By Hannah Mettner
Richard White is an interesting example of an artist using CC to make his own creative output available, while working in a job that clearly demonstrates the pitfalls and possibilities of copyright and open access day in and day out.
Richard has made two of his albums available for download on Bandcamp, under the name Mermaid Guitar. He began by offering his earlier album, ‘Me for a Day’, with a five dollar price tag, and then decided to offer ‘Barry Starr’ for free, with the “name your price” function, where users choose how much they’d like to pay.
Despite being available for free, the second album has had more downloads and more sales — so he’s now offering the earlier album under the same terms. For Richard, this makes the process of selling an album more exciting. As he puts it, “People have paid a lot more than I thought they might, more than the five dollars I initially offered the first album for.”
Plenty of others have downloaded his music for free, but Richard says that he’s totally happy with this. “Ultimately I just like the idea that someone’s listening to my music on their iPod on the other side of the world”. But he’s also careful to point out that he doesn’t try to make a living from his music and concedes that, for those who do, there are greater challenges.
As part of the production process, Richard sourced all artwork for ‘Barry Starr’ from Public Domain or CC sources, but he says finding images which could be used with the CC BY SA licence he used for the album, which also fit his purpose, was trickier than he thought.
“There were some great images I really liked, but they had either ND or, more commonly, NC,” Richard says. “Given that people could pay, I couldn’t use NC. I guess the difficulty I had finding good stuff showed me that open access is still at the ‘evangelical’ stage in many respects and we need more converts for it to become more self-sustaining”.
By day, Richard works as Copyright Officer at the University of Otago, addressing any copyright issues or questions encountered by staff and research students there. This can be a challenge: while most staff have an understanding of the broad concepts of copyright, it can be a complex web of legislation, licences and rights.
Richard has found himself a staunch advocate of open access in the tertiary sector and CC as the main vehicle for that. “CC licences simplify a lot of things from a copyright point of view”, he says. “Often a staff member or a PhD student will come to me or one of our library staff with questions about permission for something they want to use in a piece of research. One of the most common problems is that they just don’t hear from someone they’ve contacted to get permission”.
He says a lot of the time accessibility is the last thing researchers and academics are thinking about. They’re used to things being done a certain way and aren’t necessarily aware of the open access alternatives. Their reputations as academics are affected by how often they’re being published in scholarly journals, and the quality of those journals is taken into account too.
“That’s the major roadblock for open access publications, just getting enough visibility and usage to attract good quality research, to gain a name as a good journal, not just an open access journal. I mean, I’d love it if all research was open”.
Other countries are mandating that all publicly funded research should be open — the U.S. Government, for example — but New Zealand isn’t making any moves yet. Instead academics do their research, write it up, submit it for publication, go through the peer review process, and are accepted into these big journals where they’re published, which universities around the world then pay subscription fees to access.
He appreciates the freedom Creative Commons licences give both creator and reuser, academic and artistic. “When someone has used a CC licence they’ve declared up front what they’re happy for others to do with their work. So part of my work is helping people understand the implications of their choices with their own work as part of the knowledge ecosystem.
“In that respect it’s no different from choosing CC in an artistic medium: you’re sharing your work for others to use and build on. I can’t claim that my music has informed great cultural achievements but there are people who’ve put it in compilations or used it in their films, which is immensely satisfying”.