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Music rulebook rewritten

Can new-age music piracy be curbed by a good old fashioned crackdown' There are stirrings that suggest the way music is shared is about to undergo a drastic change, thanks to the open approach.

Across the world, music industries continue to face huge revenue losses. The root of the problem, according to the corporate machine, lies in rampant music piracy, aided by the advancement in technology and the growing presence of Internet in our daily lives.

The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) has started legal proceedings against over 5,500 file sharers and is asking for even tougher measures to curb the trend.

But is suing the real solution' Creative Commons (CC) would beg to differ. This US-based non-profit corporation 'was founded on the notion that some people may not want to exercise all of the intellectual property rights the law affords them' reads www.creativecommons.org.

'We believe there is an unmet demand for an easy yet reliable way to tell the world 'Some rights reserved' or even 'No rights reserved'.' Going beyond mere theorising, CC has proposed a set of licenses to 'help people express this preference for sharing'.

The latest thrust to the Creative Commons cause came from American technology magazine Wired. Considered a tech bible of sorts, the magazine gave away a 16-track CD with its November issue, which had songs by artistes such as The Beastie Boys (picture above), ex-Talking Heads David Byrne, The Rapture and even some unusual entries like Gilberto Gil, a popstar who doubles as Brazil's cultural minister.

The uniqueness of the collection is that the songs can be copied and shared freely. They can also be sampled (sections of a track used for mixing with other songs to create new material), though, with certain conditions. There isn't a Britney Spears on the list, but it's a start.

CC proposes 11 licenses with varying degrees of copy-and-share restrictions. These range from allowing others to 'copy, distribute, display, and perform the copyrighted work, but only if they give you credit', to doing all of that only for 'non-commercial purposes' or even letting them use the samples in advertisements. The 16 songs on the Wired CD are under two licenses ' Sampling Plus and Non Commercial Sampling Plus.

The people behind CC are not wide-eyed teenage MP3 enthusiasts or dubious piracy advocators. The founders include law professors and cyber law and intellectual property experts James Boyle, Michael Carroll and Lawrence Lessig, MIT computer professor Hal Abelson and lawyer-turned-documentary filmmaker-turned-cyber law expert Eric Saltzman. Fellows and students of Harvard Law School also helped get the project off the ground, and it operates out of the Stanford Law School.

The Wired project took one year to see fruition. 'It's a some-rights-reserved approach,' writes Wired, 'versus the old analogue-age standard of all rights reserved. It's copyright for the 21st Century.' Around 50 artistes were approached, out of which 'only the bravest coughed up a song'.

George Michael

Lately, major artistes have begun to voice their opinions for or against sharing music and trying alternate approaches to reaching their music to listeners. George Michael , following the release of his last album Patience, publicly announced that all music from him in future would be available on the Internet for free download. Fans need only contribute to charities of the singer's choice.

Prince, the singer who has had major fights with his record label in the past, has also taken up distributing his work himself. According to him, MP3 is a tool and not a thing to be feared by musicians. Prince's NPG Music Club offers MP3 song collections as well as a one-time $25 membership fee for accessing music, video, concert footage and interaction with the artiste.

A copyright control incident sparked a massive Internet protest in February this year, when 170 websites hosted DJ Danger Mouse's The Grey Album. The DJ (who has a song on the Wired CD) had remixed vocals from rapper Jay-Z's The Black Album and the Beatles' classic White Album to create The Grey Album. When around 3,000 promo copies had been sent out, EMI, the rights-owner of White Album, served a cease-and-desist notice to the DJ. Following this, websites united to host the album for a day on their site on February 24, calling it Grey Tuesday and recorded over one million downloads.

The Creative Commons initiative may change all that, along with the direction that music will take in future.

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