Miller is part of a group of musicians including Public Enemy's Chuck D; Parliament Funkadelic's George Clinton; and the band De La Soul who are allowing the public to mash up audio snippets from interviews they've given into submissions for a new remixing competition.
The , which is sponsored by the, is all about promoting remixing culture and encouraging artists like Miller to make their work legally and affordably available for other musicians to manipulate.
Creative Commons has built a licensing system that allows content creators to decide which usage rights to their work to grant others. In every case, the licenses require attribution to the creator. Some allow users to manipulate licensed work for any non-commercial purpose, while others don't. The ultimate point is to faciliate copyrights that are flexible on which rights users get.
"Sampling has become what kids do," Miller said. "Because of that, I find more and more electronic music is a reflection of urban culture wherever you go, and to me it was really important to have not just a statement about it, but to participate in the process."
The interviews given by Miller and the other musicians were for a documentary called "Copyright Criminals" by Atlanta artist Ben Franzen and Kembrew McLeod, an assistant professor of communications studies at the University of Iowa. For their film about the rise of sampling and remix culture, the two talked to musicians, artists, lawyers, scholars, music industry executives and others.
The film is being made in the context of a legal landscape in which professional musicians are well aware that they have to pay to use pieces of other artists' songs. The RIAA has been steadfast in its desire to keep musicians from freely appropriating elements of others' work, and liberal sampling that might have passed muster a decade or so ago is now fodder for cease-and-desist letters.
Listen to "Whatever," a track created by Tru Ski and entered in the Copyright Criminals Contest.
Listen now... (3.7MB mp3)
In choosing the topic for "Copyright Criminals," McLeod and Franzen are challenging that dynamic. They believe creativity is better served by letting artists borrow from others. And Creative Commons, with its licenses, believes it is providing an environment that protects artists' rights while still making it possible for musicians and others to sample previous work.
McLeod and Franzen eventually made a 10-minute trailer of their film available online, and just days later, someone posted a rap song about the film on the Creative Commons community remixing project site, CCMixter.
Inspired by the unsolicited rap, the two men decided to organize a contest and began to encourage pubic submissions of new songs made from elements of the interviews shown in the film trailer.
"It's fun to play with stuff, and when you have the opportunity to play with George Clinton's voice, or Chuck D's voice or DJ Spooky's voice, it's a great thing," said McLeod. "Appropriation, the remixing of digital sounds, or what Shakespeare did...the instinct to appropriate cuts across all forms of creativity. And the point of the contest and the film is to encourage (people) to do it more, and to legitimize the impulse."
Miller agrees, and argues that the record industry would do well to recognize that it has a gigantic repository of archival material that if put in the hands of remixers could be used for substantial financial advantage.
"It's almost a no-brainer that if they're sitting on material, they're not making any money," said Miller. "What they should do is activate their archives and encourage this kind of thinking."
Miller will also be releasing a film soon, "Rebirth of a Nation," which he'll let the public remix under a Creative Commons license.
The Copyright Criminals contest is open for all submissions until March 14. The winner will have his or her song featured "prominently" in McLeod and Franzen's documentary. To artists like Jeremy Rosier and Tre Peterson, the contest has provided an opportunity to stretch their remixing legs while also taking advantage of sampling rights granted them under the Creative Commons licenses that governs the contest's source material.
"The whole thing about sampling being more creative than criminal, I definitely agree with that," said Rosier, a 32-year-old musician from Trowbridge, England. "I hate the paranoia that goes with using samples sometimes....The right to sample is important, as long as it's not just robbing someone of a well-written tune."
A second track from the Copyright Criminals Contest. This one was created by Jerry Rosier.
Listen now... (3MB mp3)
And Rosier must be doing something right. His submission, "Both Sides," a catchy track featuring samples from interviews of producer Hank Shocklee and DJ Qbert, is one of the highest-rated entrants in the contest so far.
At the same time, , said that the Copyright Criminals contest appealed to him because much of his work is rooted in hip-hop.
"The core of hip-hop originated through using other sounds," said Peterson. "It just seems like art is supposed to be, to a certain extent, of a free nature."
To McLeod, Peterson's point is right on the money. He bristles at the current state of affairs in which professional musicians are legally required to go through lawyers in order to get permission for sampling others' songs.
This dynamic has "stunted the growth of hip-hop and hip-hop sampling," he said. "The golden age of hip-hop ended about 15 years ago. You have to be Kanye West to buy a $100,000 sample, rather than the more free-form sampling that De La Soul and Public Enemy engaged in."
Some involved in the contest feel the message they want to spread is that it is a good thing to be able to legally build on other people's work. And by having the contest organized under the rubric of Creative Commons, the idea is that music should be treated the same as any other form of copyrightable material.
"I think that all the people...focused on in this documentary get the idea of using or reusing other people's work as being something beneficial to the cultural conversation, and the cultural world," said Eric Steuer, creative director at Creative Commons. "We knew that all those people would be receptive to the idea, and every single one of them are people that use samples in their work. (So) they're very open to being sampled and reused."
Some might expect that thewould have serious problems with the aims of Creative Commons. But according to Steuer, that's not the case.
"They're supportive of what we're doing because we're providing a way to do this legally," he said. "They don't want people doing this stuff without permission. The licenses provide the mechanism for doing this legally."
In an described how she came to understand how Creative Commons licenses could be good for the music industry.
"I had dismissed Creative Commons as a sleight-of-hand maneuver, a way to mouth platitudes about the benefits of copyright while in fact joining ranks with the Everything for Free Foundation," Rosen wrote. "But I've come to love Creative Commons. The organization seeks to calm some of music's roiling waters, from unlawful sampling to file-sharing."
And those are the very reasons why artists like Peterson are growing to rely on the licensing organization to help them do more creative work while staying on the right side of the law.
"I'm just really supportive of the Creative Commons movement," Peterson said. "And I hope that I can make more music with it and that more people can be inspired as well."