Interview with Kathryn Rose, Musician

Last week I posted an interview I’d carried out with Belfast comic book writer, Paddy Brown for an essay I’d been writing about copyright. This week it’s the turn self-produced musician, Kathryn Rose. I asked her about her views on creativity, self production and the use of Creative Commons licenses for the emerging artist. Creative Commons licenses give artists the choice about how and what to allow other people to copy and use in their own work. Paddy had decided against using CC licenses altogether but Kathryn uses them a lot so I wanted to find out what she felt the benefits were for her.

Kathryn Rose is a musician from London who normally uses a CC BY-SA license (which is perhaps the most ‘free’ Creative Commons licenses) on her work. She blogs here and tweets under @artsyhonker.


Hi Kathryn! Can I firstly ask how you heard about the Creative Commons licenses and why do you use them? Have you ever had any problems regarding copyright?

I think I first found out about the Creative Commons license through David Gerard, who’s involved with Wikipedia work, but I’m not entirely sure. I’ve been using them since at least 2006, though.

I wrote a little bit about why, here.

So far most of my ‘problems’ regarding copyright have been to do with not being able to get permission to use works (on a commercial or non-commercial basis) when the creator is still alive. There is a lot of visual artwork and poetry that I haven’t set to music simply because initial inquiries to the rights managers have been fruitless and I don’t have time or energy to chase things. At that point my options are a) use it anyway and don’t ask, risk getting in trouble b) don’t use it. I don’t like getting into trouble, so generally don’t risk it!

What are your thoughts on self publishing for completely unknown new writers? Should emerging artists and writers who want to be part of a global creative network be looking towards independence (self publishing, for us writers) so that we can then use more ‘open’ licensing?

I don’t know that independence is necessarily the right thing, but I think that artists rather than publishing companies should be deciding how their work is marketed. As a musician, I do have the option of going to a recording studio and getting someone else to do recording, mastering and so on. The thing is, I can get a recording studio to do this for a fee, and I can get a publicity company to do publicity-related things for a fee, and so on, rather than having a major label deal with all of that. This means paying more up front but is generally a much better deal for the musician than the label “deals” that exist. The catch, of course, is you have to pay up front.

Yes, writers can also self publish in a similar way. I am interested in what the pitfalls of this approach might be though, regarding protection for the artist. As an emerging artist we can take the view that we don’t have anything to lose since we’re starting with nothing. On the other hand, we’re starting with nothing, so how much should we be worried about someone who has more money or clout than we do taking our ideas and making money from them? Or is this simply a paranoid fantasy (it’s a very popular one, as I’m sure you’re aware!). How anxious about the thought thieves do you think we need to be?

Well, Creative Commons licenses come with an “attribution” option; someone can’t legally take your story, or a derivative of it, and make money from it without at least mentioning you as the author of the original work. And I don’t believe that illegal copying is, or ever has been, as large a drain on profits as it is often made out to be.

Yes, this echoes what many proponents of liberalising copyright have said, that people who makes copies aren’t necessarily going to pay for the same product if they couldn’t make a copy (and of course many people have already paid for the product but are limited as to how they use it- for example a Region 1 DVD will not play in a Region 2 player- so many people feel justified in making a copy as they feel they already paid for the work).

What about the ‘sharing’ aspect of CC though. Does using a Creative Commons license mean accepting that it’s fair if someone else takes your work, modifies it slightly, and gets more credit than you for it?

At Christmas I did a recording of a piece of music written by a friend; he’d released it under CC BY-SA, which meant that I could put it on my Christmas album (which I put on Bandcamp under a pay-what-you-want pricing scheme) and not worry about paying him for it. What do I get out of that? Well, I got some money, though not enough to cover costs if I price my time at minimum wage. His piece took me about six hours to record and is one of twelve tracks on the album, which earned less than £50 (to be fair, it’s seasonal, my first album, and not my very best singing — and I released every track on Soundcloud before putting the entire lot onto Bandcamp, which was, in retrospect, probably a mistake, but it’s good to learn these things while the stakes are small). What does he get out of it? Well, probably a hundred or so people who wouldn’t otherwise have heard his music, or even heard of him at all, got to hear his piece… so in a way, as someone working in a slightly different niche, I was doing some publicity for him. And because I released the recording under CC BY-SA too, he now has a recording that he could send to people if he wanted to.

I’m not sure how I can “get more credit” than him for it. I have to make the attribution clear. He gets credit for writing it, I get credit for singing it. I would say that this is fair, because he wrote it, and I sang it…

On the whole. I think “attribution” might be a better word than “credit” for discussing these issues.


OK so, although he does not share in your profits he does get accredited which means other people may then be directed to his work which he can then offer for a profit. Interestingly , what you have done here looks like a direct inversion of the current deal in the music industry, where the writer can expect recurrent royalties and the performer only gets paid for their time.

Using a Creative Commons license means accepting that you cannot control everything that other people might do with your work. That’s fine, but if you really want that kind of control, don’t publish. Ever. All of these risks exist with “traditional” publishing too. Nobody will steal your ideas if you keep them locked in the bottom drawer of your desk.

Yes, and I suppose you could say that, depending on your contract, if a mainstream publisher decides to discontinue printing your work and they still hold the publishing rights to it you might find it ‘locked in a drawer’ to which you don’t have key!

The difference is that a traditional publisher *might* sue copyright infringers — if you are bringing in enough money that they think it will be worthwhile.

I’d see this as maybe the biggest problem with CC- it cannot protect you from people misusing your work, and where traditional publishing might not stop this from happening, someone who ignores your CC license and misuses your work might be able to get away with doing so much more easily than if you have used a traditional publisher because as an independent you are unlikely to be able to afford to take legal action. I know of a couple of stories of bands and photographers who offered their work for free, non commercial use on various websites only to have the work taken and used by bigger companies for profit. Of course the problem was not the license but the independence of the artist, but they are obviously related.

Do you think it’s the case that if you want to be creative in how you offer your work to the world then you must accept that traditional/mainstream producers/publishers will not be interested?

You should always read contracts carefully. Never sign anything that limits what you do with work you might create later. As soon as anyone has sole rights to ALL your work you’re in trouble: they can do what they want and if you can’t afford a lawyer to show they’re in breach of contract (if, indeed, they are) you’re kinda stuck with it.

Indeed, if you can’t afford a lawyer you’re stuck with whatever people might do, whether signed or unsigned, published in the mainstream or independent!

On that uplifting note (!), I want to thank you for your time, Kathryn. You’re clearly someone who benefits from the freedoms afforded by the CC licenses and I’ve certainly learnt a lot though talking with you on these issues. I wish you well with your work and will continue to enjoy your twittering and blogging!

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