Ghosts and the Creative Commons license.

Written by David Banham

Trent Reznor recently released the latest Nine Inch Nails album in a really, really interesting way. The confluence of marketing-geekery and copyleft-geekery that it represents tickled my fancy.

While his decision to release several SKUs at various price-points is the best new-wave digital distribution technique I've seen to date, it's his choice to license the work under a version of the Creative Commons license that I think is really interesting, and has been overlooked by a lot of the comment I've read.

Basically, you can do whatever you please with Ghosts I - IV provided you don't sell it to anyone, provided you don't pretend that you or someone other than the original artists created it, and provided that you keep the license intact if you remix it.

So, I could take the FLAC copy I just paid Trent for and stick it on The Pirate Bay perfectly legally.

I see this as a watershed moment for Creative Commons. This is the first mainstream use of the license that I'm aware of. If Trent makes money despite the fact that people can legally give the album to everyone they know, it will say a lot of profound things about the emerging marketplaces for creative works.

First and foremost, it will make the RIAA's ceaseless lawsuits look a bit silly. They're telling us that the entire reason the music industry's profits are declining are because of sharing. And yet here's an artist that has essentially given his work away for free, and yet by all reports he's made $750k within a few days. Granted, he had to apply some novel thinking to do it. He had to be a little bit gasp creative!

Maybe the mainstream record labels could do the same. I'm not saying they should adopt Trent's model completely (although they could do worse) but just to inject some bold, fresh, risky thinking into their own models.