Forum delves into murky waters of rights in the digital age

Linux music mixer Paul Wayper weighs in on the debate.

A forum later this month seeks to shed some light on the increasingly complex area of rights protection in the digital music age.

Taking place at Griffith University in Brisbane, the CCau Music Industry Forum aims to facilitate the discussion of issues surrounding music licensing in Australia.

"The digital environment presents new opportunities for musicians and new business models for the distribution of music. Creative Commons licensing in particular has gained considerable favour with content producers world-wide. However the legalities and practicalities of releasing music under these new models can be complicated, particularly when you wish to combine them with more traditional collective licensing options," state forum organisers.

Presenters will include Creative Commons Australia project lead Professor Brian Fitzgerald, Australasian Performing Right Association (APRA) IR Director Scot Morris, and Director of Intermedia, Music Education & Research Design (IMERSD) Professor Paul Draper.

Issues discussed will include potential online distribution models for musicians and the music industry; compatibility issues with current collective licensing schemes; and legal and practical issues relating to the use of Creative Commons licences by Australian songwriters, composers and musicians.

The forum also aims to gather feedback regarding the current understanding of and attitudes towards copyright, open content licensing and Creative Commons within the Australian music industry whilst providing an opportunity for key music industry personnel in to learn more about these topics. Creative Commons Australia is the local arm of the international Creative Commons project, a non-profit organisation that aims to promote flexible copyright options for creators. It builds upon the "all rights reserved" of traditional copyright to create a voluntary "some rights reserved" system. Linux music mixer and ANU research programmer Paul Wayper, for one, is an avid supporter of Creative Commons and the work it does. Wayper plans to mix tunes using a Creative Commons (CC) licence for the upcomingLinux conf 2008.

When he is not at work, Wayper spends most of his time composing with LMMS (the Linux Multimedia System) and doing a major write-up of the documentation for it. He is also working on his current music database projectSDMD, using his own Rocket CGI module.

Wayper believes that the Creative Commons model goes hand-in-hand with the new digital landscape.

"There are two fundamental changes in the landscape of music, and art, production. Firstly, it no longer takes a dedicated artist who's spent thousands on special instruments to have the equipment and talent to produce a good-quality piece of music. Secondly, the actual distribution of music no longer takes arcane mixing processes, mastering to record or CD, printing and distribution of physical items. The only thing that hasn't really changed is that people still want to listen to music," he said.

The problem is that quality is proportional to effort, Wayper points out.

"My little twiddlings in a piece of software developed in a couple of people's spare time isn't as good as if I was using a commercial piece of software where more people had spent time tweaking the user interface, making the preset patches sound nicer and so forth," he said.

"So, I give away my pieces with a (CC) license that allows some reuse while not allowing total exploitation because I don't really expect someone to shell out money for them. If I were to turn to producing commercial trance full time I might expect to be paid, but only if I actually made something that other people were making money off. The key thing that people don't think about CC licenses is that it doesn't mean you can't negotiate the rights to other uses, just that they aren't given by default."

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