully seed projects and better education  
will help with this.

The problems we have are the profusion of restrictive CC licenses  
(imagine if the FSF had felt honor bound to release a non-commercial  
GPL...) that distract from copyleft, and the profusion of unfocussed  
"community sites" that are graveyards for media under restrictive  
licenses but that get a lot of publicity and goodwill.

- Rob.

More information about the cc-community mailing list