I've known it from the day I began shoplifting the beginnings of my now-oppressive CD collection: when it comes to music, some petty crimes are justified by their ends. Go ahead, turn your nose up disparagingly--but if you've had the patience to trudge as deeply as you have into this fishwrapper's music section, the fact of the matter is, you're no better than I. Maybe you've found loopholes in your conscience as you've pilfered pennies from the pockets of some of your most beloved artists--but that hardly changes the fact that if you've ever illegally downloaded an MP3, you too are a pirate on the sloshing seas of the internet super highway.

But it's cool, bro--I'm not here to harsh your vibe. I just want to make sure we're both on the same page before we rap about the world of the new, "liberated" digital consciousness--a world where, with any luck, ol' Johnny Cease and Desist won't always be able tear you a new one for that wicked Bonnie Tyler/Conor Oberst mash-up you've got posted on your MP3 blog. A world according to Creative Commons.

Founded in 2001 by a mess of cyber-lawyers and intellectual property experts, Creative Commons aims to shuttle our country's copyright laws into a post-modern, digital age by allowing members of the creative community the personal freedom to decide what protections their works maintain. Going public in 2002, the Commoners introduced a series of free licenses (available at www.creativecommons.org)--in both legal jargon and layman's terms--that serve to extend the copyrights inherent in the creation of creative properties to allow certain permissions for public use. Or, as they put it: to convert the ever-present "All Rights Reserved" into a considerably more forgiving "Some Rights Reserved"-- and allowing artists to decide what secondary uses are allowed and under what conditions. The difference is subtle, but the impact could revolutionary.

The nuances of Creative Commons are fairly wide-reaching (I suggest taking a look at one of the terribly informative--and terribly cute--tutorials on their website), but for space's sake, let's focus on what promises to be one of the most immediate ramifications of the Creative Commons revolution--that of digital music. In the wake of the circle CC, several websites (opsound.org, magnatune.com, etc.) have already sprouted to host licensed work--available for filesharing, borrowing, and, most profoundly, open sampling--depending on their particular (and crystal clear) licensing agreements. A logical next step in music's long history of creative borrowing, Creative Commons proposes a legal framework to support the mechanisms of the post-modern age.

Sure, the Creative Commons vision is a utopian one, requiring a sort of cognitive leap most people--including artists--are pretty unlikely to take any time soon (especially considering the pretty penny a person can stand to make from sample licensing). But for a music industry slowly crumbling under the weight of the digital age, it might be just the sort of healthy paradigm shift necessary for survival.