Creative Commons made it easy to start

, June 7th, 2012

This is a guest blog post by Jon Spriggs (@jontheniceguy) about and its promotion of Creative Commons licensed music, artists and podcasts. Jon recalls his personal journey, motivations and influences in developing the site.

It’s always hard to talk about a project you’ve started. The inspiration for projects can come from a hundred different places and none of those are the key to why the project happened. is no different, but this post is here to talk about why (henceforth referred to as “CCHits”) came about and why Creative Commons plays so much of a part in how it all got started.

Let’s start with what CCHits is. It’s a website which promotes Creative Commons licensed music, the artists who make it, and the Radio shows and Podcasts which play it. It does this through three linked threads.

  1. A daily, weekly and monthly podcast – showcasing a track each day, reviewing the week’s tracks and having a top 40 chart of tracks on the site.
  2. Linking to track, artist and podcast/show pages to encourage more interest in the artists and podcasts – especially when finding a track that has been played on one show, but you spot that another show has also played it – perhaps you’d like more of the music played on that show?
  3. Encouraging voting on tracks – whether through the daily, weekly and monthly shows, or via the shows not internal to – so at podcasts like The BugCast, for example, Dave and Caroline Lee will include vote links to for each show.

CCHits was a project I launched on 24th October 2010, but I’d been working on the idea since around August. I’d been an avid podcast listener for nearly 6 years, and by August 2010, I wanted to be a part of it.

I’d liked the idea of Creative Commons since I’d come across the idea while listening to LugRadio, and was especially stirred by an almost off the cuff conversation between the presenters of the show, and a British guy I’d met only a few months before, called Matt Lee, who was a (or it may even have been “the”) campaign manager for the FSF. Although I liked the idea of Creative Commons, at that time I was only listening to speech-only podcasts, so I couldn’t really see how this great license might start being more useful. Next, I came across the license on Flickr, and thought that it was a great idea to license your photos under CC, but I couldn’t imagine it really being used anywhere else… and then I discovered music podcasts.

I still don’t really know where I came across The BugCast, but Dave Lee (and later, Dave and his wife Caroline), did a great show each week, and I got more and more involved in the community around the show. While I was listening to the shows, Dave would mention where he was getting his source material from – a promotions company here, a netlabel there, but every now and then he’d say “Jamendo“… A few shows later he mentioned that one of the artists who had submitted music to his show (although, to be fair, I don’t actually recall which album or artist it was) had released that under a creative commons license, and I thought “Ooooo”. I made a point of buying the album as I’d enjoyed it… and it got me thinking.

Along side this, I’d been a founding member of the Stockport Hackspace (which went on to become HAC:Manchester and when we started having meetings in a working space, I noticed that we were playing music on a semi-regular basis without a PRS or PPL license. Around the same time, there were news reports about shops receiving fines for not having a PRS license for staff singing commercially licensed music at the tills, or for playing music for the staff but with the number of customers in the premises it meant that they were classed as playing a public broadcast of the music. I thought about the Creative Commons music I’d been listening to, and thought this was a good match for the hackspace. My initial release of the project was supposed to have been aimed specifically at the Hacker and Maker Spaces around the UK… but something else happened instead.

Dave Lee made a point of promoting the Association of Music Podcasting, and I started to listen to more and more music podcasts. Only ones and twos here and there, but I slowly started to properly appreciate the great works that were CC licensed, so in early October 2010, I went to the Sheffield Podcrawl (a pub crawl with podcasters and listeners to podcasts), and brought my idea to a group of generally wary but interested and receptive podcasters. I’d already done a fair amount of the work on getting the concept ready. I had a reasonable idea of what I wanted the site to do, and I had a bit of a demo ready to show people, and when I left the Podcrawl, I had interest from a few shows, but Dave and Caroline were behind me 100%.

What only Dave and Caroline (and a few other friends and family) knew at the time was that my wife was 4 months pregnant, and as such, there was no way I was going to be able to commit to doing the daily, weekly *and* monthly podcasts I’d been thinking about creating, so I toyed with the idea of using a text-to-speech engine for creating the show bumpers. I was aware Dan Lynch and Fabian Scherschel had used the Festival text-to-speech engine to provide details on how to get in touch with their Linux Outlaws show each week, and I thought that seemed like a great idea. It took a week or so to nail down the text, and the show generation software which needed no human intervention (HA! As IF!), but by the 24th October I had enough to roll out a show. Within a week I’d fixed more bugs in the show generation process than I thought I’d ever had written, and a year and a half later and a complete rewrite under my belt, I’m still fixing bugs on a regular basis.

So, where does the Creative Commons aspect come into this?

I’m pretty cautious about doing anything which is contrary to the law. It comes from having grown up in a household with a police officer as a father, and a teacher as a mother. You get the stern, disappointed look from your mother every time you do something you know she’ll hate to tell your father about, and frankly as you grow up, that look of disappointment just gets worse and worse. I’m now 34, and now I don’t even need to see that disappointed look… and to make matters worse, I know that my father participated in quite a lot of take-downs of pirate radio stations while I was growing up – only small ones, there were no “Radio Caroline”‘s around where I lived – but it made me quite serious and cautious about playing music I didn’t have the rights to play… so Creative Commons played a very key part to my choices. If Creative Commons hadn’t existed, then I probably would never have considered starting my own show – partially because I’m sure that many of the shows I’ve enjoyed listening to would never have had the content to play. Sure, there was always the promotion companies, but I couldn’t see any way that it would have been sustainable, and I’m sure I’d been even more cautious about playing music from one of those at my local hack space.

I made a specific choice with CCHits that I wanted to be sure that, given the interest, anyone could take what I’d done and re-use it. I found a previous project with similar goals and aims to my own but they used a proprietary platform that they didn’t own. When I came to look at what they’d done, I didn’t know whether every track in that site was legitimately Creative Commons (and as it turned out, many of the later submitted tracks weren’t), and there was no clear way to find out what sort of measures of people had liked tracks before. I used this experience, and a conversation with Evan Prodromeau from the StatusNet project about making data free and open, encouraged me to make the database behind free and open… to the extent that all of the data is (CC-0), all of the tracks the full range of CC licences and CC0, and even thesoftware which drives the site (AGPL) is free and open. Using that combination of “stuff” you could take and completely replicate the CCHits project! (I’d much rather you send me patches though!)

Creative Commons lets me feel confident that what I’m doing is appropriate and approved. It has encouraged me to seek out new sources of music, to actively encourage people to consider licensing or re-licensing music under a CC license, and on the whole, lead a better life with music.

Thank you, Creative Commons.

This blog post ‘Creative Commons made it easy to start’ by Jon Spriggs (@jontheniceguy)is licensed with a CC BY licence 


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