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Using Creative Commons Licenses For Film
Monday, July 25 2005 @ 02:49 PM EDT

My article on why an author might want to use a Creative Commons license has resulted in some interesting feedback I'd like to share with you. First, I heard from a film maker, Brad Fox, of Rocket Ace Moving Pictures, who used the Creative Commons license on an experimental film, and he did it with a commercial motivation. Here's part of what he told me, reproduced with his permission:
I work in feature film. I do professional work in big-budget fare, but most of my personal work is in small budget/small format projects.

From 2003-2005 I produced a 52-episode zombie comedy series for the Internet called "Dead End Days". And I didn't hesitate to put it under a CC license. The value in serialized content is in a regular audience, and the clearer you can make it to your audience that you don't care about the "mechanics" of building that audience, the easier it is for them to copy/share/perform/remash your work -- and hopefully do some of your work for you in reaching wider audiences.

By the same token, nothing in CC stops you selling your works, or working them into another format - if that's what you so choose. You can even sell your works but not allow anyone else to under certain circumstances.

I thought his email was so interesting I asked him if he'd explain more to us about why he chose that license, for strictly commercial purposes, and how it worked out. He graciously agreed to do so.

Then Rick Stanley asked me, if we use a picture of a hog standing in a trough to depict Microsoft's patenting style, what animal should we use for SCO's litigation? He suggests perhaps the hagfish, perhaps because of its habit of "burrowing into dead or dying animals and eating them from the inside out." That link shows a picture of the lovely creature. When threatened, it has two defense mechanisms. It secretes copious amounts of slime from slime glands all along its sides and it can "tie itself into knots and then slide in and out of this knot". Can you think of any better animal to associate with this litigation? If not, maybe the hagfish will enter O'Reilly's Animal Menagerie someday. It's a joke, folks. No huffy emails or comments are needed. Speaking of jokes, you don't want to miss the hagfish slime scone experiment.

Here's what Brad had to say:


When people discuss Creative Commons licenses, it's often from the point of view of the traditional Internet mediums: text and, sometimes, still image. However the CC licenses are equally appealing to artists working in other visual and aural media, and for reasons that can be as commercially motivated as they are altruistic.

I work almost exclusively in feature film. I do professional work on big-budget studio fare, but most of my personal work is in small budget and small format projects. As such I think I’m in a rare position to comment on both "Commercial" and "Art" aspirations having spent a goodly amount of time in both realities. Plus, 100% of my income is dependant on the exploitation of and profit from copyrighted material so I'm the last person in the world who is for "giving away" creative property or "encouraging piracy" or any of the other nonsense that people level against CC.

From 2003-2005 I produced a 52-episode serialized zombie comedy series for the Internet called "Dead End Days" (still available at ) which was also inspired by Scott McCloud (go figure). And I didn't hesitate to license it under Creative Commons because it was the best possible business decision.

Any artistic venture either "high art" or "commercial art" is dependant on exposure to an audience that is receptive to what you are doing. If no one sees it, it can't be either effective art, or make money. CC provides an easy way for artists to accomplish both (or either) goal -- to collaborate, share audiences, and grow exposure without the traditional networking of "knowing someone" and having to make do with the limited resources and contacts at your disposal.

The true value of any creative content, no matter the medium, is in its audience. Period. Without an audience artists who want to make a statement (artistic, political, or otherwise) have no one to speak to. In the other camp, if one is strictly looking to capitalize on their product (their movies, their band, their paintings, their sculpture) they need an audience with whom to sell. No matter the goal of the creator, Creative Commons clarifies to your audience that you don't care about the "mechanics" of distribution with your content, and that you're happy to have their help to assist most artists' primary goal –- speaking to a bigger audience.

Some folk found the Dead End Days website because episodes were available on various P2P services, or their friends burned them CD's, or because they saw a cool fan-made wallpaper. These new audience members bought t-shirts and stickers. They would have looked at advertising (in this case, we had none). They will buy the remastered DVD when it is available. Many of them will follow the creative team to our next experimental project. That's pure commercial potential, gained for next to no cost -- because we told our initial fans that they should feel free to do our PR work for us.

Effectively, the kind folk who burned, ripped, copied, shared, and publicly performed our work made money for us, for no charge, simply because they liked what we did and wanted to share it with others.

Here's the interesting thing. At the beginning of the series I spent several weeks tracking down rights holders of certain pieces of music building up a library of music that the musicians were happy to let us use. Each had their own reasons for agreeing. Some wanted their creations (the music) to outlive a band that had since broken up, some wanted to spread their political philosophy, some just did us a favour, some wanted to shill new albums. By the end of the series we had thousands of regular fans, and regularly had bands contacting us asking us if to use their music in the show (we used a lot of placed music). Had they been in the CC database as the beginning of the show we certainly would have -- that's where we went first. We knew we could use any of it in a pinch, and then those bands were rewarded for their hard work through exposure (and record sales in many cases) from our viewing audience that discovered them and liked what they are doing.

If more bands licensed their music CC (and many have started in the past year alone) the whole process would require no back and forth. If you want to promote your band using our show -- make your own music video. If it's good, we get free promotional material, if not -- few will see it anyway. Conversely I can find exciting new music to make a better end product next time out -- and those bands will be rewarded (if our product is good) through exposure. Whether that exposure is commercial or political or artistic currency is strictly up to each individual artist to decide. If you want CC to be about altruism or “art demands to be free,” knock yourself out –- but there’s nothing inherent in the license that prevents purely capitalist goals to also be at the heart of a CC licensing decision.

Put another way, Creative Commons licensing lets artists benefit from collaboration without the traditional barriers to "networking" or "licensing". It doesn't matter what your stature is, where you are located geographically, or who you may (or may not) know; Creative Commons lets all artists of all abilities equally reap the benifits of potential cross-media collaborations.

My prime hope for DED was that it would inspire someone, who inspired someone who would create a wildly popular series that makes millions of bucks. Those future series are going to be easier and of a much higher quality with a Creative Commons body of work to drawn on. Artists, with almost no exception, want to share -- because both parties know they have a better chance of advancing through the increased exposure that collaboration can bring. The CC is a flashing light, an indicator from artist to artist that they invite collaboration and creativity and growth. Artists can then spend more time creatively creating, and less time licensing and negotiating.

Hmm, a system in which professionals recognize that through share-alike collaboration, complex systems can be made easier and provide win-win results. Sound familiar?

Open Source Film Making... coming soon, to a multiplex near you?

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