We talk a great deal around these parts about new business models at both the macro and micro level. Individual experiments and successes, as well as failures, are both interesting and instructive, but a good macro-level look at how entire industries can function in a digital marketplace should be equally useful. With that in mind, Chris Dixon has an absolute must-read post on Medium on the lessons other industries can learn from the PC gaming industry's success in recent times.
It's worth noting before we start here that the past five years or so have been chock-full of hand-wringing over every potential danger to the PC gaming industry you could imagine, from casual mobile games to piracy. And, to some extent, I can understand that fear. After all, PC gaming has perhaps lower barriers to entry than other entertainment mediums, making competition more heavy, while the average consumer of PC games is likely going to be more familiar with the ways of piracy and the technical workarounds to DRM than the average music or movie consumer. Too bad for all that fear that, as Dixon's article notes, the PC gaming industry has enjoyed healthy growth over these past several years (something like 50% revenue growth since 2012). Much of that has to do with the innovative ways gaming companies have found to do business.
Even if you have no interest in video games, if you are interested in media, you should be interested in PC gaming. Over the past decade, PC gaming has, for a variety of reasons, become a hotbed of experimentation. These experiments have resulted in a new practices and business models — some of them surprising and counterintuitive — that provide valuable lessons for the rest of the media industry.
Those experiments will sound quite familiar to the Techdirt reader. They include free-to-play models, with game extras being sold to gamers. They also include the development of strong and convenient selling platforms, like Steam and GOG.com. The so-called "freemium" model is particularly well done in PC games, in part because many of those games respect gamers enough not to use the model to break the integrity of the game itself.
The PC gaming world has taken the freemium model to the extreme. In contrast to smartphone games like Candy Crush that are “free-to-play,” PC games like Dota 2 are “free-to-win.” You can’t spend money to get better at the game — that would be seen as corrupting the spirit of fair competition. (PC gamers, like South Park, generally view the smartphone gaming business model as cynical and manipulative). The things you can buy are mostly cosmetic, like new outfits for your characters or new background soundtracks. League of Legends (the most popular PC game not on Steam) is estimated to have made over $1B last year selling these kinds of cosmetic items.
Medium also goes on to point out PC gaming's latest foray into money-making in the form of live events. In what will sound familiar to anyone who has read our posts about the music industry, live gaming events are fantastic revenue generators, especially as they've become massively popular in the past few years.
Add to all of this the relatively permissive attitude in PC gaming circles that companies have towards mods of their games and you have a recipe for violent adoption and the willingness to buy by the gaming public. Mods make games more attractive to wider audiences, increasing purchases. Some mods indeed become their own games, increasing purchases. Most game companies encourage this modding culture, generating good-will within the consumer-base. No other industry does this as well.
Contrast this to the music industry, which relies on litigation to aggressively stifle remixing and experimentation. Large music labels have effectively become law firms devoted to protecting their back catalog. Sometimes this means suing their peers, and sometimes this means suing communities of users. The end result is a strong chilling effect on new experiments. Almost all new music-related tech products are minor variations of preceding products. It’s too risky and expensive to try something genuinely new.
And finally, there is the embrace of crowd-funding. Crowd-funding has been adopted in virtually all entertainment mediums, but I struggle to see any of them doing crowd-funding as well as the PC gaming industry. From experiments done by household PC gaming names like Tim Schafer, to diverse tiered-rewards for funding, to the willingness of some to forego offers from traditional game publishers to go the crowd-funding route, PC gaming is full of these success stories.
The point of all this is that new and innovative business models can work for other industries as well. There's nothing unique about the PC gaming industry that won't translate over to some degree for music, movies, television, etc. They just have to try.
TorrentFreak highlights one key point: which is that of the surveyed musicians a mere 6% of revenue comes from the sale of licensed music. We've long argued that music sales make up a minority of the revenue artists make, so it's good to see some support for that. Of course, the report notes that different types of musicians make money in different ways, so this does not mean that the 6% number applies across the board to all musicians. There certainly are some musicians who make a large percentage of their income from sales. But the key point is that those artists are in the minority, and focusing solely on music sales and changes to that market gives you a very distorted picture of how artists are making money, and the impact of things like a decrease in revenue from music sales.
There is plenty of interesting data in the report, but one thing that struck me concerned the artists' general attitudes towards technology. It's mixed, to be sure, but some of the often-repeated claims by some maximalists don't appear to be true. For example, we hear stories that part of what's so unfair with the system today is that the artists are "losing control" over their works, but many artists don't agree with that at all, recognizing that technology means they have a lot more control over their works. The difference, of course, is that the complaints about "loss of control" were really more driven by the old gatekeepers -- mainly the major record labels. For them, it's true that they really have been losing control, but much of that control has actually moved back to the artists (and, yes, much of it has also gone to fans). But for artists who were outside of the major label system, it's often meant much more control over their own careers.
The end result is that artist attitudes towards technology and its impact on their careers is really mixed. In many cases, on key questions -- it seems like artists are almost equally divided. You can see that in the chart below:
From this chart, you can actually see that just as many artists think that file sharing has helped them as think that it has hurt them. Remember that the next time someone claims to be speaking for all artists' attitudes on these kinds of things. If I had to guess, it seems likely that trends are moving more towards artists recognizing the benefits of such things -- but I could be wrong about that assumption. I guess we'll see the next time they do this survey.
The report also looks closely at how much copyright really impacts an artist's income. To hear some talk about this stuff, without copyright, there would be no way for artists to make money at all. However, as we've argued over and over again, many revenue streams have nothing to do with copyright, and the report bears this out. As noted above, direct sales only account for 6% of income on average, but the report digs in even more and looks artists across different income levels and genres, showing both differences across those different slices, but also confirming that there are many different revenue streams:
Those charts show some differences, including that higher earning musicians do tend to rely on copyright more, but it's still a relatively smaller part of their income than other sources.
Putting it all together, DiCola created this wonderful chart that looks at copyright- vs. non-copyright income across different income levels and genres:
Really interesting stuff. Not surprisingly, composers rely on copyright quite a bit, as they tend to get a significant chunk of revenue from licensing efforts. But even they still tend to rely heavily on income that is at best, indirectly related to copyright. All in all a very interesting read, as you begin to realize that the primary story usually told -- that artists all rely on copyright and that infringement is clearly a bad thing -- isn't necessarily true across the board.
from the you-can't-do-this-with-catcher-in-the-rye dept
A Kickstarter project by Ryan North, called To Be Or Not To Be: That Is The Adventure, has become the most funded publishing project on Kickstarter ever, as it recently surpassed $400,000 (he was originally seeking $20,000). While we always love to see interesting and successful crowdfunding projects, this one is interesting for a few additional reasons concerning topics we talk about here: copyright and trademarks. The actual book is, as North explains, "an illustrated, chooseable-path book version of William Shakespeare's Hamlet." So, how does that hit on copyright and trademark issues?
Copyright: Even if the head of the Author's Guild doesn't seem to know this, Shakespeare's works are in the public domain, meaning that anyone can use them however they want -- whether it's to make an exact copy (and, yes, there are plenty of those on the market) or to do a derivative work. There have been tons of remakes and updates on Shakespeare's work, and many of them are super creative, such as this one. Kinda demonstrates just how ridiculous it is for copyright maximalists to argue that without strong copyright protection, creativity gets killed off. Just the opposite, it seems. The ability to build on the works of the past quite frequently inspires amazing new creativity.
Trademark: North refers to this as a "choosable path adventure" because:
"Chooseable-path" you may recognize as a trademark-skirting version of a phrase and book series you remember from childhood. Remember? Books in which... an adventure is chosen??
Yes, they're not using the widely known phrase "choose your own adventure," because it's trademarked, and the owner of the mark has sued before. Of course, the story of the mark is interesting in its own right. Apparently, Bantam Books who helped popularize the original choose your own adventure books let the trademark lapse, and it was bought up by Ray Montgomery, who had run the small press that published the original books, but had not held the original trademark on it.
So we have examples of how a lack of a common "intellectual property" law enabled greater creativity, and how a current "intellectual property" law stupidly limits the option of using the most reasonable description of the work.
Either way, the book looks absolutely awesome, and if you want in on the Kickstarter offering, there are just a few hours left.
There's sort of an odd back and forth that happens at Techdirt, where we spend a great deal of time highlighting all the success stories of artists and creators that managed quite well without operating under the stringent guidelines of intellectual property laws. Glyn Moody recently covered one such story in Psy, creator of the nearly unfathomably popular Gangam Style music video. As happens so often when we post these stories, some detractors consider Psy an "anomaly", despite how often we cover these stories, and as though mainstream label successes of Psy's size weren't also "anomalies". So perhaps it would be useful to have a post that wrapped up a non-exhaustive but multi-creator list of folks who have embraced piracy to further their own success.
That's exactly what Geek.com has put together, putting four other creators alongside Psy with brief descriptions of how they spurned copyright and were successful in spite of, or perhaps because of, that decision. The list includes names you should recognize by now, from Cory Doctrow to Louis CK and on to Peter Mountford. But one new name you'll see on this list is Shahrzad Rafati.
Where most content producers see pirated video as a negative for revenue, Shahrzad Rafati saw an opportunity. Rafati started Broadband TV in 2005 with the aim of monetizing and legitimizing pirated video. The Canadian company searches video sharing services, looking for copyrighted material. Instead of removing it, Broadband TV re-brands the content, includes relevant ads, and reposts. What once was infringing video has become a revenue source.
Rafati realized that people uploading videos aren’t doing it to be malicious. They just really enjoy the content and want to share it. A heavy handed approach to enforcement won’t work long-term. Broadband TV currently works with some big name partners like the NBA, Warner Brothers, Sony, and YouTube. The company also has a YouTube channel called VISO where users can watch sports, movie trailers, and news programs.
Like the others, where Rafati had success is utlimately in identifying what people wanted and figuring out an amicable way to intersect that desire with content producers to create yet another success story. But, what you'll notice in these stories, the first step is in identifying and satisfying a public's need or want. What they never start with is a knee-jerk or angry reaction to that need.
The list is growing, regardless of what critics might suggest. If major media wants to get on board with these kinds of stories even further, they can win. If they don't, then I guess we'll just keep collecting the names and stories of others who do it better.
A couple of months back, Mike wrote about how Psy's relaxed attitude to people infringing on his copyright helped turn Gangnam Style into one of the most successful cultural phenomena in recent years, and that includes becoming the most-viewed video on YouTube ever.
Ah yes, the maximalists will retort, this free-and-easy, laid-back approach is all very nice, but it doesn't put food on his table, does it? If you want to make a living from this stuff, you've got to enforce copyright to stop all those freeloaders ruining your business. Well, maybe not:
With one song, 34-year-old Park Jae-sang -- better known as PSY -- is set to become a millionaire from YouTube ads and iTunes downloads, underlining a shift in how money is being made in the music business. An even bigger dollop of cash will come from TV commercials.
From just those sources, PSY and his camp will rake in at least $8.1 million this year, according to an analysis by The Associated Press of publicly available information and industry estimates.
The AP story quoted above goes on to give a detailed breakdown of where that money comes from. Interestingly, it's mostly from things not directly connected with either his music or video:
It is television commercials that are the big money spinner for the most successful of South Korea's K-pop stars. PSY has been popping up in TV commercials in South Korea for top brands such as Samsung Electronics and mobile carrier LG Uplus.
Chung Yu-seok, an analyst at Kyobo Securities, estimates PSY's commercial deals would amount to 5 billion won ($4.6 million) this year.
This is yet another great example of how artists can give away copies of their music and videos to build their reputations and then earn significant sums by selling associated scarcities -- in this case, appearances in TV commercials. Now, not every musician may want to take that route, but there are plenty of other ways of exploiting global successes like Gangnam Style -- none of which requires copyright to be enforced.
from the sometimes-a-handshake-gets-better-results-than-a-savage-beating dept
In this bold era of copyright trolling, calmly (ir)rational takedown bots, baseless legal threats and ridiculous statutory damages, it's a true rarity to see a copyright holder deal with infringement, especially non-commercial infringement, with a reaction that's actually in line with the "crime" committed.
Unlike other image owners, Dreamstime does not sic lawyers on people who like its photos. Instead the company, which claims to have more than 5 million users, responds by sending them a notice to take the image down or else to buy a license at the going rate which can be as low as $8.
According to CEO Serban Enache, this approach actually leads to better business.
“We want to respond to copyrighted images but we want to do it in a different, non-heavy-handed way,” said Enache in a recent phone interview. “This is very successful way of turning unauthorized users into customers. Once they learn of the license, they often obtain larger licenses.”
When you give infringers a logical option (take down the photo or pay a fee), most will take down the photo. If you give them the chance to license the photo for a reasonable rate, you should be able to find a few takers. The most important part of this scenario is that Dreamstime gives infringers an option, something most copyright holders are unwilling to do. Compare Dreamstime's method to those of other copyright holders.
As photos spread across the internet, bands of lawyers are springing up who offer themselves as hired-gun enforcers to image owners. When they find a target, they squeeze them for thousands of dollars and take a cut of the loot.
Major image owners like Getty possess image recognition software that lets them quickly detect unauthorized use of their images. The legal settlements they collect have become a major source of revenue.
These copyright holders are willing to imagine that a hobby blog's use of an image is somehow depriving them of thousands of dollars. Because of this irrational (but self-interested) logic, the "problem" is treated with utmost severity, resulting in demands for prohibitively expensive licensing fees.
Not only does Dreamstime request reasonable license fees, but it doesn't waste time with the DMCA process. A DMCA takedown notice almost always results in the infringing content being removed, but does nothing to help the photographers earn any income. It's hard to earn money by shooting first and asking questions later. Instead, the infringer is approached directly and honestly, rather than threatened with the possibility of legal action and thousands of dollars in statutory damages. Perhaps if more copyright holders approached casual infringement this way, they might see an uptick in income, rather than alienating another set of potential customers.
Kickstarter provides a way for creators to route around the strictures of traditional publishing industries for a variety of reasons. We've seen Double Fine break the bank on Kickstarter, after getting a lot of blank stares from publishers who didn't think there was a market for point-and-click adventure games. We've seen top Hollywood talent fund a film on Kickstarter to ensure no studio execs would be meddling with their movie. Now, in what I think is a first, we've got a parody author turning to Kickstarter after his publisher dropped the project, citing fear of a legal backlash.
Michael Gerber already had some published parodies under his belt (most recently the Barry Trotter series, from Gollancz, which also publishes spoofs like Bored of the Rings) when he was approached by a major publisher for his take on TV drama Downton Abbey. The writing was complete and the contracts were almost signed—but as he puts it:
And then somebody in New York started… thinking.
“What if [Downton Abbey creator] Julian Fellowes gets mad?”
“What if they hire another company to publish the official Downton Abbey Calendar/Tea Cozy instead of us?”
“What if I make the wrong decision and get fired?”
So even though Downturn Abbey is the most fun I’ve ever had writing a spoof, Mr. Big Publisher changed his mind and offered me a couple bucks to shred the manuscript.
The hell with that! I like this book too much to kill it.
So, rather than accept the kill fee, Gerber is trying to self-publish the book with crowdsourced funds—and with over 50% funding only a few days into the campaign, it looks likely that he'll hit his (relatively modest) goal of $3,500. It's interesting to see a publisher's legal panic serving as the prime motivation for a Kickstarter project. In the "Risks And Challenges" section that Kickstarter now requires on all projects, Gerber directly addresses the legal question, and takes an admirably principled stance:
Now, some of you might be thinking, "Won't he get sued?" I've been doing this professionally since 1991, and so far, so good. Parody — particularly print parody — has a very robust precedent, and I've specifically written Downturn Abbey to fall within it.
A right only exists if you exercise it, and one of the biggest reasons I'm crowdfunding this project instead of taking the kill fee is to assert the right to critique our shared culture via parody. Media corporations will extend their rights relentlessly, so if you like parody — in any medium — it's important to support it in print, because this is where it is most vulnerable. Nobody's suing Jon Stewart, but if parody gets rolled back, that's the logical next step. Downturn Abbey is a harmless bit of fun for fans of the show and the era, but if it can be suppressed out of corporate risk-aversion, sooner or later that attitude will have a chilling effect on the rest of comedy.
Unfortunately, due to the nature of copyright lawsuits and fair use defenses, it would cost a lot more than $3,500 to defend his stance in court. Hopefully, though, it won't ever come to that—the creators of (and anyone else with a copyright stake in) the show would hopefully realize that there's little point (and less honor) in trying to squash out parodies of this nature. However, Gerber's move also highlights the associated problem: even when something is as well-protected as parody, copyright law can have a huge chilling effect by making publishers nervous. Kickstarter and other tools for creators are, at least, helping to combat this—for a publisher, standing behind a parody is just another risk factor in the spreadsheet; for Gerber, it's a matter of standing up for his rights.
[If you're not familiar with the sphincter-clenching scariness that is Amnesia, take a look at the following video, which will allow you to hilariously enjoy someone else's complete hysteria. NSFW.]
Frictional Games attempts to run down the sales figures on Amnesia, a problem somewhat complicated by its inclusion with a Humble Indie Bundle. Long story short, though: sales were unexpectedly good.
The biggest reasons for the uncertainty is that Amnesia was part of the Humble Indie Bundle (HIB) earlier this year and Potato Bundle last year. Both of these account for quite a lot of sales. Without counting the units bought there our total lands at 710 000 units. Adding all HIB and Potato Sack sales gets us to 1 360 000 units in total, which can be called the optimistic figure. This means that, optimistically speaking, Amnesia has sold almost 1.4 million units!
Frictional adjusts for the Humble Effect by providing a "pessimistic" estimate based on the assumption that ⅔ of all bundle purchasers already owned a copy of the game:
This gives us about 920 000 units in total, pessimistically speaking. So saying that we have sold a million units seems fair. Wait... a million units! Oh shit!!
Not a bad total at all, especially for a non-AAA studio whose game featured combatless horror and whose advertising was mostly word-of-mouth. Even more surprising, the two-year-old game continues to sell at a brisk pace, even at full price:
Not counting any discounts, the monthly full price sales lie at over 10 000 units. This means that less then every 5th minute someone in the world is buying a copy of Amnesia.
Why are sales still so strong? Frictionless credits two very active communities:
This success is due to many factors, some of which are the uniqueness of the game (horror games without combat do not really exist on PC), the large modding community (more on this later) and the steady flood of YouTube clips (which is in turn is fueled by the modding community output).
Opening up your game and letting your fans build on your foundation is one of the best ways to rack up sales months (or years) after the release date. Just ask the developers of Arma, whose Arma 2 (another 2-year-old niche game) continues to sell very well, thanks to a strong modding community, including one of its own employees who developed the amazing "Day Z" zombie survival mod.
The output of modding community has been quite big as well. Amnesia is as of writing the 2nd most popular game at ModDB and sports 176 finished mods. Not only do this amount of user content lengthen the life of the game, it has also increased the amount of YouTube movies made with an Amnesia theme. There are lots of popular Let's Play channels that have devoted quite a bit of time with just playing various user-made custom stories. As mentioned earlier this have probably played a large role in keeping our monthly sales up.
It is quite clear that allowing users to create content is a feature worth putting time into. I also think that we managed to have a pretty good balance between having simple tools and still allowing a lot of possibilities.
When you give your fans a toolbox and invite them to not only create, but share the results openly, they become your advertisers. Without spending a cent on promotion, a developer can turn hundreds of individuals into a street team that shamelessly plugs your product because they love it. Respecting them enough to allow them to build on your original creates the sort of loyalty that locked-down software never will.
Oh, and as for piracy, the supposed bane of PC developers' existences? Here, in total, is all the developers have to say on that subject:
It has been over a year since we even thought about piracy. With sales as good as above we cannot really see this as an issue worth more than two lines in this post, so screw it.
Make great games. Extend the life of your software by opening it up to modders. Support your community. These simple steps (well, the last two are much simpler than the first) have allowed a small developer (11 employees) to command the attention of PC gamers and critics, resulting in Amnesia earning back over 10 times its cost. Who needs to worry about "lost sales" when so many people are clearly willing to pay?
Erin McKeown, a wonderful musician who has been very involved in some discussions on copyright and internet access -- and who was especially helpful in the fight against SOPA -- recently wrote the following thoughtful, heartfelt piece concerning the emotional roller coaster of having someone copy your work, and how all of this relates to copyright law.
I always knew my song "Slung-lo" was a hit.
It just took longer than I expected.
"Slung-lo" came out on my 2003 album, grand (Nettwerk). It found its way to the Brittany Murphy masterpiece "Uptown Girls" and into episodes of "Roswell", "Gilmore Girls", and "Privileged". It also found its way into a Tesco F&F commercial, which ran in the Czech Republic in the summer of 2008. Though not a hit by any means, it was a remarkably long life for a song that came out in 2003.
And then last year, I received two separate emails through my website pointing me to this video for a song called "Touch The Sun" sung by the Czech artist, Debbi. (editor's note: we tried to embed the official video for this song, but Sony Music refuses to allow an embed on the song).
"Have you seen this?" both emails asked. I hadn't.
From the first moment I heard "Touch The Sun," it was as clear to me as anything that someone had taken the DNA of my song "Slung-lo" and turned it into another song. At this point, my lawyer wants me to make very clear that IN MY OPINION, THIS IS COPYRIGHT INFRINGEMENT.
I don't want to spend a lot of time technically breaking down the two songs, but I'd like to point out a few things. Among the many substantial similarities between them, check out the lyrical content (weather as metaphor for happiness), the almost exact song structure (solo verse, band verse, double-tracked vocal in the chorus...), and the vocal cadence in unison with the descending instrumental line in the chorus. I could go on.
Debbi's "Touch The Sun" isn't the proverbial "kid in the bedroom with a laptop" who remixes pop culture and makes mash-ups to show how alike we humans really are. No, it turns out the song was written for a commercial scale beer campaign by the giant European alcohol company Metaxa, which itself is a subsidiary of the global beverage conglomerate Remy Cointreau.
And it is a hit. A huge one. Debbi was the runner up on the Czech version of the "Idol" franchise. The song won "Song of the Year" at the Czech version of the Grammys. The original video that was sent to me has almost a million hits. A quick search of YouTube reveals karaoke versions, animations, "how to play versions," and plenty of people in their bedrooms playing the song and singing along. The beer ad with the song aired across the Czech Republic more than 1200 times in September of 2010. That's about 40 times a day.
So, after all this time, "Slung-lo" is finally a hit.
The easy part of this story is that I work with an amazing publishing administrator, Duchamp, who has stepped in to help me. We've retained Czech council who have been in contact with Metaxa, Debbi's record label (Sony!), and the Slovak production house that produced the track. All have denied any infringement, declined to settle, and at this point, court proceedings have started. My lawyers estimate that this could take anywhere from one to five years.
This spring Remy re-launched the ad campaign across all of Europe.
By the way, the writers are Tomas Zubak, Peter Graus, and Maros Kachut. Let's #kony2012 them.
Actually let's not.
Instead, I want to talk about the whole host of emotions this experience has brought up for me, and the way it's forced me to confront and articulate my beliefs about copyright.
After watching the video for the first time, I was certifiably apoplectic. I was physically shaking with anger. How dare they! I wasn't so much angry at Debbi -- who, from what I eventually read, really just sang the damn thing -- as I was at the writers. They had to know what they were doing, I fumed. I mean, the song was just in a commercial there. They had to know about it. How dare they!
And then I felt small. I'm nobody, I thought, so they probably figured they could get away with it. It's not like they ripped off Beyonce. Just small-time me.
And then I felt defeated. I've always wanted to have a hit like "Touch The Sun". And I thought I wrote one in 2003. It was such a great disappointment to me that no one noticed. There will never be enough people to notice me, I thought.
And then, I would find myself dreaming. Maybe I'll get a settlement. Maybe it will be large enough to make all my problems go away. I'll be able to pay for my new record. I'll be able to afford the best marketing and publicity money can buy. And then there will be some left over to buy a house. My life will change!
Finally, I disconnected. I couldn't tell very many people about what was happening, and the feelings were overwhelming me. Ok, I thought, I'll just let the lawyers do their lawyer thing. This is why you pay them. I am powerless. Breathe deep and exhale.
Very early in the process, my lawyers asked me what I wanted to be the goal of my settlement. Did I want 100% of the money made? Did I want a flat fee? How much? Did I want a public apology? Did I want to let it go? Did I just want credit?
These questions became a spiritual exercise. I began to think that how I answered them said something about who I was as a person.
I believe that creativity is an unpredictable, mysterious process. I often have no idea where a song comes from. Other times I am more aware of the hard work. It is not always an easy thing to know where influence ends and mimicry begins. But there is also a way we recognize ourselves in the faces of our children, and a gut instinct that tells me when I am hearing my own musical fingerprint.
I thought for awhile, and decided I would like 50% of all the monies made so far, and 50% on everything moving forward. I didn't need a public apology. I think this is fair, not punitive, and given the current copyright law system and options available to me, a reasonable request.
Now I just have to wait one to five years to see how it turns out.
Recently, I've ended up doing a lot of advocacy and policy work around copyright. This isn't because I am a copyright crusader, for or against, but because the issue gets tied up with so many other things I care about: media access, fair compensation for artists, creating a sustainable music business.
I actually hate to talk about copyright because, once it's brought up, it just seems to take over any conversation. Most of the time I feel like that conversation then becomes counterproductive. People throw around complex legal principles. The jargon resembles a foreign language. Often, the emotions get so heated that a room ends up divided at just the time when we need to work together. I've also noticed that most of the people crowing about copyright aren't individual copyright holders. They're groups of people who make money from the business of policing and administering copyright.
In my advocacy, I want to talk scale. I want to talk relationships and power structures. I want to talk about technology. Copyright is part of this, but it's not the whole enchilada. I've come to think that current copyright law is like an immovable boulder in the middle of a rushing river. It's not likely to change, so I'm going to have to work with it, as it is. And not let it stop other important work.
Yet here I am facing a difficult situation where copyright is the main issue.
I recently watched Kirby Ferguson's "Everything Is A Remix" series and found it really helpful to understand the feelings that came up for me around "Touch The Sun." In part four, Kirby makes the observation that we humans are easily and freely influenced and inspired by the world around us. However, when we feel like something has been taken from us, we get very angry and indignant. Our anger is as natural and essentially human as is our borrowing or being influenced.
Really how I feel about copyright is this: can you please just ask me? I am so easily found. One or two clicks, a badly mangled combination of "erin" and "mck" will get you to me. Let me know what you're doing. Let's talk. Take some time and connect with me. I know this is imperfect. Sometimes in the creative economy, there just isn't time. But how about we try?
I'd also like us all to acknowledge that the current copyright system, the unmovable boulder in the stream, rather than protecting rights holders and acting as a deterrent to infringement, is in its very complications a shelter for those who use others' material without permission and an obstacle to those who would like to legally use or remix content. Whether it is done consciously or unconsciously, nefariously or in communal bliss, given the complicated, arcane process, the myriad hoops to jump through, the length and cost of the process, who can afford to participate?
So Tomas, Peter, and Maros, I won't assume your motives in turning my song "Slung-lo" into "Touch The Sun." Instead, I'll say this: if you asked me, we might have worked something out. When I found you, we might have worked something out. Who knows, maybe we could have advanced the conversation around copyright and made a radical contribution toward a different type of economy. Instead, it will drag on in court. And I will fight it in court as long as I have to. But this could have gone another way. And for that, I am sad.
Erin McKeown is an internationally known musician, writer, and producer, releasing 8 full length albums in the last decade and spending an average of 200 nights a year onstage. She has appeared on Later with Jools Holland, Late Night with Conan O'Brien, NPR, BBC, and has had numerous film, television, and commercial placements. She's even written a song via text message with her friend Rachel Maddow. Lately, she has added mentor and activist to her resume. She is a board member at the Future of Music Coalition and a 2011-12 fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society. Visit her website www.erinmckeown.com for more info and to join her mailing list.
Special Thanks to Mike King, Andy Sellars, my lawyers, Lawrence Stanley and Vaclav Schovanek, and Erik Gilbert at Duchamp for their help researching and proofing this post.
In the niche realm of videogame music, fans are as intense about the medium as they are with any other musical genre. There are plenty of sites out there that index original works, torrent trackers that offer up collections, and YouTube videos showing off fan remakes done in Mario Paint. But for another look at how truly artistic this type of thing can be, and the rather profound impact videogame music remix artists can have on original composers and game producers alike, it's instructive to take a look at one of the genre’s kings, OverClocked ReMix.
For those of you unfamiliar with OverClocked ReMix, they are a non-profit organization created to pay homage to gaming soundtracks through incredibly artistic reimagining of original videogame music. Their website offers up thousands of free fan-made arrangements, details on the original composers, tools and resources for remix artists, and a community forum for fans. It was started by David Lloyd (djpretzel). I asked David a couple of questions to get details on the experience.
OC ReMix is adamant that the works they promote should be truly derivative, rather than plagiarizing. I asked David about the reaction he's received from original composers and if he's ever had to rely on fair use arguments as a defense.
"We haven't had to. Knock on wood, right? I think companies have started realizing that fan art - be it visual, textual, or aural - can only help expand their market, enrich the universe of their franchises, etc. We do believe that our not-for-profit community, the free music it releases, and the educational & creative spirit we try to foster among artists is all in keeping with the spirit of fair use."
This is something that gets talked about a lot at Techdirt: fan involvement is a benefit, not something of which to be fearful. Many artists consider it an honor. Perhaps it's the nature of the medium with game music, but it seems like game producers are more open to fan involvement of all kinds from their customers, be it mods and content, or musical arrangements. But the obvious question is what benefits have been seen from fan-generated works, both for the game producers and the fans themselves? David offers insight there, as well:
"So far, the response from the game composers we've talked with has been unilaterally positive, and we've also had great feedback & interaction with community representatives and others in the game industry.
He then goes on to inform me of the cross-interaction he's had with his fans, original composers, and game producers. A few examples: a published interview with Wizards & Warriors and Donkey Kong Country 2 composer Dave Wise, working with Tommy Tallarico and Video Games Live, interest in the site by Secrets Of Mana music composer Hiroki Kikuta and Contra 4 composer Jake Kaufman, who went so far as to submit his own Bollywood-style remix of his own original music for Shantae: Risky's Revenge. The point is that the games get talked about, interest is generated in the music, the composers, and the games... and everyone benefits. And, of course, everyone has a great time doing so.
The culminating example of this was when Capcom reached out to David in the midst of producing Super Street Fighter 2 HD Remix. They had heard the free album OC ReMix released in 2006 as an homage to the Street Fighter 2 soundtrack, called Blood on the Asphalt, and were so enthralled with the music that they commissioned OC ReMix to produce the entire soundtrack for the new game. And the reviews of the game went out of their way to mention the strength of the soundtrack, even if David tries to play down how good it was.
"Well, it was Street Fighter, so it was probably going to be successful on some level even if the soundtrack had consisted solely of some random guy playing the Guile theme on kazoo, but the majority of reviews had positive things to say, and Capcom did make comments to the effect of being happy with our work. Equally as important, we've had great feedback from hardcore SF fans, who are always going to be your toughest audience."
Too humble, if industry reaction is to be judged. One Capcom V.P. described showing the game to guests, nearly all of whom praised the game's soundtrack before any other aspect. In its review of the game, IGN made specific mention of OC ReMix and praised their work, as did GameSpot, GamesRadar, and 1UP.com.
Overall, OC ReMix is a great study in how fans can help content producers and also be involved in future works. OC ReMix has put their work out there for free, often times via bittorrent, and that has led to interest and further work. All of this promotion, all of this fandom, serves only to help the games, in one case going so far as to have fans essentially compose the music for an entire game. Why can't music and movie producers find the same value in fan-made creations as some of these gaming companies have?