Netlabels and the Adoption of Creative Commons Licensing

This comment is in reference to Creative Commons in Practice: Notes from the Trenches of the Independent Electronic Music Industry by Björn Hartmann, founder of the Textone netlabel. At the time of publication I called it required reading for anyone interested in the ideology behind Ektoplazm and the free music movement in general, but it doesn’t appear to be online any more.

At any rate, Hartmann delves into the history of EDM netlabels and explores what motivates artists to release their creations under the Creative Commons licensing regime. I was particularly moved by a passage that examines why it is that so many people devote themselves to niche genres despite the economic hardships involved:

There is the fervor driving the individual to create, and beyond that, a rich network of social interaction to partake in. If one looks at music not as a business, but as a communication medium, a more valuable social payoff comes into sight. It is the function of music as a universal connector, a topic for community building, a nexus for artistic exchange and creative experimentation that marks its true value. Turning away from unaccommodating commercial networks, a number of artists realized this potential and moved towards its realization online, avoiding the pitfall of merely replicating the restrictive brick-and-mortar model of music distribution in the digital domain.

Hartmann later identifies four major reasons why so many netlabels have adopted Creative Commons licensing. Releasing music for free is great promotion, liberates the creator from the economic pressures associated with traditional distribution systems, and fosters community building “based on respect and trust rather than intimidation and litigation”. The last point is somewhat subtle: music released under the Creative Commons is “future-proof”; even if the content owner disappears, the availability of a single copy of a work ensures its longevity in the collective sphere of human affairs. This means that–barring some unforeseen catastrophe–what we do here is forever.