chilling on the creative commons (Hypertext Student Newsletter)

'Robert and Karen' is not your average indie band. For starters, they record music in a Davis living room, and after recording, their music is distributed through the Web. In fact, their new album, "From the Nervous System," is available exclusively as a free download. Rather than worry about illegitimate use or distribution of their music, Robert and Karen have protected their work with a Creative Commons copyright.

Creative Commons (, a non-profit organization created in 2001, provides artists, photographers, musicians, and writers with a digital alternative to conventional copyrights. To date there are over 12 million Web pages with content protected by Creative Commons licenses. Among them are local staples such as the Davis Wiki ( and Robert and Karen??'s recordings (

Some Rights Reserved

Creative Commons features several types of licenses, which provide artists with a different level of copyright freedom for their work. Through Creative Commons, artists can allow or forbid the use and/or modification of their music, writing, or graphics. Creative Commons licenses even protect works distributed on the Internet for free. Available types of licenses include:

  • Attribution: The artist lets others copy, distribute, display, and perform his or her work only if the user credits the artist.
  • Noncommercial: The artist let others copy, distribute, display, and perform his or her work, but only for noncommercial purposes.
  • No Derivative Works: The artist allows others to copy, distribute, display, and perform only verbatim copies of his or her work, not derivative works based upon it.
  • Share Alike: The artist allows others to distribute derivative works only under a license identical to the license that governs the work.
For examples of how these licenses work, visit

The Perks: Free Advertisement, Collaboration

Creative Commons also works well as a promotional tool, especially for a small band like Robert and Karen, who have little capital to invest in advertising. Since the album??'s release last November, "From the Nervous System" has been downloaded in full about 100 times, despite a lack of formal advertising. The band attributes this popularity in part to their participation in the Creative Commons community.

Another perk to Creative Commons is its fertile ground for sampling, a musical technique in which artists use previously recorded music to produce new songs. For example, the Beastie Boys "sampled" the introduction to Led Zeppelin??'s "When the Levee Breaks" to create their song "Rhymin' and Stealin'". Currently, sampling is prevalent in the form of older songs that provide the background track for new rap tunes. The Creative Commons license nurtures such instances of sampling by supplying artists with an opportunity to use each other's works without getting sued.

Not Losing Rights, Gaining New Ones

Although Robert and Karen distribute their work for free, they feel they are only gaining from their relationship with Creative Commons. Creative Commons provides the band with a way to freely share their music without losing any rights to it. "It's empowering to be able to choose the exact kind of license you want," says band member Michael Ulrich. "You put a lot of time into your creation; it should be your right to say what can be done with it."

To find out more about Creative Commons licenses or apply for one, visit