Dining with Lessig

Last Saturday evening Justina and I were honored to take Lawrence Lessig and Joi Ito out to our favourite restaurant in China Town, Melbourne. Lawrence, or Larry as he’s often called, and Joi were in Melbourne as guests of the Alfred Deakin Innovation Lectures.


I was encouraged to meet with Lawrence by Brian Fitzgerald from Creative Commons (CC) Australia, the group that prepared the CC licenses for our jurisdiction. In addition, it was an excellent opportunity to share with both him and Ito the work the APC have been doing with regards to CC, much of which they were aware of. Joi referred to Heather Ford (APC and Commons Sense) as a “powerhouse” “product champion” and greetings from Mark Graham (Rojo) were reciprocated (hello Mark).

I was particularly interested in the work they were doing with our partner organisation in Korea, Jinbonet. Jinbonet have adapted the CC into IPLeft. Toy Satellite has conceived of a joint Korea/Australia CC project which we’re currently fund-raising and establishing partners for.

Back to dinner…. much of our conversation kept coming back to royalty collection agencies. In recent correspondence I have had with the Australian Performing Rights Association (APRA) they have demonstrated some resistance to CC licenses, concerned that large companies will opt for free music rather than pay for it. It’s not an accurate assessment of CC licenses, but more on that later.

The ideas we discussed revolved around the notion of an independent collection agency specifically established for the promotion of electronic music, particularly within the framework of an online subscription service providing electronic music to public spaces and private enterprise such as bars, coffee shops, hairdressing salons, etc…

Presently, APRA collects a fee from every shop, office, salon, cafe or bar that plays pre-recorded music. You or I don’t see a cent of this regardless of whether our music is played there. So where does this money go? It gets distributed amongst… well… have a guess? It is assumed that everyone listens to commercial radio and purchases the top 40 to 100 most repeated songs/albums of the day and that’s where the money gets distributed.

The idea is to offer an alternative, but the question is, does APRA have the sole right in Australia to institute such a collection regime? Don’t get me wrong… I’m not down on APRA. I’m a member and I like getting the royalties I’m due, but I don’t think it’s fair that the top end of town should get the bulk of APRA’s income when there’s so much more music out there, much more diversity and probably harder working composers, musicians, writers trying to earn a living from the margins.

Lawrence suggested that the CC project could initiate an open source development project to enable entrepreneurs to take up these ideas in any country they wish, to offer not only competition where there isn’t any, more importantly, it looks towards tangible income streams for those who create music, who create art if you like, where the mainstream, if one could call it that, will not reside (unless there’s a buck to be made from it)… Hence our own private Secession in Melbourne!

Last but not least, they both enjoyed Hong Kong City Barbecue’s speciality, roast duck… and I think were rather amused, if not surprised that dinner only cost then AUD$7 p/head.

2 thoughts on “Dining with Lessig”

  1. Joi was *too* kind – literally. The independent collecting societies idea is a great one – we’re trying to find more and more ways in South Africa for cc to be viable for small and/or emerging artists and this fits really well. I was actually just thinking of this as I walked through a plant nursery on Saturday – they were playing this cheesy piano music, probably because no one wanted to pay the royalties. Just another way in which copyright governs our access and re-use of local culture.

  2. The ironic thing about your cheesy piano music experience is that someone probably was paying royalties on that piece. The nursery may have to pay a royalty collection agency for the privelage of playing music in their establishment, or they pay a third party to “stream” music into their premises, much like Muzak. Then again, someone may have put on a cheesy piano CD and the story stops there.

    There’s a lot of scope for independent means of distribution outside mainstream vectors. We need only be bold enough to identify and walk our own!

    -ag.

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