Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Developing the Australasian Creative Commons: Conference Notes

This week I attended the Developing the Australasian Creative Commons conference held at the Queensland State Library in Brisbane. Whilst there were a number of excellent speakers canvassing a wide range of topics including the use of CC licenses in education, libraries, government and private industry; today I am reporting back on two sessions that I found to be very interesting. The first is a presentation given by Sebastian Chan from the Powerhouse Museum and the second is the roundtable discussion relating to the developments in the music industry.

Powerhouse Museum
Readers of my blog will recall a post from earlier this year relating to the Powerhouse Museums decision to open up access to the Tyrrell photographic collection by adding it to the Flickr Commons.

Sebastian Chan gave an excellent presentation in which he discussed the Museum’s experiences through the course of this venture. He noted in particular that the collection, prior to its release on Flickr had received around 31,000 views in a 12 month period. In the first month it was made available on Flickr this number of views had been reached with over 40,000 views in four weeks. Now that the collection has been available for eleven weeks the total number of views has reached 86,000. This is a fantastic result for a public domain collection and certainly an excellent illustration of how technology can deliver access to works that by rights should be made freely and openly available to the public.

Another interesting point from Sebastian’s talk related to the need for museums to adapt to the digital age, particularly given that much of their income in the past has depended on people paying to access works, many of which are already within the public domain. He considered there to be some way to go in redeveloping business models and a need to lobby governments further to ensure that income streams are replaced rather than lost.

He also noted how the use of creative commons licenses and technology platforms such as the Flickr Commons can create complications for organisations that must report usage and access statistics. He noted that since the collection had been uploaded to the site that some of the material had been copied to Wikimedia Commons. Whilst legally this is not problematic it does pose problems for the museum as they need to report how many times the material has been viewed.

In all, it was an enjoyable and inspiring presentation. Those who have not yet viewed the Tyrrell collection can access it here and here.

An Orchestra of Millions
The second session I wish to mention today is the presentations made relating to developments in the music industry.

Professor Julian Knowles from the Queensland University of Technology made mention of the difficulties recording artists have recouping money from record contracts and discussed the need to change their business structure to focus on live performances.

He discussed the recent example (May 2008) of The Whitlams who gave away 700,000 CDs as part of a newspaper promotion and how many bands were now incorporating ‘free’ into their business model in order to attract listeners and recoup funds from other sources.

He suggested that the fragmentation of the market has led to the development of many more sole trader or small business structures rather than the tendency to develop big name artists. He suggested that a base audience for the average artist or group was now around 20,000 with the aim of getting around $10.00 from each to sustain the creation of works on a professional basis.

He also discussed the difficult situation created by copyright law and considered remixing and sampling unviable due to license costs and the time it takes to get permission to use exisitng creations.

Professor Knowles also made reference to the commonality of file sharing and questioned whether there are opportunities for it to be monetised and the need to embrace the principle that the more something it is used the more it is worth.

Andrew Garton from Secession Records also spoke in relation to sampling and remixing. He explained his involvement in ‘generative compositions’ and spoke of personal experience in composing music with dozens to hundreds of samples. In particular he spoke of an incident where he had attended a live performance of a UK sound artists who had scanned (illegally) the airwaves surrounding the venue. Garton obtained a copy of the performance from a friend, separated and uploaded the ‘sound fonts’ (small sections of the performance) only to later be threatened by the artist for breach of copyright despite the performance itself having been illegally produced.

More recently he has worked in the screen cultural sector. As part of Arts Law Week one year he held a competition in which teams had to create a short film of up to two minutes. One team had to produce the film lawfully and the other had to produce it illegally. The lawyer acting as the judge of the competition found that those who had produced the illegal film would most likely have been covered by the parody and satire provisions in the Copyright Act and were thus likely to have produced a lawful work, where as those that had been required to produce the work lawfully appeared to have breached copyright law multiple times. This illustrates both the irony and difficulties for creators in ensuring the legality of their creations.

Yunyu is a musician, originally from Singapore, who won an unearthed competition four years ago. Now, in Sydney, she commented on the lack of respect for copyright law in many Asian countries and suggested that in Singapore copyright law is taken as ‘the right to make copies’. She commented on her experience and the reasons why she uses CC Licenses to allow others to share her music and how she makes money from other sources such as merchandising. She also raised the issue, similar to that raised by Billy Bragg recently, about how new technology platforms such as MySpace were gaining wealth, particularly through advertising, without the funds being equitably distributed to the artists who contribute their content to the sites.

Paul Draper is a Professor at Griffith University and the Qld Conservatorium who made a very interesting observation about the difference between music and sound recordings suggesting that the distinction has been lost and needs to be re-established to assist the public in revaluing compositions as creations. He spoke particularly about the Fete de la musique held in Brisbane recently and how many musicians participated but none were paid and yet all the technical equipment such as lighting and sound systems had to be paid for.

Scott Morris from APRA also spoke about technology platforms such as MySpace and YouTube as new entrants to the music value chain. He noted the move toward the advertising support model for many of these services and commented that this was an old business model simply applied to new environments. For APRA he suggested that the digital music environment has produced some excitement as the amount of tracks has increased exponentially with them now having to catalogue a much broader range of compositions. He suggested that the wording of the creative commons licenses still posses some problems and is not yet compatible with some of the objectives of the collection society.

Each speaker brought a different perspective to the conference and made valid points on the changes currently taking place in the music industry. It was an interesting session and produced a lively debate between the panellists.

In my post earlier in the week I mentioned that one of the speakers at this conference was to be Sylvain Zimmer Chief Technology Officer from Jamendo. He did not attend in the end, however I am soon to be sent out a copy of the conference proceedings in which there is up to date material relation to Jamendo. I hope to be able to make a post on this shortly.

Further Reading
Powerhouse Museum, Tyrrell Collection <> at 25 June 2008

Flickr Commons <> at 25 June 2008

The Whitlams, Lets Give Away 700,000 Albums (28 May 2008) <> at 25 June 2008

TechDirt, It's Not Exploitation If You Chose To Take Part (24 March 2008) <> at 3 April 2008

Fete de la musique <> at 25 June 2008

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