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Crystal Castles' Creative Commons Controversy

Posted by Steve / May 6, 2008

'Crystal Castles @ Wrongbar' by blogTO flickr pooler Sam-bot
Are local chip-pop darlings Crystal Castles a couple of common crooks? If you ask Belgian producer Lo-bat, the answer could surprise you.

It would appear that local duo have raised hackles within the Creative Commons community, who allege that the Toronto musicians violated Lo-bat's rights when they sampled his song "My Little Droid Needs a Hand" outside the provisions of Creative Commons licensing.

The song in question, "Insecticon," is currently listed on the band's label's MySpace page as CC vs. Lo-Bat, but that wasn't the case when the track first surfaced, and to many this doesn't go far enough.

For those requiring a little bit of background information, a Creative Commons license is a legal means for artists to distribute their wares in a rather unique manner; they make their art available free of charge, and allow anyone to make derivative works provided that it's for non-commercial use, the original source is attributed, and the resulting product is also released under a Creative Commons license.

Judge for yourself: here is Lo-Bat's tune and here is Crystal Castles' apparent rip-off. The Crystal Castles tune is not for sale, but the chip-tunes community is quick to point out that it's being used to promote other material that is for sale, which violates the spirit of Creative Commons.

There are some who would say that Creative Commons is a farce - a means for bedroom producers who aren't likely to make any money in the first place to feel like they have some sort of copyright over their product - but it's actually an idea that's coming more and more into the mainstream. Just this week, for example, Nine Inch Nails released their latest album, The Slip, free of charge under a Creative Commons license a full two months before the obligatory CD release/world tour.

So what do you think? Are Crystal Castles violating Lo-bat's rights? Does Creative Commons have a future? Leave a comment below to let us know what you think.

Thanks to blogTO reader Greg for the tip.

Photo "Crystal Castles @ Wrongbar" by blogTO flickr pooler Sam-bot



Ben / May 6, 2008 at 08:34 am
I recommend reading <a href=";dq=free+culture&pg=PP1&ots=rQ339gQq6s&sig=EmYb7dXoxil37hk3aIPBKZbfMyo&hl=en&prev=;sa=X&oi=print&ct=title&cad=one-book-with-thumbnail#PPA3,M1">Free Culture</a> by Lawrence Lessig.
Malcolm Bastien / May 6, 2008 at 09:07 am
Creative commons definitely has a future, take a stroll through the creative commons website and you'll get an idea of just how far the idea spreads and what it's being applied to. The fact is that anybody who uses a CC license still has the legal right to call out infringers on uses of content that violate their copyright.

I'm just not to sure if I would say that Crystal Castles using a free song to build traffic towards their paid content would count as a commercial use of Lo-Bat's work.
ramanan / May 6, 2008 at 09:08 am
There are actually several different CC licenses -- for example there are ones that don't allow derivative works, and there are ones that allow derivative work for profit. You've just listed one example of a CC license.

Also, those bedroom producers do have a copyright over the music they produce.
Steve / May 6, 2008 at 09:33 am
Indeed, I'm only talking about the CC license in question as far as this article is concerned - word count limitations and such. And intangible copyright is a whole can of worms that would've caused a wicked long digression.
Tim / May 6, 2008 at 09:46 am
<i>There are some who would say that Creative Commons is a farce - a means for bedroom producers who aren't likely to make any money in the first place to feel like they have some sort of copyright over their product</i>

Err, who are the "some who say" and do they know that everyone automatically gets copyright over everything they produce even if it's for non commercial purposes?
Basilisk / May 6, 2008 at 09:57 am
I think the main issue here is simply one of providing credit where credit is due. A direct link back to Lo-bat's site would be the polite thing to do. This is the "attribution" part of the original license.

What about "noncommercial usage"? Here things get murky. While the track is not for sale, CC are using it for promotional purposes. The question then becomes: is promotion "commercial usage" for all entities and organizations engaged in commercial activity? I sure as hell hope not. Creative Commons licenses were developed to expand creative possibilities, not stifle them.

We should not lose sight of the fact that Creative Commons licenses remain largely untested. I think that this sort of thing is rather healthy, in a way. The system is not perfect; the implications are unclear... the discussion spiralling out of this event is sure to engage and inform.
Ry Tron / May 6, 2008 at 10:04 am
"There are some who would say that Creative Commons is a farce - a means for bedroom producers who aren't likely to make any money in the first place to feel like they have some sort of copyright over their product"

Umm, if it's their product, then yes, they own the copyright to it, and there is zero question about it. If you're talking about bedroom producers remixing someone else's CC licensed track, then that's a whole 'nother can of worms, but in regards to the way the original sentence was written and framed, there is no doubt, they own the track no matter how piss poor it might be, so long as it's their own.

As for "Non-commercial purposes only" in that specific CC license, well, it's up for debate. Yes, Crystal Castles makes music as part of the things they do to put bread on the table, but does it count as a violation if they're not selling that specific song? I think it's nitpicking, personally. If I remix a track and link to it on does that mean I'm using the music for the commercial purpose of selling the dolls? Promotional, maybe, but ifyou're that protective then just list your work as No-Deriv and the problem disappears.

The license does not say you MUST share the work under a similar license. The Canadian CC says this, "YOU ARE FREE: to Share ? to copy, distribute and transmit the work". Free to and must are very different.

There's nothing intangible about an MP3. One of the few times copyright over something that can't be held in your hands can be screwy is when you get into mechanical and reproduction rights. I can see it on my hard drive, I can listen to it through headphones. There's no doubt it exists. Tangibility is nothing but wording used to escape a sticky copyright situation, as the track's existence is indisputable.

If people want more exact limitations placed on their creations, use the CC license as a jumping off point, and write in your own rules and create your own license. Look at the wording of a CC license; it really isn't all that hard. To say something violates "the spirit" of something doesn't hold water. It either violates it or it doesn't. If the grounding is murky, then CLARIFY IT so you don't feel like you're being stolen from later on by users who interpret the (arguably) subjectively interpreted CC license incorrectly in your eyes. Need help writing it? That's what entertainment lawyers are for. Can't afford one? Then write it as clearly as possible yourself.

In regards to "word count limitations" I sure hope such a limit isn't being forced upon the writers now, particularly if it gets in the way of their being able to full articulate themselves in an article that otherwise would benefit from an extra paragraph or two.
Jeremy / May 6, 2008 at 10:21 am
Crystal Castles also got in a bit of a shuffle back in March when they used an illustrator's work on t-shirts without permission:
Steve / May 6, 2008 at 11:03 am
Ry Tron: word count is more of a guideline than a rule at blogTO, but every publication has these measures in place to some degree to stop us from articulating ourselves.

blogTO is a local-focussed general interest site, and the 2,500 word hair-splitting treatise on copyright law you're looking for is likely to be found elsewhere (which is one reason I do things like include links to more detailed articles).
Phil Ville / May 6, 2008 at 11:17 am
It's the future of Crystal Castles that you should really be question, because they don't have one
Steve / May 6, 2008 at 11:17 am
from an April 2008 interview for Vice Magazine in France:

vice: You are tired and I don't want to bother you anymore, but what about this bullshit on the internet between you and this guy pretending that you "stole his art" to do t shirts with Madonna's fucked up face?

alice: This is really starting to bust our balls. The story is that this guy is not the real author of this illustration. We found this Madonna drawing on an old flyer for a punk gig. The artist re-drew it for us back when we were just a little band, and now that we have some sort of fame, he writes everywhere that we stole it. To tell the truth we always wanted to pay him but he is acting like he doesn't know, because of all the noise around this story which brings him more publicity. So we had some arguments and we banned him from our myspace page.

ethan: Moreover, we are not rancorous and if this asshole reads your mag, tell him his cheque awaits him.

vice: Message sent?


According to <a href=""; target="_blank">artist Trevor Brown's blog</a> from 2 days ago, "i have received no compensation for their use of my art - the case remains unresolved - they have my address and bank information but are not paying me anything"
Bro / May 6, 2008 at 11:36 am
See, the CC license Lo-bat used said that you could make derivative works if they were non commercial, and ANYTHING you released MUST BE released under the SAME CC license. CC has not released insecticon, and bitter hearts (bitter hearts ALSO uses that lo-bat song, but goes beyond "sampling" and practically just plays the song and adds some drums from another artist, Covox's song Sunday).

Since Insecticon and Bitter Hearts were released under the name crystal castles (not descibed as remixes, which they are now pretending they are), and not credited to the originators of the work, and are being used commercially, that violates both CC license and copyright. They are not selling recordings of the songs, but they are selling tickets to shows at which they perform them.

It has been verified that they play insecticon and bitter hearts live.

Many bands play covers and don't play royalties, but, they don't hide that its a cover. They don't play, for instance, Smells like Teen Spirit, and say "this is one of our new songs, its called Autobot". That's stealing.

Cromag / May 6, 2008 at 11:39 am
Whoever said that an artist automatically has a copyright on their work is right, but not universally.

in the USA, an author has copyright, but has no commercial rights to their work unless they register that copright (that is "active copyright" vs. the universal "passive copyright" we have in canada and that is accepted as the standard across the world)

THe united states is going one further by trying to abolish active copyright, saying that you would not have copyright to ANYTHING you create automatically, but ONLY things you register. Its like, double active copyright.

The bill is called the "orphaned works bill" and you should watch this,
Dafydd Hughes / May 6, 2008 at 11:43 am
Ry Tron - It's true that the license Lo-bat uses doesn't include a share-alike section, but it's misleading to say that the Canadian CC license doesn't. The version of the CC license I see most often specifies that you _must_ redistribute derivative work under the same license. That wording exists - Lo-bat just didn't choose it. It's this kind of misunderstanding that can easily lead to this situation.

Any benefit of the doubt I may have been giving Crystal Castles sort of dissolves when I read about Trevor Brown. To me it looks like they just think they can get away with it.

It's really cool to see this getting so much attention - Creative Commons is such an amazing alternative to the record industry's approach, encouraging sharing, remixing and building on each other's work.
Jimmy / May 6, 2008 at 12:50 pm
Are you kidding me? If you base your music on samples of 80s video games eventually they are going to sound the same. Lo-Bats tune is better - I usually like my music without someone screaming lyrics that can't even be understood. The two bands should battle for the rights with a game of Jumpman Jr - I'll charge up my Commodore 64.
Marty / May 6, 2008 at 02:39 pm
The problem is that Lo-bat uses a software synthesizer to directly manipulate and use the actual gameboy as a synthesis workstation. search for LSDJ or nanoloop to find out more.
Many chip artists have developed their own distinct signature sounds using these programs. Even using the same hardware and software, it can be very hard to duplicate another artist's sounds.
glomag / May 6, 2008 at 03:55 pm
Marty is right, and it is worth underlining- this is NOT a case of Lo-bat sampling a video game. This is an ORIGINAL composition, made by Lo-bat, using a game console. This is an important point. Crystal Castles took more than just a sample of the Lo-bat track, they use most of the track which runs underneath their vocals, etc. They pitched it slightly to make it sound different or to put it in a key she can sing maybe. Honestly, it is more like a remix of Lo-bat than a new track.
chenyip / May 6, 2008 at 04:06 pm
The both sould like Zelda to me
dubmood / May 6, 2008 at 08:43 pm
why give crystal castles more attention? this sounds like a cheap publicityhype to me. and why call them chip-pop at all. They aint making chip, they suck, they are ugly etc. sure I would punch them in the face if I saw them but untill then...
je deviens dj en 3 jours / May 7, 2008 at 04:31 am
" The both sould like Zelda to me"

yeah that's the good comment
rek / May 8, 2008 at 03:02 pm
Was my comment deleted because it linked to Torontoist?
Blake / May 26, 2008 at 01:08 am
Message from Andy from Crystal Castles' label, to someone at the 8bitforum =

"I?m not sure if I was clear in my message to you that songs with Lo-Bat samples were left off the CC album because we didn?t have the sample clearance. Many songs were left off the CD because we needed more time to clear the samples. We are hoping to have the songs on a future release (maybe a rarities/demos/remixes compilation) and would love to clear this with Lo-Bat. If you can get a contact for him through the 8bit forum that would be great and we can finally release these tracks."
Name / June 11, 2008 at 08:50 am
"There are some who would say that Creative Commons is a farce - a means for bedroom producers who aren't likely to make any money in the first place to feel like they have some sort of copyright over their product"

What the fuck are you talking about? EVERY bedroom artist automatically has a copyright over their product just by creating it. It's called the Berne Convention. Someone needs a clue.
stv / June 11, 2008 at 11:29 am
@Name: "There are some who would say" means that this is the opinion held by some, and it is the opinion that some people have. If it were my opion, I would merely said "Creative Commons is a farce" and left it at that.

I produce my own tracks from time to time, and I know every sound I create is protected by copyright.

Part of the reason CC came into being was to give more copyright control to smaller artists.
"The downside of these exciting new developments and possibilities is that the new technologies can also be used to violate the rights of copyright owners as they are currently defined ... Our alternative is to provide creators and licensors with a simple way to say what freedoms they want their creative work to carry. This in turn makes it easy to share, or build upon creative work. It makes it possible for creators and licensors to reserve some rights while releasing others. This, at its core, is our mission. Copyright gives authors certain rights. We want to make it simpler for authors to exercise those rights in ways others can understand."
DJ Mouk / June 14, 2008 at 11:39 am
in capitalism everything makes money. Is CC playing the song at their concerts? do they DJ it? this is clearly where they make money with it.
Imagine McDonalds using a CC track to promote their "myspace"? CC would probably go mad about it.

If you rip another musician off so badly, call him/her up, ask for permission, or make it a collaboration and split it 50/50.

this could be so easy if one has the respect for somebody else's art.
And if not, well, then get a lawyer and sue CC.

my personal feeling that CC doesn't create anything new by ripping off other musicians, and they don't want to share.
They are clearly saying in many interviews they aren't influenced by anybody. They don't want to give back, they only take. That's why they will fail in the long run.
jesus 1 / January 14, 2009 at 12:17 pm
moody people

crystal castles rock
Allah replying to a comment from jesus 1 / January 14, 2009 at 12:18 pm
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