Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Wikimedia Commons

One of my goals with this blog is to highlight underutilized resources that could be of benefit to musicians.  Today I'd like to write about a companion project of Wikipedia, and some opportunities for the right people to make a big difference ... maybe.

Wikimedia Commons is a huge collection of digital media (pictures, sound files, video, etc.) that are available for anyone to use, remix, and so on.  This doesn't mean there are no restrictions on using them, but the restrictions are considerably fewer than customary in this age of increasing digital rights management.  Most of the content is in the form of pictures, which is what is inspiring my post this morning.

One obvious thing this means for people looking for posters, CD booklet art, and so on, is a huge source of possibilities.  The data included with each file includes the specific restrictions that may apply to it; often this consists simply of crediting the artist/contributor, and releasing the copies/improvements under the same terms.  It's not clear to me whether, if you use a photo licensed as CC-BY-SA (Creative Commons, with attribution, share-alike) on the cover of your CD, you would have to release the entire booklet, the whole CD, or just the cover photo (the part containing the picture you used, with any modifications you made to it) under CC-BY-SA.  More information on Creative Commons licenses can be found here.  Note that I'm not a lawyer; if you want legal advice on the details of re-using other people's work, please get an appropriate professional to advise you.

Another intriguing possibility for musicians is contributing work.  The gallery for J.S. Bach contains recordings of a number of his works, but there are many gaps in the list.  Contributing a recording or two could be a way to market yourself to an audience that might not otherwise find you.  If you were the sole contributor, say, of recordings for most of the WTC Book II, you might gain some advantage from that.  Your user page can list your contributions, or whatever else it might be important for people to know; if you contribute a number of files, a category might be created for them.  I'm a bit wary, however.

For one thing, the point of Wikimedia Commons is educational, not promotional.  The kind of video you might want to release as an artist to showcase your abilities is not necessarily the kind of video you would make for educational purposes.  This is a bit of a judgment call, of course; there's a sense in which it's instructive to watch any performer in action.

Another consideration is cost.  If you are making recordings in your own home, using your own (relatively inexpensive) equipment, it may not matter so much to you whether you give away the results.  If you are recording in a studio at a cost of thousands of dollars, you'll want to think carefully about your return on anything you release.  If you decide to make a sample track available as a free download from your web site or through another online service, you would could remove it at any time.  You could set whatever restrictions you wanted on other people's re-use of your recording.

Not so Wikimedia Commons.  Once you've released something there, it's there for good.  If someone decides to use it in a way you detest, tough.  The recording you might release at the beginning of your career will remain there to haunt you at the pinnacle of your success.

Another possibility for a welcome contribution would be demonstrations of the capabilities of an instrument.  Someone who wants to hear what a violin sounds like (for example) can get a good basic idea from files like these, and there's less of a sense that you're giving away something of direct commercial value.  Demonstration videos showing a particular technique are another opportunity.  So are pictures showing the correct way to hold an instrument.

If you are a music educator, at any level, Wikimedia Commons is the place for you.  If you need a diagram showing the relationship of the keys on a keyboard to notes on a staff, find one here.
This is also a great place to contribute material you've developed that someone else might be able to use.  Because this material is freely available to anyone with an internet connection, your contribution will help teach people around the world.

If you simply want to watch and listen, there are things like these.

Happy holidays, regardless which ones you happen to celebrate!

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