Artists and Hackers

A Podcast On Art, Code and Community




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Feb 27th, 2024

Ep. 21 - Creating in a Commons: Conversations with Creative Commons and Disquiet Junto



Kat Walsh from Creative Commons joins us to talk about the history of Creative Commons as a 'hack on copyright.' Marc Weidenbaum speaks on the history of the Disquiet Junto, a long-running online distributed community creating new music in response to a weekly online composition challenge.


Creative Commons
Open Source

In this season of the podcast we’re working in collaboration with the Engelberg Center on Innovation Law and Policy at NYU Law. In addition to our usual crop of artists and programmers we’re adding in legal scholars to help us unpack some of the thorny issues for those working in art and code as they unleash their work into the world.

In this episode we dive into the world of Creative Commons, which is now over 20 years old. It is both an organization as well as a collection of copyright licenses used by artists, musicians, writers, directors and creators worldwide to communicate to the world how they want their work shared and potentially to be used as a source to build upon.

We also speak to Marc Weidenbaum, founder and steward of the Disquiet Junto, an online “community of practice.” Each week Marc sends out an email newsletter with a creative prompt, consisting of a title, and instructions. These instructions may read like a Fluxus event score, a recipe in sound, a concept or technical description. Those who choose to participate create a single piece of music, then post it online, to be shared, listened to and potentially discussed by the online community. Marc has been leading Disquiet Junto since 2012, and from the beginning has encouraged participants to share their work with Creative Commons licenses. In fact the creative re-use of Creative Commons licensed sound and music has often been an integral part of Disquiet Junto creative prompts.


Kat Walsh is the General Counsel at Creative Commons. She has a nearly 20-year history in the free and open culture movements, including many years on the boards of the Wikimedia Foundation and the Free Software Foundation, and has previously worked in library policy, technology startups, and online community management. As General Counsel, she oversees the legal support for all aspects of CC’s activities, provides strategic input, leads the stewardship of CC’s legal tools, and advises the organization on new programmatic initiatives.

Marc Weidenbaum
image description: a black and white image of Marc looking to the right. He has dark hair and a close cropped beard, wearing a high collared knit sweater and black frame glasses.

Marc Weidenbaum founded the website in 1996 at the intersection of sound, art, and technology, and since 2012 has moderated the Disquiet Junto, an active online community of weekly music/sonic projects that explore constraints as a springboard for creativity and productivity.

Creative Commons Licenses and Tools

Creative Commons talks with Marc Weidenbaum

Email announcement list for the Disquiet Junto

Marc’s website Disquiet, on the intersection of sound, art and technology


Our audio production is by Max Ludlow. Design by Caleb Stone.

Our music on today’s episode is all taken from Creative Commons licensed music created as part of the Disquiet Junto.

all at fives, sixes and sevens by wasabicube, CC BY NC SA. three euclidean rhythms, CC BY NC SA, by Lee Evans/Hippies Wearing Muzzles, both from disquiet0567 Three Meters.

Ways, CC BY NC SA, by the artist analoc for disquiet0482 Exactly That Gap.

Little Green Aura CC BY NC SA, by he_nu_ri and lako by Ohm Research, for disquiet0566 Outdoor Furniture Music.

four voice folly by caustic_gates, CC BY NC SA, part of disquiet0565 Musical Folly.

much too young to…, CC BY, by NolanVerde for disquiet0066 Communing with Nofi, a posthumous collaboration with the artist Jeffrey Melton, aka Nofi, who passed in 2013.

This episode is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 4.0

Creating in a Commons: Conversations with Creative Commons and Disquiet Junto

Lee Tusman
You’re listening to Artists and Hackers, A Podcast On Art, Code and Community and the new digital tools of creation. We talk to programmers, artists, poets, musicians, botmakers, educators, students and designers in an effort to critically look at online art-making and the history of technology and the internet. We’re interested in where we’ve been and speculative ideas on the future. I’m your host Lee Tusman.

In this season of the podcast we’re working with the Engelberg Center on Innovation Law and Policy at NYU Law to unpack the thorny and important issues in the world of art and code. In this episode we dive into the world of Creative Commons, which is both an organization as well as a collection of copyright licenses now used by artists worldwide. Creative Commons is now over 20 years old, and its licenses are used by artists, musicians, writers, directors and creators worldwide to share their work, to encourage others to reuse and sometimes to modify it. It’s something I use almost every day, from how I choose to share music I create and put on Bandcamp, to photos I see on Wikipedia articles, to audio snippets and tracks we select to accompany this podcast. But I didn’t know much about the forming of the organization nor the evolution of creative commons itself. So I spoke with Kat Walsh of Creative Commons and asked her to talk about the founding of the organization.

Kat Walsh
Creative Commons is a nonprofit organization that is basically founded to enable openness and sharing online mostly through a suite of licenses that allow for sharing of works. But we also have other initiatives to promote openness such as open education working with galleries or working with galleries, libraries, archives and museums and other things where people are sharing creativity and knowledge.

I want to ask a little bit about where Creative Commons came from both as an organization and kind of the initial impetus for the idea as far as I know about two decades ago?

Kat Walsh
So Creative Commons came about basically in response to the copyright term extension act. So copyright is for a fixed duration of time. That’s how it’s set out in the constitution. The US constitution says that these copyrights should last for a limited time to strike a balance between the interests of creators being able to produce more works and usually that’s by giving them an incentive to produce them because they’ll be rewarded economically because they’re the only ones who can sell them and share them, and the public interest which is in having knowledge information available. And that balance is already pretty biased if you ask a lot of people. Copyright terms are pretty long. It’s a long time before works can enter into the public domain and the legislature was going to make that even even longer. Ah so there is a group of scholars, academics, and lawyers who decided that maybe there was something a little wrong with this. There was actually a court case filed over the copyright term extension act from some people who are using works that were coming into the public domain that were no longer going to be in the public domain due to this legislative extension and they lost that case. Copyright was extended for another 20 years. The legislature was probably not going to do anything to put more works into the public domain, make more works available to the public. But what if they could do something that would work not to change the copyright system itself, to be kind of a hack to work on top of it? So what if you could write a license that would keep some of the rights that copyright extended to creators but would give some of them away? What if you could get credit for your work but everything else anyone else could do anything with it? What if you could keep the commercial rights but share everything else, allow people to trade on file sharing services, things like that? So Creative Commons was created to do what the legislature couldn’t legislature was not going to do, create solutions for people where the copyright system was not striking the right balance.

I think from my perspective being an artist that often works with programming or makes digital kinds of work or even music that I want to share, I often think of copyright not as something on my side but something that will keep me from being creative, sharing and being able to be part of this remix culture and zine and DIY culture that I grew up within. And so when I first learned about Creative Commons this idea that there was a legal framework, which first of all seemed a little bit funny to me, as an artist without that kind of background, but it was something that seemed to support my ability to find other people that wanted to share their materials and make it so that I could remix their music, remix a video, take other stuff that I found that they wanted to share and allow me to use it and I think from that perspective I found Creative Commons to be really liberating. And to me something that’s really excited me over the years, and it’s why I’ve looked for and and shared work in the Creative Commons for so long.

I think that’s true of a lot of people and my background also. I’m a musician. I’m a composer. My first experience with copyright was trying to get a bunch of recordings of contemporary music and scores of contemporary music so that I could study it and the people who had it could not share it with me because they did not have the copyright and that just seemed a little bit broken because the way that everybody learns is through studying and sharing and remixing what has come before. So I think that’s a pretty common story.

I wanted to ask a little bit about licenses as legal documents, which they are, but also as signals and statements. And what I mean by that is when you’re putting a Creative Commons license to some degree you’re also sharing certain values. It might not be the widest amount of values. But you’re at least stating not just a willingness but you know probably an indicator that you want to share your work and be part of a cultural commons in a certain way. I’m also wondering where some of this has rubbed up against legal cases too? And what part does Creative Commons play in terms of defending artists and other creative practitioners that use Creative Commons licenses in various ways?

So I think that’s totally right that the CC licenses are not just legal tools but are signals that the person who made this work wants it to be shared, wants it to be reused, wants other people to benefit from it, and they’re only asking a few simple things in return. Usually credit. Sometimes they want other things such as for your work to be shared alike but it is a signal that the creator has thought about these things and they decided that they they want a lot of the reuses and that solves the the vast majority of the problems before they even get to the point of enforcement. Most disputes over CC licenses are resolved by just communicating with the creator. Or if you find somebody violating a term, communicating with those people and getting the getting the issues to be resolved. There have been some court cases about CC licenses sometimes about people not giving correct credit, or about what kind of uses are commercial or not. CC is not a party to those cases. We’re not directly participating in the court cases but sometimes we will release clarifying statements about how we intend the licenses to be used or guidance for creators and reusers about what exactly the licenses mean in hopes that more of these disputes can be settled without going to court. One of the main things that we hope the CC licenses accomplish is to reduce friction so that everybody doesn’t need to hire their own lawyer to create and reuse culture, that people know what the licenses mean, they’re easy to comply with, they don’t need the expense and friction of lawyers. So we try to help people avoid that however we can.

I think one question I have right now is, so Creative Commons from my perspective feels like a fairly successful or very successful movement. I feel like I participate in it by putting work that is CC licensed up online. The music for this podcast often comes from Creative Commons licensed music and we give credits to the artists that compose that music at the end of the episode and as well as on our website and and there’s just a huge number of people using and participating in Creative Commons in many ways. I’m curious two decades later from its founding what are some of the areas that Creative Commons is working on and and things that you’re thinking about for the future?

In the early days the individual artists and creators were the biggest part of creating the Creative Commons movement. But more and more over the decades we’ve seen adoption from institutions. We’ve seen governments adopt CC licenses to require that for example, things funded by government grants be licensed and available to the public. We’ve seen public institutions make their scholarship available. We’ve seen galleries, archives, things like that make their scholarship and their digitized collections available using CC licenses and CC tools. So the institutional adoptions are maybe less cool and have less cool parties than the artists and musicians but they have had maybe an outsized impact. We’ve also seen adoption by platforms really help get a lot of creators into Creative Commons. Flickr for example, was one of the earliest adopters of CC licenses way back in 2004 and people saw like oh wow I could put this license on my work and then people would be able to find it and share it and a lot of the things for example that have ended up on Wikipedia came from those Flickr users who just decided to put a CC license on their work and a lot of people have seen it both getting greater exposure for their work and just that it feels pretty good to see their work reused when otherwise it might have lived ignored on their website somewhere.

Aside from hosting this podcast, I’m an artist and musician, and I’ve been making experimental music for about 20 years. At first I was mostly jamming in person with friends, and performing live. As I moved to different cities and out of college, I was recording and putting more of my music online. I had no idea how to find an audience but I would post on these forums for other experimental musicians, people working in jazz and electronic music. Over time on Soundcloud I kept seeing tracks that were Creative Commons licensed that I could remix or use in my own work, and I found a group of people that were making tracks each week, always based on a prompt, like a theme. They were tagged Disquiet Junto, and I had no idea what that meant, but after some searching it brought me to a group, a loose collective online of people making music and posting it every week, and sometimes remixing each other’s work from week to week. That eventually brought me to the blog and email list of Disquiet Junto, where I began to create and submit my own music. Today I’m talking to Disquiet Junto’s founder and ringleader Marc Weidenbaum. I asked him to describe the junto, how it came about, and what’s the big idea?

Marc Weidenbaum
There’s several ways to describe what the Disquiet Junto is. The best description I’ve heard is something someone else said, that the Disquiet Junto is that I write record reviews of music that doesn’t exist and then internet strangers proceed to record it. Every Thursday I send out a prompt and then people have until Monday at midnight to record music that’s a response to that prompt. And this week’s prompt is one of an occasional series. We do a sequence we do that looks at the whole idea of genre. What does a genre even mean anyhow? Is it a self-contained concept? Is there a lot of movement between genres? Do they change over time? Do they mean things in different places differently? In this case we’re looking at the concept of a genre we’ve made up called Digital Magical Realism. We know what magical realism is especially in fiction. But what would digital magical realism be if it was a genre of music? So all I did was I sent out that concept to about 1800 subscribers of the mailing list and you know my guess is between twenty and forty will between now and Monday upload their take on what it is.

And you’ve been doing this each week for over a decade right?

Yeah, it’s crazy. Yeah January of 2012 I was sitting in a cafe with a friend of mine. The cafe unfortunately is no longer around and I had this idea and I wanted to give it a go. I didn’t know if anyone would participate. So that first week I didn’t know there’d be a second one, let alone what is now the five hundred and sixty third, but there was a kind of community going, a group of people communicating about this sort of thing on Twitter which grew from a previous project and I felt the encouragement so I just sent it out to those following, to a group of people. I said ‘record the sound of ice in a glass and make something with it’ and that was the very first Disquiet Junto project, that one line, and now every year since we’ve done that each first week of January of each year subsequently.

One of the things that stood out to me from the beginning was that most people make their music Creative Commons licensed and I know that you encourage that each week. It even says that in your email. I’m curious what creative commons means to you and and how you got involved and became interested in that?

So I would have to dig back to figure out how I first came to be aware of Creative Commons. My guess is it was through the Internet Archive. That would be my guess. I was just really intrigued and kind of relieved by the fact that some group of people had taken the time to not only recognize a major gap in the law when it comes to copyright but to actually give people tools, really simple tools, to address it. One of the ways to think about it is that when someone wants to let people do something with their sounds, wants to work communally, that sort of action was much more easily anticipated and monitored and encouraged when we all lived in the same place. If you all went to the same cafe or you all went to the same school, or you were all members of the same scene, as it were. It was easy to understand that someone covered your song, or they played with a riff of yours, or they borrowed a recording and did something with it.

But it’s very different when it’s the internet and it’s a lot of people who don’t know or necessarily trust each other trying to figure out how they can say it’s okay to rework this but under the following rules. And I just found that so relieving. I’m of an age where I lived through the legal foment around hip hop. Sampling existed long before hip hop. But hiphop really brought it to the fore, especially in a legal sense for various reasons. And there was a period of time where amazing records came out where the rules weren’t set down. And there’s a nice opportunity in Creative Commons to be able to create a zone in which people can comfortably share things, and not just share them with the expectation they might be worked on but also benefit from it by having access to things that they themselves might rework. So I found that very heartening.

Can you talk about some of your favorite projects that you’ve done with the Junto over the years?

Yeah, certainly there’s a wide range of projects. You know we’ve done as I mentioned earlier, we’re now doing our five hundred and sixty third right now in a row that’s 563 consecutive to Thursdays sorry that’s 563 consecutive Thursday since January 2012 which is sort of blows my mind when I say it out loud. One of the most meaningful products to me that came out of the junto was one of the members of the Junto died fairly early on in the Junto and it was fascinating to me because I had never spoken to the person but emotionally it hit me very hard. And he was a really nice guy. He was a strong participant and and he was the person who for a time had maintained a list on Twitter of all the Twitter accounts of people who were Junto members. You could follow that list and see what people were up to. So it was a nice part of the community, and then he died I think at age 45. He had a young child. And the next project we did was he had some beautiful recordings online so people were given one of them and then told to duet with it. So it was a posthumous collaboration and even as I say that now like 8 years after the fact I can feel the emotion and I can just feel how how sad it made me and how emotionally meaningful it was for us to engage with the work that way.

One of the things I really appreciate about the Junto, I’m curious if this is something that’s been meaningful to you as well…you talked before about how essentially Brian Eno was a certain kind of key to the start of your evolution from being more of a journalist and a musician to kind of opening it up and being a caretaker to some degree, creating this community. One of the things I’ve been thinking about is Brian Eno’s conception of ‘scenius’ versus genius. Scenius as a communal… let’s see if I can find the actual phrase. He writes ‘scenius stands for the intelligence and the intuition of a whole cultural scene. It is the communal form of the concept of the genius.’ And one of the reasons that resonates with me so strongly is rather than kind of looking up to individuals that are that are creating culture for us to consume, for me it makes it more that culture is created by the community overall, not by individuals necessarily but by the collection of all of us and that we all contribute to scenes and communities and the evolution of of art as a whole. And I’m curious if that’s something that’s been personally meaningful for you in the evolution of the Junto?

Yeah I think the word scenius, the concept behind it is an incredibly strong one and I think it’s the case. I think this is something Eno himself has said, which is that what often happens is that an individual or a band or a few people from within a scene become kind of more broadly known for it. The way that Lyle Lovett became a kind of symbol of what happened in Austin musically or a certain person would come out of Detroit or the Downtown Scene in New York like John Zorn or someone, but these individuals were really kind of synecdoches for a whole enormous amount of activity. I’m not saying that for the individuals it wasn’t deserved but the way that the broader public, especially the non-musician public thought about those scenes was they they didn’t really even understand there was a scene per se. They thought or saw these people as geniuses without really appreciating or understanding the role that the scene played in them being who they were. So yes, scenius is very much on my mind, and the extent to which I can through the Junto create what I think of as a kind of online scene, kind of foment and reinforce being cautious about my role in it by not dictating aesthetically too much and so forth and being as welcoming as possible that that has long been my goal for what I’m doing.

Has your understanding of Creative Commons changed over the years now that you’ve been doing this for so long? And have you have evolved at all in your thinking about it? Or how it can best be used, its meaning in your life or the life of musicians or other artists?

So ultimately Creative Commons is a technology, that’s what it is. It’s an agreement. An agreement is a form of technology much as language is a technology and I think that my understanding of Creative Commons has grown and I think it’s gotten richer. But I think at the same time the technology within which Creative Commons might play a role has changed a lot. Systems have gotten more and more locked in. People are much more likely to listen on a streaming service like Spotify than a streaming service like Soundcloud. And that’s a huge change for the simple reason that uploading audio to Soundcloud was something that was really easy to do. It’s not impossible to Spotify or the like at all. But it’s a much more closed system and requires a lot more hoops to jump through. And so the division for a long time it felt like kind of in the punk model, the division between stage and audience had been slowly going away and Soundcloud was a big part of that, Bandcamp as well. But the rise of streaming has changed that. And on the other side you know for musicians speaking to musicians I think Creative Commons is still a valuable tool. I love seeing that it’s built in as an option in Youtube and that it remains the default I think on Soundcloud so I think there’s a lot of opportunity for it. But I think the rise of streaming has been a big challenge to it having a real strong play in the conversation.

I’m curious if you have thoughts about how to spread what Creative Commons is and expand the community of people that are participating in this kind of open way?

One of the biggest things I’ve had to realize is that the idea of the Creative Commons is not necessarily inherently attractive to a lot of people for a variety of reasons. Part of it has to do with ego and the participation of music. I think a person who does knock at the concept of scenius is not going to get the concept of the Creative Common most likely. I think that there’s increasing and often quite deserved critiques of technology in the form of corporations and I think as a result the connection of creative commons to a corporate culture can be very off-putting to people. I know a counter to that would be so much open source software provides a model for this sort of creativity. You know a lot of Github is about copying code and sharing it. But at the same time open source is still part of a larger technologically-mediated business world. And so I think that in order to encourage people to think about Creative Commons as a means to participate in culture you really have to think a lot about what their emotional response is going to be to both opening their work up for creative reuse which is the ego part. But also you know what does it mean that they’re doing so in a realm where the technologies on which that work would be presented and experienced are often for-profit organizations that aren’t necessarily feeding back into the creative process. So I’m sorry that might have been a slightly long-witted response. But I think it’s a complicated time and a complicated topic.

That was Marc Weidenbaum, founder of the Disquiet Junto, a distributed group in which musicians around the world respond to weekly assignments to compose, record and share new music online.

I was interested in speaking with Marc not only because I’d participated in the group without knowing him previously and was curious to finally meet him, but also because I see it as a quintessential example of the promise and excitement of a community committed to sharing, re-using, remixing and re-sharing new works, which is what the Creative Commons licenses set out to do.

Here is a loose and large group of musicians all over the world. They are each making music. They don’t necessarily know each other previously, but they come together loosely online. They find each other’s work. And they remix and re-share that work, leading to new beautiful compositions in the tens of thousands, a vibrant and rich community of music and people. Sometimes the new music gets exhibited, presented in performance, or even shared on a podcast like this one for example. As an artist and musician myself, this is what I want to see in the world. I get a lot of energy being part of these kinds of sharing-based communities, where we stand on the shoulders of giants so to speak, or maybe that metaphor isn’t entirely accurate. Maybe we’re collecting threads from around the world and weaving a new tapestry.

Creative Commons itself is influenced by the history of open source: in software that’s sharing the code for your software, making it available to be modified, and depending on the license, allowing or requiring it to be re-shared with your additions and crediting past creators. When we’re talking about creative output like writing, poetry, film or music it feels genuinely generous to me and a reflection of the world I’d like to live in to be part of a space where we can borrow and use and re-use other people’s creative works giving them credit and re-sharing our own work, putting it back out into the world. It’s a modern version of how I like to think of musicians in the past, traveling around the world playing gigs, playing weddings and ceremonies and passing songs back and forth to each other, each making their own spin on the music.

So when I asked Marc about how to get the word out about Creative Commons so that more folks would be aware of it as a concept I guess I was naively thinking that if only more people were aware of it they’d choose it as a license when releasing their creative work out into the world. But Marc pointed out that it’s not necessarily attractive to all creative producers and artists, particularly folks that aren’t interested necessarily in creating work within that community, that don’t want to give up control of their work, and that many folks see technology tied to corporations at this point. I’m thinking about how much of silicon valley and corporations in general have built their products and their income largely off of open source software, including lots of work created by volunteers. This is something that Ramsey Nasser pointed out when we spoke to him previously about the Anti Capitalist Software License. One of the Creative Commons license options is Non Commercial, meaning that if you put your artwork or music with a Creative Commons NonCommercial license then anyone who wants to remix your Creative Commons work, not only must you give credit to the original source but they can’t use your new remixed version in a for-profit context.

Of course, this doesn’t address who is using your work or remixing it, if you’re concerned about co-optation of your work or to what purposes someone may use or reuse your work. In upcoming episodes we’ll try to tackle some of these limitations, looking at how various communities are thinking through their collective knowledge and creative work, and how they can share that work with the wider world.

You’re listening to Artists and Hackers.

Thanks to our episode’s guests Kat Walsh of Creative Commons, and Marc Weidenbaum, Writer, Musican and Founder of the Disquiet Junto. This season of the podcast is produced with the Engelberg Center on Innovation Law and Policy at NYU Law.

My name is Lee Tusman. Our audio producer is Max Ludlow. Our design is by Caleb Stone.

Our music on today’s episode is all taken from Creative Commons licensed music created as part of the Disquiet Junto. Our tracks today are

all at fives, sixes and sevens by wasabicube, three euclidean rhythms by Lee Evans/Hippies Wearing Muzzles, both from disquiet0567 Three Meters.

Ways by the artist analoc for disquiet0482 Exactly That Gap.

Little Green Aura by he_nu_ri and lako by Ohm Research, for disquiet0566 Outdoor Furniture Music

four voice folly by caustic_gates , part of disquiet0565 Musical Folly

And much too young to… by NolanVerde for disquiet0066 Communing with Nofi, a posthumous collaboration with the artist Jeffrey Melton, aka Nofi, who passed in 2013.

You can find more episodes, full transcripts, and links to find out about our guests and topics on our website You can find us on instagram at artistandhackers and mastodon at artistsandhackers at You can always write to us on our website, and please leave us feedback wherever you get your podcast.

Thanks for listening.