Free Art License 1.3

Free Art License 1.3

[Originally posted at]


20 years into my career, I can definitively say that releasing all my work copyleft has been great for me, both financially and creatively, and great for the taiko community.  The last few years in particular have been full of fun surprises, with international taiko groups hiring me for workshops and contributing their own versions of pieces like Tally Ho! and Jack Bazaar.  Los Angeles Taiko Institute has implemented all-copyleft music for its students and TCA is moving toward adopting a copyleft-by-default strategy for its own content.

Recently, I use the Creative Commons ShareAlike license in addition to the Free Art License 1.3 (discussed below).  I still prefer the Free Art License's natural language, and have misgivings about Creative Commons because the majority of their licenses are not copyleft, but Creative Commons has won me over with their long-term commitment to maintaining and improving their licenses.

Go copyleft!

Original Post

Most of my works (music, writing, photographs, illustrations, graphic design) are covered by the Free Art License 1.3. which allows others to freely share and build upon them.  The following is a brief explanation of the rules for using and sharing my works covered under this license.

I am a believer in the Free Culture movement, which encourages the sharing of information, both creative and technical (visual art, literature, music, educational materials, scientific information, etc), with the assumption that humans can do great work when empowered to collaborate.  I am inspired by the Free Software movement, which has produced the world's best, most useful software by specifying a simple rule: all the software is freely available to be used and modified, as long as all modifications and additions are also freely available (also called the "share-alike" concept).  The linux kernel, for example, estimated to be worth over 1.4 billion dollars and part of the backbone of the internet, is created by a loosely-bound group of contributors from around the world, many of whom do not natively speak each other's language and have never met.  The kernel is covered by a license called the GPL which ensures that it remains free to be shared and built upon.  On Ensemble's website is powered by the linux kernel; I benefit from the sharing and collaboration of others.

My work, the creation and performance of music, is somewhat less tangible than software.  But I believe that music is also valuable to society, and that it is an essential part of humanity and of our progress.  It is remarkable to me that every culture on earth ever known, has music, has singing, and has drums.  I believe that we benefit from sharing music, learning from it, and building on it.  I hope that my music, my writings, and my work in general are in some way a small contribution to the progress of humanity.  For this reason, I release all my creations under the Free Art License 1.3.  In short, my work is too valuable to me not to share.

The Free Art License 1.3 is a reaction to standard copyright law in the United States today, which severely limits sharing and collaboration.  Copyright gives the creator exclusive rights to distribute a work, and the power to limit others from sharing, re-using, or modifying the work.  The Free Art License, and other "copyleft" licenses, are a way for copyright holders to explicitly allow some forms of sharing and re-use.

The Free Art License 1.3 is fairly easy to read and understand, but contains a bit of "legalese".  Here is how it works in plain English.

For any of my works released with the Free Art License:

1) You are free to copy the work

2) You can distribute the work (share it)

3) You can perform the work publicly (perform my music, for example)

4) You are free modify the work and distribute your new version

5) You can incorporate the work into a larger work of your own

6) You can make money based on the work

You can do all these things automatically, without asking permission, and without paying me for the privilege.

In order to take advantage of these freedoms, however, you must satisfy a few requirements.

1) When you share the work, or a modification of it, you must include the Free Art License 1.3 or a clear link to the license with the work.  When my works are shared, I want the recipient to know that they too are free to share with others.  Most of my works have the license included, but sometimes when copies are made (a song burned to CD, for example) the license or link must be explicity added.

2) If you modify the work, your new version must also be licensed under the Free Art License 1.3.  This is the "share-alike" concept.  You are free to change and make additions to my work, as long as the new work is also free for everyone to share and use.  In this way, the pool of freely available copyleft works grows, as we all make small contributions to each others works, and everything remains in the pool.

3) If you distribute modified versions, you must make it clear that the new version is a modification and specify where the original can be accessed.  This empowers you to make dramatic changes to the work without fear of diminishing the pool.  If you don't like the last half of my song, delete it and share that version, but tell others where they can hear, re-use, and modify the original version.

Actual sharing scenarios

Printed works - If you want to give someone a printed copy of my taiko educational materials or one of my essays, for example, you needn't do anything special except make sure that the copyright page remains included.  I have already included the Free Art License 1.3 link information in the materials.

Recordings - If you want to share a recording that I have made (Gengakki, Turns, 30 Days audio, etc), please include: author's name ("Kristofer Bergstrom and Jon Bailey" in the case of Turns), "", and "Free Art License 1.3".

Performing work - If you want to perform one of my pieces, please mention in the program or announcement: author's name, "", and "Free Art License 1.3"


Q - Is this the same as "public domain"?

A - No.  Public domain works essentially have no copyright.  Someone can modify a public domain work and then not allow others to share or re-use their new version.  With copyleft licenses like the Free Art License 1.3, the creator still owns the copyright to the work and is granting sharing and re-use rights as long as the requirements in the license are met.  Since the works remain free to be shared and re-used, I believe copyleft is a better option than public domain.

Q - Aren't you worried that people will take advantage of you?

A - No.  I feel like the share-alike requirement levels the playing ground and protects me. I don't like alcohol, but even if Budweiser wanted to use part of my song in their commercial, I'd let them, as long as they played by the share-alike rules.  In order to use my work, their commercial must be released under the Free Art License 1.3 too.  This would enable others to freely use and modify their work (including competitors).  Since Budweiser wants more control than this, they generally won't use the work.  Copyleft is for community; people who want power over others won't choose my works.

Q - How will you make money?

A - I am surviving by charging for those things I offer which cannot be easily copied: seats in a theater, physical CDs, my time.  On Ensemble's performances have a limited number of seats, what economists call a "rivalrous good".  It makes sense to charge for tickets to On Ensemble's concerts; there's no practical way to give them away for free.  On Ensemble sells physical CDs, and we recoup the cost of the production of each CD from its sale.  I teach lessons and workshops and charge for my time.  See, in the digital world, one copy costs the same as a million copies, so I am trying to find ways to fund just the first copy.  If I can find money to cover the recording of a new piece, I can share the finished product.  I spent about 100 hours composing Err, and another 200 or so practicing it.  In this case, money from performance and teaching was able to buy me time to compose and practice the piece (as well as generally keeping my overhead low).

Other questions?  Please ask in comments below!