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jason on 10/13/2010 at 12:00PM

CBC Podcasts, Creative Commons, Defining NonCommercial

Remember this Creative Commons playlist from CBC Radio's tech/culture program Spark? At the time (April 2010), producer Dan Misener outlined several reasons why Spark originally chose to use Creative Commons music; it wasn't just that "using music in podcasts can be tricky business," but that Spark "wanted to embrace the values of online culture" and "CC-licensed music -- collaborative, remixable, and constantly evolving -- provided the perfect soundtrack". For three seasons as a podcast and on radio airwaves throughout Canada, Spark has served as an amazing resource for the CC music community, offering a list of featured music with each episode.

But in Spark's most recent episode, Creative Commons music was nowhere to be found. Listeners who'd come to rely on Spark as a resource for quality CC music asked what was up. You can follow along in the comments to see where it's eventually revealed that Spark and the many other CBC programs that previously relied on CC music or their podcasts had been told to stop. It's clear that even even the show's producers didn't understand why; at first it sounded like a deal with one of Canada's many unions -- or maybe their stock music library -- had specifically prohibited the use of Creative Commons music.

As speculation spread to Boing Boing and Michael Geists's blog, CBC's Programming Director came forth with an official statement (emphasis mine):

We’ve been listening to the conversations today regarding a “ban” on the use of Creative Commons music in our podcasts and want to take the opportunity to clarify some of the misconceptions that are floating out there. 

The CBC has always embraced new ways of creating and sharing the content we make (in fact, shows like Spark and previously Search Engine were some of the first in Canada to use this type of music license in their programming), however, just like you, we must do so in a way which respects the limits put on that use by the music's creators.

The issue with our use of Creative Commons music is that a lot of our content is readily available on a multitude of platforms, some of which are deemed to be “commercial” in nature (e.g. streaming with pre-roll ads, or pay for download on iTunes) and currently the vast majority of the music available under a Creative Commons license prohibits commercial use. 

In order to ensure that we continue to be in line with current Canadian copyright laws, and given the lack of a wide range of music that has a Creative Commons license allowing for commercial use, we made a decision to use music from our production library in our podcasts as this music has the proper usage rights attached. 

Everyone can rest easy-- there are no “groups” setting out to stop the use of Creative Commons music at the CBC, and we will continue to use Creative Commons licensed music, pictures etc. across a number of our non-commercial platforms. 

We hope this helps clarify things. 


Chris Boyce 
Programming Director. 
CBC Radio.

Commenter gurdonark  responded (emphasis mine):

Part of what I love about Spark is its use of Creative Commons and netlabel artists to achieve a cutting edge and different backing sound. I think it is a good thought to make sure that one respects a BY NC license, though I think of Spark as non-commercial.

It sounds like all but one of the artists who were contacted for permission to use their NC-licensed work in CBC podcasts would agree with gurdonark, and were happy to have their music included. Still, since the use could be construed as "commercial", this was a necessary step. It must've made a lot of work for the show's producers; they basically had to license each track all over again. Staunch Free Culture advocates argue that this defeats the point because Creative Commons was supposed to alleviate the frictions of our permission-based culture. So really this highlights an issue with Creative Commons licenses, and it's an issue that CC is addressing through Defining “Noncommercial”: A Study of How the Online Population Understands “Noncommercial Use”. Currently, the definition is somewhat open to interpretation --

Creative Commons noncommercial licenses include a definition of commercial use, which precludes use of rights granted for commercial purposes … in any manner that is primarily intended for or directed toward commercial advantage or private monetary compensation.

-- and the Creative Commons Defining NonCommercial Use study found, among other things, that "users are in some cases more conservative in their interpretation of what is noncommercial than are creators".

On Monday, Creative Commons released their own official statement on CBC's podcast controversy.

And tomorrow (Thursday) morning, CC's Creative Director Eric Steur will join me live on WFMU to talk about CC, CBC, and how the "Defining NonCommercial" study might impact the future of Creative Commons (details).

Speaking of CC's future, they are in the midst of a Superhero Campaign, powering up to tackle these difficult issues in the fight for openness and innovation.

Tune in to WFMU Thursday morning at 11am ET for the conversation, which will also be podcast-ed along with some of the killer tunes from Spark's CC playlist.



andrewcsmith on 10/13/10 at 08:46PM
Really interesting stuff. Seems that paranoia is getting in the way. For all the supposed clarity of CC licenses, the interpretation is clearly a little ambiguous, and dependent on respect and "good intentions" that are somewhat foreign to media licensing. Bummer.
happypuppyrecords on 10/13/10 at 09:20PM
*sigh* It was good while it lasted.

Thanks to Dan @ Spark and fellow Spark'ers for the exposure, and to FMA for all the continued support as well.
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