January 31, 2021

The Chalkeaters’ Licenseeffective folk licensing in the wild

The Chalkeaters run a YouTube channel best known for this absurd musical mashup of Animal Crossing and Doom Eternal, the happiest and bloodiest video game hits of 2020.

Click around their channel a bit, you’ll find a link to this Google Doc with rules for reusing their work. Yup, kids. A public license!

Rules for using The Chalkeaters’ original content

Yes, you can use our songs, art and animations in your own work, but you must follow these rules.

  1. If you use our song and/or our video, you must put the link to our original YouTube video and the song’s official url in the description of your work.

    Example song url: https://band.link/lock_me_up. This url can usually be found at the top of our video description.

  2. If you use our song in your original music video, or song cover, or any other form of original art, and it’s present in more than 50% of your video or song, you must put our name (“The Chalkeaters”) in the title of your video/song.

  3. Re-uploading of our videos is forbidden.

  4. You cannot sell our original content or use it for commercial purposes*.

  5. * We wish to support cover artists and fanart creators, so currently we don’t restrict the monetisation of YouTube videos that use our songs, but we may be forced to change this in the future if it gets abused.

Is it perfect? Of course not. But it’s amazing just how much it gets right that lawyers’ terms so often get wrong.

Their terms are easy to read. Especially since they speak in simple first and second person: “we”, “you”, “you must”, “you cannot”. Not “the Licensor”, “the Licensee”, “the parties hereto”, or any other disturbingly dissociative, impersonal defined terms wrapped in lawyer syntax. We went this way drafting The Blue Oak Model License, and it made a world of difference.

For uses they’ve anticipated, as in other YouTube videos, their requirements are incredibly clear and actionable. They won’t be missing all the usual questions people have about how to do “attribution”, or give credit, under a generic license, like one of the Creative Commons forms. We tried to go further in this direction in the PolyForm licenses, spelling out directly what has to be shared when giving “notice”.

Speaking of notices, most of The Chalkeaters’ concerns go to credit. They want to be recognized for their work. They don’t want to see it passed off as anyone else’s, as by re-uploading. As it turns out, this is something software developers often want, too. Hence my work on credit requirements and conventions.

Like so many other creative people sharing stuff online, the intuitive outer boundary of their generosity is the commercial-noncommercial line. That line is never terribly sharp. And just like pretty much every set of legally drafted noncommercial terms I’ve seen, be it Creative Commons’ or PolyForm’s, the Chalkeaters clarified “noncommercial” a bit, to address monetization by cover artists and fanartists. I imagine many of the Chalkeaters came up as cover artists and fanartists themselves.

As usual, I am ecstatic to see talented, creative people taking licensing into their own hands. Not because they wouldn’t benefit from legal help. They would. Because they haven’t confused lawyer help with lawyer permission to exercise their rights. We don’t serve clients, or especially those who can’t afford to be clients, by pretending they need lawyers to set the terms of use for their creative work.

Personally, I love finding “folk licenses” like this out and about. The hardest thing for me to do is forget everything I’ve learned, experienced, and internalized since going into law. In a way, I can only guess what people want, license-wise, when not under the strong influence of my “expertise”. Licenses like the Chalkeaters’ give me a window back into that world. They help to ground my views, free of the preconceptions and biases I’ve picked up on the path I chose.

Your thoughts and feedback are always welcome by e-mail.

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