Case Studies/Ancient Free Gardeners

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band, independent, music, Jamendo, Obscuresound


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Ancient Free Gardeners are an indie-rock band in Melbourne, Australia, using Creative Commons licences to distribute their music.

For the thousands of bands just like us, once you understand that with CC licences you don’t actually have to lose all of the rights to the music, there is nothing but benefit that you can derive. You have next to nothing, so you have nothing to lose. — James Milsom, Ancient Free Gardeners


Ancient Free Gardeners is an indie-rock band in Melbourne, Australia. The band consists of James Milsom (vocals, guitar), Gautam Raju (bass guitar), Callum Barter (drums) and Steve Morfesse (keys, vocals). The band plays original music written by James Milsom at venues in Melbourne and (on occasion) tours interstate.

The band takes its name from the friendly society, Order of Free Gardeners, which dates back to around the 15th century, around the time the Free Masons was established. What is the actual link between the two? The tram into Melbourne CBD from the cemetery-side sharehouse in which the band was established rushes past the now-defunct headquarters of the Free Gardeners’ Melbourne branch. An impulse caused two band members to make a visit on one occasion, and so bizarre was the experience that the adoption of the name was a foregone conclusion.

Ancient Free Gardeners earn income from playing live shows, CD sales and digital music sales via iTunes. However, the band is not yet self-sustaining, and is financially supported by the members. The band aims to reach wider audiences internationally through the use of Creative Commons licences, having previously been signatory to distribution deals that have borne significantly less than what the band had aimed for. A new album is currently being pieced together, and Creative Commons releases are planned for at least the singles from the album, if not the whole thing at least in streaming form.

License Usage

For the existing release from Ancient Free Gardeners, the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-ShareAlike 2.5 Australia licence was used. When a pressing of the five-track self-titled EP was almost completely sold out and the expenses still outweighed the revenue, the band tried another angle for the distribution of the same songs, and so chose to adopt the Creative Commons licence to facilitate the EP's distribution.

The entire EP is available for either free download as a zip file or as streaming mp3s on the band’s web site, as well as on the Creative Commons distribution platform Jamendo. The EP is also available for download at the iTunes music store, and visitors to the band’s website are given the option of paying for the download if they want to.

Though no statistics are available for downloads, the band derived very little benefit from the availability of its music on iTunes and other online music retailers, and has seen a significant number of downloads since uploading the EP to its own website and to Jamendo. The move to open content licensing was a very recent one, so the band has not yet experienced any significant benefits from licensing its music under Creative Commons, but looks forward to the experiment.


James Milsom, front-person for the band, first heard about Creative Commons at a lecture on innovation made by John Wilbanks, the vice president of Science Commons. Open content licensing was chosen as the band saw the great potential in using the Internet for both distribution and publicity. Then in practice the band experienced first hand the restrictions unduly placed on that potential by charging money for downloads. Several significant promotional opportunities such as a feature on the Obscuresound music blog and a sync licence with LonelyGirl15 demonstrated this great potential, and Ancient Free Gardeners saw fit to take advantage of it. The placement on LonelyGirl15 was a great experience for the band, as it was a lesson in the massive exposure one can achieve via the Internet. However, though the video featuring the band's song (‘I am not a shipwright’, 2007) had 60,000+ views, the band saw little benefit from the placement aside from a handful of iTunes digital music sales.

The Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-ShareAlike 2.5 Australia licence was chosen because the band wished to reserve their rights to attribution. Further, having licensed work previously and experienced fairly severe difficulty in generating any profit through independent music, the band wished to reserve their right to commercially license their music should the opportunity arise. Said Milsom:

'For the thousands of bands just like us, once you understand that with CC licences you don’t actually have to lose all of the rights to the music, there is nothing but benefit that you can derive. You have next to nothing, so you have nothing to lose.'

The Australian music community seems, according to James Milsom, to be constantly concerned with how Australian music can cross the seas and become subject to foreign dollars. When the idea of Creative Commons catches on in Australia as it seems to have (at least partially) in the United States, the band see good prospects for the ever-struggling Australian music industry.


Image by Bo Hui ( under CC BY-SA 2.5 Au. Used with permission.

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