Creative Licences and CCMixter

By | 1 August 2010

Do you remember a time when you completed the written draft of a poem and signed it with the © symbol beside your name? By including the copyright symbol you probably thought you were asserting your ownership of the poem and establishing yourself as the creator, as well as protecting your exclusive right to publish, perform or otherwise deal with your creation. However, you do not need to include this symbol in order to be protected by copyright law; in Australia, this protection is automatic when an original work is written and you retain control of your work unless you sell or transfer the exclusive rights.

The © is really a warning to remind others not to interfere with your exclusive right. Under your control, the poem may be published, it may earn a few dollars, and it can be republished elsewhere. You might perform the poem and share it with friends, but eventually it will probably sit in a folder or a computer file as you move on to create, publish and perform new poems. The © is restrictive; it inscribes a boundary that prevents your work from being transformed by the imaginations of others; unless, of course, you can be convinced by their vision to sell them the right. But how can either party know what creative masterpiece might emerge from the raw material, the synergy of multiple imaginative processes, if the opportunity to play and experiment is denied by a symbol trapped in a circle at the bottom of the page? What is needed in order for creativity to flourish in a community of artists is a sense of license that is permissive rather than restrictive, that promotes free play and is about the joy and satisfaction of creation, rather than about money and exclusive rights. It does not have to mean that you give up your babies for adoption, but rather that you co-parent them.

I am going to share an idea for breathing new life into old poems and inspiring new ones; an idea that involves letting go of a rigid notion of copyright but one that has the potential to give your work more exposure to a wider audience, and lay it open to the artistic interpretation of other imaginations.

Here follows the story of my journey to the land of an alternative ‘C’, in fact (CC) or Creative Commons. (Note that the brackets encompass but do not completely enclose the CC, like the circle around the Copyright symbol). I’m not going to write a treatise on the various forms of Creative Commons licence or expound the philosophy of Creative Commons; there is already a plethora of reading material available on the topic. However, I will say that making your work available in this way does not mean that you give up your copyright (see Creative Commons Australia). You can decide how much you allow others to do with your work by choosing a CC licence that reflects a level of letting go that you are comfortable with.

For several years I had a desire to set some of my poems to music. I was convinced that such a coupling would add another dimension to my poetry and that I would gain a great deal of personal satisfaction and creative pleasure from setting words to music. However, my main obstacle was that I no longer played an instrument (I had long given up guitar and recorder). Nor did I have a willing band of musician friends to work with me on such a project. I made some enquiries of experts in the industry and it was suggested to me that I could pay a composer to write a musical accompaniment to my poem and pay for some studio time to make a recording. I didn’t have the money for this so my idea went nowhere but the desire remained. Then I discovered a remixing site on the Internet, called CCMixter.

CCMixter is built upon the idea of sharing and remixing music, samples, vocals, and spoken word, and releasing them under various Creative Commons licences. You can join the site and create a profile. You don’t have to have any musical knowledge or ability but you must have something to share if you wish to participate fully in the CCMixter community. It is free and easy to join. You can download someone else’s instrumental track and maybe a couple of sound effects from an associated site such as Free Sound, which you can then mix with a recording of one of your poems. You can upload the remix to your profile and it features on the recent remix page where others can listen to, review and recommend your creation. Your upload creates a URL which you can email around to other friends, or post to your blog; you can also post your upload directly to social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter. Anyone can access the link; they don’t need to join the CCMixter site to listen.

In my experience, the community of artists involved in CCMixter are generous and honest with their feedback on uploads. I have been remixed a number of times and feel that my work has been treated with a sense of care and integrity. There is also an atmosphere of learning and encouraging that is generated by the sharing of ideas and techniques.

There are a few tools that you need in order to get started. You will need a digital recorder to record your spoken word – it doesn’t have to be an expensive one but the quality of your end product will vary according to the quality of your tools. A mobile phone with a fire wire and recorder, or a basic headset with microphone will suffice. Or you can purchase a digital recorder such as the Zoom H4n for around $450. You will need a computer with Internet access and a mixing program. There are several free open source mixing programs available online, or you can buy one such as Acoustica Mixcraft (around $90) or Cubase (this program came with my digital recorder). There are other music creation and sharing sites besides CCMixter and some of these will offer a basic online mixing tool.

For example, ACIDPlanet offers a free version of Sony’s ACID Xpress that can be used independently of the site. You don’t need any particular mixing skills as you will learn this along the way and improve as you gain experience. You also learn from the feedback given in reviews. Every remix will be slightly or significantly different, depending on how many tracks you are building and the effect that you want to achieve. A basic remix will involve importing a recording of your spoken word as one track and an instrumental recording as a second track. A more complex mix will involve duplicating the spoken word track, adding one or more musical tracks, loops or sound effects, cutting and repositioning parts of the spoken word, applying effects, setting different panning options, adjusting the tempo and volume, and maybe creating your own music using virtual instruments and effects.

CCMixter allows you to upload the text of your poem in the properties field, alongside the audio file, and this is a good idea as the site has international patronage and many of the Mixters have English as a second language, so they are appreciative of the text. I have to say that I was hesitant, at first, with regard to uploading the text of my poems and I haven’t quite felt ready to remove the © from beneath the poem. It’s an interesting point to ponder because I have no qualms about my audio being remixed. I accept the Creative Commons philosophy and I embrace openness. But text on a page? I can’t help thinking of the two collections I have published and how making the poems freely available online might affect their sale. But then I must be honest – just how well does poetry sell? How widely are my print collections read? For me, it isn’t about money anyway. I am motivated by the creative process and being able to share and receive feedback on my writing.

When an audio poem is remixed the words are often reordered or repeated, and some are omitted or mixed with another spoken word piece, or an a cappella. Several new versions may appear in the remixes and even as backing tracks for online videos. The poem has a new life. It has exposure. How then is it different from offering up the written word to be dissected and reshuffled, given that appropriate attribution is required?

[audio:|titles=Water in a Blue Bowl]

Water In a Blue Bowl [2:26]

If you’d like to explore some of my work, you will find over 80 uploads on my CCMixter page. Attribution to the creative work of others appears beside each entry and also on a separate page when you click on the title. Remixes of my work, created by other artists, are noted to the right of the entry for the piece they have sampled and links are provided.

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