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Ethics of usage of CC-BY works

Clarence Simpson
permalink   Sun, Jan 15, 2012 @ 7:02 AM
So I was having a discussion with someone regarding the CC licensing model and we came up with a situation which seems to be a bit of an ethical dilemma and I wanted to get the opinions of some musicians that create CC content.

So, this is specifically regarding CC-BY licensed work. The situation we were considering is someone compiling a bunch of CC-BY songs into a single album (a mix CD I guess you’d say) and selling that album (assuming they attribute the original artists as required by the license of course).

Now, based on the CC-BY license I am fairly certain that this is totally legal as there are no restrictions on what you can do with the music. The question is, is this ethical?

My initial thought is that those who produce CC-BY songs are more interested in spreading their work as far and wide as possible without regarding to financial gain, or else they would have chosen the CC-BY-NC license. If anything, I thought the artists would be thrilled that their music is reaching an audience that their music might not otherwise reach.

The person I was speaking with disagreed and thought that the original CC-BY producers would be highly upset at that kind of usage of their work without any financial compensation to them as the original artists.

So, what do you think? I especially would like to hear from producers who have created CC-BY music. Would you be upset if you found someone selling and profiting from an album that included your work with no money going to you personally, even though it appears to be perfectly legal based on the license?
Kara Square
permalink   Tue, Jan 24, 2012 @ 5:29 PM
Anytime I license something CC-BY, I assume that it will be used for profit by someone else. Sometimes I seek material that is CC-BY so I can add to it and possibly put it on an album… for personal profit. I consider CC-BY licenses to be excellent promotion. They also have an altruistic side effect; I like that. I do cringe when I think about some of the possible uses of music that I don’t agree with… but I consider that a small concern. Like Colab, most of my stuff is not CC-BY, so I do put a lot of thought into my license decision.
permalink   Clarence Simpson Tue, Jan 24, 2012 @ 6:47 PM
So, would the usage I described be one of the uses that you don’t agree with? If you found out someone was selling a compilation album that included one of your CC-BY songs?
permalink   Kara Square Tue, Jan 24, 2012 @ 7:37 PM
I would be okay with that. I’d consider it free promotion for my music.

The main thing that makes me cringe is the idea of my song being used in advertisements… or certain types of websites… basically things that don’t line up with my personal values.
permalink   Clarence Simpson Tue, Jan 24, 2012 @ 8:01 PM
gotcha… while my legalese isn’t great, I think you might actually have some legal recourse even in some of those situations depending on how they define “honor” and “reputation”.

Snippet from the CC-BY legal text:

Except as otherwise agreed in writing by the Licensor or as may be otherwise permitted by applicable law, if You Reproduce, Distribute or Publicly Perform the Work either by itself or as part of any Adaptations or Collections, You must not distort, mutilate, modify or take other derogatory action in relation to the Work which would be prejudicial to the Original Author’s honor or reputation. Licensor agrees that in those jurisdictions (e.g. Japan), in which any exercise of the right granted in Section 3(b) of this License (the right to make Adaptations) would be deemed to be a distortion, mutilation, modification or other derogatory action prejudicial to the Original Author’s honor and reputation, the Licensor will waive or not assert, as appropriate, this Section, to the fullest extent permitted by the applicable national law, to enable You to reasonably exercise Your right under Section 3(b) of this License (right to make Adaptations) but not otherwise.
permalink   Kara Square Wed, Jan 25, 2012 @ 7:44 AM
Ahhh… that’s familiar. Thanks for the reminder.
permalink   Wed, Jan 25, 2012 @ 11:28 AM
Thank you for raising this topic. I am also selectively intentional about using CC-BY, although I license a large portion of my works under this license.

As long as EVERY artist is Attributed in your album, you should be in compliance with CC-BY (unless you distort, mutilate, modify or take other derogatory action in relation to the Work which would be prejudicial to the Original Author’s honor or reputation.)

As ccMixter’s CC-BY tracks are spread throughout the internet, we’ve noted issues with incomplete Attribution, or no Attribution at all. We’re actively working with the folks at YouTube so ccMixter tracks used there will include a link back to the original ccMixter track through their Content ID system — where the Attribution can be found through the Remix history. Input on this is welcome.

As we’ve curated albums from ccMixter events at TuneTrack, we Attribute each contributing artist in the track, with links to each artist’s source material. Check out Strike the Root We’ve also created an Artist Pool (like the the MP3.com Pool) so we can share back with contributing artists. We want to set a good precedent, and again feedback is welcome.

We also encourage folks that make money using ccMixter CC-BY content to make a contribution to site. :)
permalink   Clarence Simpson Wed, Jan 25, 2012 @ 1:34 PM
Thanks, but I think you’re still mostly referring to the legal issues of using CC-BY material. I’m pretty clear on that aspect of it and am not really looking for legal advice in this case. I’m really referring to the ethical aspect, which is quite different from the legal aspect and is more based on opinion I think.

I think there’s a broad continuum of uses that are clearly legal, but maybe not so clearly ethical.

On one end of the spectrum, you have someone making a home video and adding a CC-BY soundtrack for posting on YouTube. I think there would be few, if any, producers of CC-BY music that would be upset by this usage and consider it unethical.

On the other end, you could imagine a large corporation like Apple taking a particular CC-BY song, adopting it as their corporate musical theme, using it in commercials, even selling the song for $2 on iTunes, and giving nothing back to the original artist. As long as attribution is followed, that’s still perfectly legal… but I bet a lot of producers of CC-BY music would be highly upset about this usage. Maybe I’m way off base here, but I suspect that most people would consider Apple selling the song exclusively for their own corporate profit to be unethical.

So, if it’s true that most people would consider the first case ethical usage and the second case unethical usage, then the line from ethical to unethical must lie somewhere between. That line is what I’m trying to find.

What do you think? Where is that line from ethical to unethical? Or would you go so far as to consider all legal uses of CC-BY material to also be ethical?

In particular, with the album example I gave in my original post, if someone created an album that included some of your CC-BY work as-is and was selling it for profit, would that upset you? Would you consider that unethical?