Free, Legal Digital Audio Downloads (Courtesy of the Creative Commons)

In Darknet: Hollywood’s War Against the Digital Generation, J. D. Lasica tells the story of Tarnation, a documentary film that nominated for a Camera d’Or award (pg. 84). The film was made for $218.31 using a video camera and iMovie. One catch: Lasica says that getting permission to use brief commercial music and video segments in the movie cost around $400,000. Creating derivative works that use the entertainment industry’s copyrighted works is clearly not cheap, assuming that you can obtain permission to use them at all.

Imagine instead a world where you could download, play, and use digital media works for free without paying license fees. It may sound impossible, but that world is starting to be built using Creative Commons licenses.

The most liberal license of the six main Creative Commons licences is Attribution: "This license lets others distribute, remix, tweak, and build upon your work, even commercially, as long as they credit you for the original creation."

The most restrictive license is Attribution Non-Commercial No Derivatives: "This license is often called the ‘free advertising’ license because it allows others to download your works and share them with others as long as they mention you and link back to you, but they can’t change them in any way or use them commercially."

Here’s a brief guide to selected resources that will help you get started finding digital audio works licensed under Creative Commons licenses.

  • Creative Commons Audio Page: An excellent place to start. It has a search engine, featured audio Web sites, brief information about the Creative Commons Licenses, a list of sites where you can contribute audio works, and featured artists, tools, and works. See also: the Creative Commons Find page, where you can search for CC-licensed works using Google and Yahoo!.
  • ccMixter: "This is a community music site featuring remixes licensed under Creative Commons, where you can listen to, sample, mash-up, or interact with music in whatever way you want." Site tabs provide access to picks, remixes, samples, a cappellas, people, and extras.
  • Common Content: "Common Content is a catalog of works licensed in the Creative Commons, available to anyone for copying or creative re-use. The catalog includes over 3,848 records, many of which are collections which include hundreds or thousands of other works." Audio categories include ambient, music, samples, and speech.
  • The Freesound Project: "The Freesound Project is a collaborative database of Creative Commons licensed sounds. Freesound focuses only on sound, not songs." Sound clips are described, tagged (there’s a tag cloud for popular tags), geotagged, and rated (example: tibetan chant 4 colargol 2.aif). Site includes a "Remix! tree," sample packs, and user forum.
  • Indieish: Your Free Music Daily: Blog with CC-licensed music reviews.
  • jamendo: "On jamendo, the artists distribute their music under Creative Commons licenses. . . .jamendo users can discover and share albums, but also review them or start a discussion on the forums. Albums are democratically rated based on the visitors’ reviews. If they fancy an artist they can support him by making a donation." Site distributes albums using BitTorrent and the M3U playlist file format.
  • PodSafeAudio: "This site aims to provide a location where musicians can upload music under the Creative Commons License for use in Podcasts, Mashups, Shoutcasts, Webcasts and every other kind of ‘casting’ that exists on the ‘net." A complex site with many features, including track reviews,categorization of music by genre and rating, categorization of artists by genre and region, collaboration project listing, user forums, and a blog.

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International license.