November 21, 2005

Media sharing with ccHost

Author: Nathan Willis

At ccMixter, musicians and DJs are using Creative Commons licensing to share music content and build a community of artists, thanks to the open source back-end system ccHost, an infrastructure designed to facilitate storage, tracking, and sharing of multimedia content.

The Creative Commons opened its doors in 2002 with the goal of fostering a modern, flexible understanding of copyright, including educating the public about how copyright can help them and encouraging people to create and share their own original creations under Creative Commons licenses. The CC licenses are broader than the GNU licenses, which are specifically tailored to meet needs unique to software and its documentation.

CC licenses are meant to cover artistic works such as photographs, illustrations, music, and video, but the lack of infrastructure with which individual artists could publicize and share their work threatened to marginalize the effort. ccHost is an attempt to fill that void.

The code

ccHost is written in PHP and runs on top of MySQL 4. The original incarnation was based on the weblog package Geeklog, but today the comment and forum modules are from phpBB and the metadata is handled by GetID3.

As the name implies, GetID3 began as an MP3 tag extractor, but today it can read more than 50 multimedia file formats. Likewise, the original idea for ccHost was "Friendster for DJs" but the infrastructure has already been extended to support some additional, non-audio data types.

On a ccHost site, users can upload samples, vocals, and fully mixed tracks. Others can download and use them all in their own compositions, then upload the result to the site as well. Samples and tracks are tagged with the metadata extracted from their embedded ID3 tags and with tags assigned by the uploading user, providing a flexible mechanism with which users can search for material. Mixed tracks are linked to the samples and vocals they include, remixes are linked to the source track, and all music is linked to its creators.

All files, including both samples and finished tracks, are stored on the central ccHost server. To combat abuse, the system allows administrators to cap file uploads. Visitors can download the files or listen to streaming audio, all without registering at the site.

The first public release of ccHost source code was made last June. By September, the site was successful enough to lead Creative Commons to hire programmer and artist Jon Phillips to work on ccHost and ccMixter full-time.

The site

ccMixter is Creative Commons' showcase for the ccHost package -- a working community of more than 2,000 registered musicians, remixers, and music fans. At press time there were a little under 2,000 tracks available at ccMixter, though of course the number rises steadily.

Most of the material falls into the electronic and hip hop genres, the styles most frequently sampled and remixed in the off-line world as well. But in addition you can find samples from blues, folk, country, classical, Brazilian, and Japanese music. New visitors can start with the editors' picks and listeners' favorites.

Creative Commons and indie record label Magnatune sponsored a remix contest in July to raise awareness for the project, challenging contestants to remix samples and tracks from Magnatune's non-commercial catalog with vocals from Magnatune recording artist Lisa DeBenedictis. The winning tracks are slated to be released on a DeBenedictis remix CD, with 50 percent of the royalties paid to the remixers.

In 2004 (before the launch of ccMixter), Creative Commons held a remix contest utilizing tracks from WIRED magazine's The WIRED CD: Rip. Sample. Mash. Share. CD. The WIRED CD featured CC-licensed material from well-known artists such as David Byrne, the Beastie Boys, Paul Westerberg, and Chuck D. This material is still available at ccMixter, and both contests generated considerable public interest in the ccMixter project.

The long-term plan, however, is to use ccMixter as a venue to demonstrate the capabilities of ccHost so that others will use it. Already there are a number of other ccHost sites listed at the official Creative Commons wiki, some of which are expanding into video footage in addition to audio tracks, illustrating just how flexible the ccHost code base can be.


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