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jason on 01/25/2010 at 01:23PM

30 Days

cover art to 30 Days set 2, by Melissa Federowicz

Vancouver-based Peppermill Records is not your typical record label. First off, they're a net-label...of course that's not such a rare thing these days, but they specialize in using the net as a means to create uniquely curated worldwide collaborative projects.

Peppermill's first release, the 30 Days project, brought thirty talented artists from all over the world together to create one song a day, starting back in December 2005. It was a "sort of chain-collaboration where one finished at midnight and passed it on to the next to continue the set", says the Peppermill website, which also acknowledges that this idea was adapted from the democratic, collectively-run Soulseek Records (yes, that Soulseek). Seems like a perfect starting point for a cc netlabel -- exemplary of the idea-sharing ethos that inspires the movement.

Peppermill's site offers links to some fascinating co-conspirators in the net-audio world. The wizard behind Peppermill, PK, recently tipped me off to the lalala4e label out of Mexico and holy smokes!

Peppermill Records itself has gone on to release 15 fantastic albums -- one of them extending the 30 Days idea into 52 Weeks, divided into four seasons. They've also ran into some interesting issues at the intersection of free music and fair use, which are really deserving of their own article (you can read about one of those projects here).

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01
icastico on 01/25/10 at 08:16PM
my 2 cents:
They should have gone forward with the Shel Silverstein project and given it away for free. My guess is that any lawsuits would have been positive publicity for them and would have been decided in their favor.
02
jason on 01/25/10 at 09:11PM
interesting idea, icastico. Do you really think that this could set a precedent for considering non-profit/non-commercial derivative works "Fair Use"? That's the dream...

The sad thing is, if they hadn't tried to do the Right thing and asked for permission, nobody would have really minded. I find it hard to believe that anyone could argue that not-for-sale tribute albums are harmful, but if you ask and the lawyers get to handling the situation, they're bound to say no.

it's an issue we've seen many times in the fair use debates. Reminds me of Steven Arntson's struggle to clear a Woody Guthrie / Carter Family -inspired composition for free distribution (here's the post http://bit.ly/4z2GRB ).

here's the link I meant to include in the article:
http://www.peppermillrecords.com/if-youre-a-pretender
03
icastico on 01/26/10 at 04:15AM
jason,

It seems to me there is already an established precedent for non-commercial uses to be considered fair use, particularly if you can make a tie to educational purposes.

http://www.copyright.gov/fls/fl102.html
04
jason on 01/27/10 at 05:52AM
thanks for the link icastico!

I'd like to think it'd be clear to everyone that this is fair use. But the law is just vague enough that it could be twisted to mean something else. There have been too many cases of culturally significant projects stifled by rightsholders who, when asked for permission to build upon their work (because that's what Fair Use suggests), claim more intellectual property rights than they actually have, stretching and re-defining the bounds of copyright law.

All the current Fair Use examples seem to date back to a 1961 Report. One of them is educational use, as you mentioned...but 1961 was an era when educational copies could be made available in physically limited editions -- a controlled amount of copies, like "reproduction by a library of a portion of a work to replace part of a damaged copy; reproduction by a teacher or student of a small part of a work to illustrate a lesson"

Ironically, another precedent for fair use is parody. So if this album mocked Shel, that'd actually be better protected than a tribute album of new musical works inspired by his writing, created by people out of genuine love....???

I don't think the Fair Use doctrine has properly addressed non-commercial uses in the digital era, and so a lawsuit that decided in Peppermill's favor here might also set an important precedent where none exists, and ward off future encroachments on the doctrine of fair use.

I'm not saying I'd like to see a zero-profit label get sued -- I'd really rather think this just isn't worth the fuss. Unfortunately though, until that precedent is set, the law is not going to change, and those in power will continue misrepresenting the bounds of fair use.

Maybe instead of a lawsuit, some sort of definitive Fair Use Best Practices for music could come into play. I mean I don't know if it's actually even possible, but it's the type of thing I dream of doing through the FMA, similar to the amazing Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for Online Video

http://www.centerforsocialmedia.org/resources/publications/fair_use_in_online_video/
05
PK on 01/27/10 at 10:50PM
Hi guys. So I go into more detail in that article Jason linked to and I plan to post here on my blog this week, but a few points...

- We couldn't just go ahead with the project as the lawyers threatened each of the individual artists involved personally. Many of them, especially the established ones, weren't willing to risk legal action for a free project no matter how cool they thought it was.

- We tried to muster up some publicity from this story, but without a finished product and lots of great audio to back it up, not many were willing to cover it. Even if they agreed in principle.

- Whether the album is free or not makes no difference in the eyes of the law, it seems. The copyright holders have the legal right to decide whether or not we have permission. It doesn't matter that Shel would be spinning in his grave. Plus they claim that Shel was against this sort of thing although they only supplied any reasoning after being constantly bothered for answers, legally they don't have to explain themselves.

- Literature plays by its own set of rules, there aren't the same precedents, yes it would be great to set one with this attempt of Fair Use however I can't afford to fight it, and the top Fair Use lawyers don't feel I have enough of a case to bother with. And I can see what they mean, I don't think we could win this in the United States.

- Yeah it's interesting about the fact that we could mock Shel and be allowed to do this. However the lawyers don't even consider this a "tribute". Just about the only non-robotic answers I got from them involved telling me I shouldn't be labeling this as such as it doesn't conform to traditional tributes, or something along those lines. But quite obviously it's turned into a tribute to the man, even if it just started off as an artistic exercise...
06
PK on 01/27/10 at 10:51PM
...so while it seems like the Silversteins live in a different time and place in terms of media and how it relates to people in the modern age... they actually do themselves break copyright laws when they find it convenient, so they're not entirely unfamiliar with sampling and other forms of Fair Use. But they're stubborn and won't even listen to this project out of principle or something. So we have to explore other means of getting this out there.
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