The Open Content revolution has happened! ...it just didn't happen in the way we expected it. I was recently interviewed for a London music blog Music 4.5: What the music industry can learn from the open source movement?1 Somewhat surprisingly, I gave Youtube as an example of a website where music and video is re-used in an open source fashion:
"Youtube is a good example of people using music in the same way as programmers are using open source code. Fans can make their own videos or record themselves covering or singing along to their favourite songs. No one seems to be worrying about licensing, they’re just having fun and sharing their work."
Take this brilliant adaptation of Star Wars into a silent movie:
It uses the original Star Wars for footage and story, but it is clearly a creative work in its own right, with the b/w effect, music adaptation, texts and style. If anyone accused this master piece of something like piracy, they would clearly be wrong. This is a master piece in its own right, and it is a perfect example of how to apply open source -like re-use and re-mixing into music and video. The catch is just that... none of that content is actually licensed as Creative Commons or any other similarly open license. The Star Wars footage here was just used without permission, without royalties. The resulting new video of course then cannot be properly licensed either, and probably the creators didn't even think about such a question anyway. This video I think is particularly well done, but as a concept there are many many such re-mix video's on Youtube. Obama and McCain - Dance Off! is another similar one. Very professional special effects, yet I bet my hat that they are not actually paying royalties for that soundtrack. YouTube is "collaborating" with the big record labels and media companies in some kind or royalty scheme. Sometimes you can also see that a video was removed or is only available in the US. But originally they didn't, they just went ahead and did what they did. Better to ask for forgiveness than permission ...they say. While I think it is great that Youtube has facilitated the arrival of a Remix culture, we are not done yet. It is nice that Youtube can act as a proxy between the creative joy of the common man on the one side and the litigatious record companies on the other, this just makes Youtube like a walled oasis for such creativity, apparently I'm still out of luck using that video outside anywhere else on the internet. The fact that proper copyright licensing isn't used kind of also makes this some kind of underground gray area, where these videos are used on the internet but couldn't be used easily in traditional media or sold on DVD's. Even so, Youtube's path may be the right one to follow. In open source software Richard Stallman was successful in educating us about copyright and copyleft and collectively we've created an incredible body of free software using the GPL and other licenses. But maybe open content will follow a different path. Instead of teaching people about Creative Commons, we may just want to teach people to enjoy and embrace their creativity. Once that kind of Re-mix culture becomes the norm, legislation will have to follow reality, not the other way.