FMC’s 2011 Policy Summit is right around the corner (October 3-5, Georgetown University, Washington DC) and we’re hitting all of the music-tech-policy issues head-on. One of our perennial favorites is exploring how technology has impacted music creation and distribution. We’re particulary interested in where sample-based music is heading, hence, our “Killer Apps, Conflicting Law: Remixing Compensation in Music Services” panel. Copyright and remix culture are curious bedfellows, but some are still trying to find ways to make them work more smoothly together. This often leads to unique approaches to technology and the law. Legitmix (one of the services featured on the panel) is a good example. While we’re not sure that any one service has all the answers on how copyright fits with digital music, we do know that artists and fans need to be thinking about what all this means for expression and most importantly, artist compensation.
Legitmix is an online service designed to sell works made using copyrighted music such as remixes, sample-based beats and soundtracks without having to go through the standard music clearance process. After seeing a friend struggle to clear music for a documentary years in the making, co-founders Omid McDonald and Booker Sim wanted to effectively separate the remixer’s creative “value add” from the copyrighted music they reuse.
So how exactly does this work? We asked Omid to give us the skinny on Legitmix’s licensing process:
Omid: A remix artist starts by identifying the copyrighted original tracks they used to produce their remix, sample-based track or mash-up. The Legitmix software then creates a Legitmix file using the identified original tracks and the remixer’s work. A Legitmix file functions like digital instructions and is not music nor can it be used to produce music on its own. Fans can purchase a Legitmix file and together with the Legitmix software and their own copies of the original tracks, they can recreate the remixer’s work on their computer for their own personal use. If a fan doesn’t already own the original tracks, they can purchase them from Legitmix or iTunes. Legitmix allows remix artists to profit from their work and generate new revenue for source music artists, labels and publishers.
Legitmix has been met with varied responses by both artists (they’ve partnered with high-profile names like Diplo) and fans:
Omid: Since sample-clearance problems have become such a fact of life for artists, many are skeptical of Legitmix at first. However, once they understand the legal and technical aspects of Legitmix, artists become excited by the possibility of sampling freely and giving their fans a new way to support their work. It gives musicians who currently can’t sell their work due to the current music licensing system a legal alternative. Rather than leaking their work on the Internet for free, a remixer can use Legitmix to create new opportunities for themselves as well as the copyright owners of the music they reuse … There are those [fans] who don’t like the fact they have to pay for the remixer’s work but the feedback from fans of remix culture who do purchase music has been overwhelmingly positive. They really like that they get the original tracks with their purchase so they can discover the “archeology” of the remix. Fans also appreciate saving money when they already own the original tracks needed to recreate a remixer’s work.
So how does copyright law – which can be confusing even for seasoned attorneys — fit in with Legitmix and the larger conversations about sampling and the law?
Omid: The problem facing samplers or remixers is that their work contains or is derived from copyrighted music. Therefore, to sell their work remixers must obtain permission from the copyright holders whose music they reuse. This is often too expensive and time consuming for many, if not most, remixers. Legitmix solves this problem with the Legitmix file, in which the remixer’s creative contribution is effectively separated from the copyrighted music they reuse. Neither the Legitmix file nor the Legitmix process samples, distributes or creates derivatives of any copyrighted music. Since consumers must own or purchase the copyrighted source music to recreate a remixer’s work, Legitmix shifts the music licensing responsibility from remixer to consumer. Using Legitmix, consumers are exercising their right to transform copyrighted material their own for personal use.
Want to hear more? There are still a limited number of tickets available for Policy Summit 2011.
Rock on. We’ll see you in October.