In the mid-20th century, the term Anthropophagy—the custom of eating human flesh—was reclaimed as a worldview by Brazilian philosopher, Oswald de Andrade. It’s a symbolic devouring and digesting of external influences and information, and their subsequent transformation into something new and entirely Brazilian, where the flesh of one piece becomes the stem cells of another.
As individuals, we too cannibalize the information of others for the construction of ourselves. Plumbing through the deluge—songs, poems, philosophies, paintings, relationships, news, histories, jokes, fairy tales, hieroglyphs, legends, recipes, dances, religions—we gradually hone in on our music, the stuff that strikes like lightning and catalyzes our own art. We devour the flesh of others to discover what exists in our own.
If we acknowledge this, we must also acknowledge that it makes little sense to claim sole ownership of the stuff that comes out when we put pen to paper. But we’ve been conditioned to believe it is our own, and to celebrate – and pursue – the quality of genius. To whom can we credit this thing, we ask, whose message and truth have found its way to me?
Some years ago, Brian Eno coined the term “scenius” as a companion to “genius.” Where genius is the creative intelligence of an individual, scenius is the creative intelligence of a community. It’s an admission that, in reality, each “genius” is simply a representative of some flourishing scene. Put another way, “when buoyed by scenius, you act like genius.”
Many folks’ main beef with artificial intelligence is that it affronts our sanctimonious sense of intellectual property – our own individualized creative intelligence. Machines learn from copyrighted information and then use that as the basis of new material, how dare they! It’s worth taking one humbling step back to admit that that’s how we work, too. We are memetic beings.
Perhaps we’d do better to untangle ourselves from our predilection for genius, and from the laws of copyright that enable it. As individual creators, we are representatives of countless flourishing scenes, and that’s beautiful! The spirit of “there’s no such thing as an original idea” rings true, and to pursue singular ownership of our inspired art is an insult to all those who inspired it.
Copyright may do a good job at protecting individuals' creative contributions, but it does little to represent our reality as interdependent, interwoven communities – especially our digital reality, which is inherently abundant and memetic. Just in writing this manifesto, we have read and referenced about a dozen articles, which are themselves compilations of ideas from dozens of other people.
FOLK is an embrace of that connectedness. We are a collective focused on tracing ancient folk relationships and methodologies in order to embed them into a new commons infrastructure and cultural flow. Hopefully, we can begin to evolve the paradigm of genius to one of scenius.
This manifesto is our community agreement, and anyone can sign/mint it to add your voice to this collective push.
We’ll run a series of experiments to support the open sharing of knowledge and creative works, resisting scarcity and challenging the bounds of systems that limit that openness. For all initiatives, raised funds will be split across our contributing artists, the folk treasury, and aligned partner organizations.
Today FOLK is an unincorporated nonprofit association. The FOLK treasury will be used to cover administrative costs and to support subsequent experiments, artists, and stewards who are caring for our world and our histories.
In the 1960s, folk music was scuffling with its transition from tribal to individual, caught up in the larger entertainment industry’s infatuation with idolatry. "Transformation has always been part of the American idea: in the New World, anyone can become a new person,” writes David Hajdu in his book Positively 4th Street.
“The irony of Robert Zimmerman's metamorphosis into Bob Dylan lies in the application of so much illusion and artifice in the name of truth and authenticity. Archie Leach and Norma Jean Baker became Cary Grant and Marilyn Monroe when they went into show business; but folk [music] was supposed to be neither business nor show.”
Alas, business and show is what it became. The power of copyright helped enable a transformation from music of the folk into music of a folk, incentivizing artists like Bob Dylan to use the folk canon to elevate his own mythos as an icon. Our cherished bard built a career atop the hearts and stories of those who came before him, and that should be recognized.
“I learned lyrics and how to write them from listening to folk songs,” he said in his 2015 MusiCares Person of Year speech. “And I played them, and I met other people that played them back when nobody was doing it. Sang nothing but these folk songs, and they gave me the code for everything that’s fair game, that everything belongs to everyone.”
Outside the folk tradition, though, everything doesn’t belong to everyone. In 2020, Dylan sold his songwriting catalog to Universal Music Group (UMG) for an undisclosed amount that was initially thought to be $300 million but is probably closer to $400 million. In 2022, he sold his recorded music rights to Sony Music Group – also for an undisclosed amount, but based on the recordings’ annual global revenue, it’s estimated to be valued at about $200 million.
Without question, Dylan is a superlative songwriter, but in the context of a transmissive music and an “everything belongs to everyone” spirit, it makes no sense for one folk to have all that wealth.
Dylan took the folk idiom, recreated it in his own image and then refused to abide by it, earning hundreds of millions of dollars in the process. The point isn’t to discredit his skills as a songwriter or wordsmith, or to diminish his character. Dylan’s musical borrowing is very folk, but the individualism – perpetuated by the legal precedent of copyright – with which he maneuvered was not. And it’s the latter that enabled him to accumulate so much wealth.
Today, on-chain music is creating opportunities to resurrect and reestablish more collective, folk-driven methodologies that can actually be more equitable to individual music-makers.
How can we find ways to harness the superpowers of the blockchain – decentralization, immutability and provenance – without harming creators who still rely on copyright to earn money? How can we protect creators’ rights while also embracing the truth that everything is a remix, that genius is a fallacy, and that collective attribution of the folk is a much healthier way to share and celebrate art?
As we wrestle with legacy concepts of ownership and the legal murk between web2 and web3, we have an opportunity to create new precedence through action – to embrace solutions that redistribute wealth from one folk to many.
For our first experiment, we’re minting our own cover of Bob Dylan’s “Girl from the North Country” on Zora via Optimism, testing the bounds of the system in which we’ve been forced to operate for too long.
(More information about how we’ve navigated the rights to this piece can be found in this accompanying article published on Decential.)
Three versions of the music NFT have been minted on Zora at three different price points:
There are 595 NFTs in total – one each for every approximate million Dylan made from selling his songwriting catalog and his recorded song rights.
The number is also an homage to late composer Ryuichi Sakamoto’s 595 NFTs project, which isolated each individual note from the melody to “Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence,” the title track from his score of the 1984 film – starring Sakamoto and David Bowie – which incorporated Japanese folk melodies and won him the BAFTA for best film music.
“Similar to how each individual note in a composition comes together to create a greater whole,” Sakamoto wrote in a project retrospective, “I imagined that digitized notes could bring each individual NFT holder together as part of a larger and more harmonious community.”
Higher price points don’t come with additional utility because the goal is simply to accommodate people of varying means. Funds will be split between the FOLK treasury (25%), the contributing artist (25%), and the FOLK fund (50%) – a cadre of mission-aligned partners whose work we care for and believe should be elevated.
The partners for this initial experiment are Akiya DAO, All Genre, Kernel, Songcamp, and Water & Music, who will each receive 10%. In this first experiment, because the music NFT was created by a founding member of FOLK, the artist is rerouting his 25% – aside from the $87 used to purchase a mechanical license for “Girl from the North Country” – allocation back to the FOLK treasury.
As a massive stretch goal, FOLK has a mostly playful, mildly serious interest in buying Bob Dylan’s house in Scotland – which has been up for sale all summer – to turn it into a home for artist and steward residencies, collectively owned and cared for by all of the FOLK.
If this resonates, please consider:
minting the NFT
signing the manifesto (i.e. collect this Mirror post)
And if you’re interested in getting involved and/o staying in touch about FOLK projects – whether as a steward, as a creator with a folkish idea, or simply as a self-identifying fellow folk – drop your email below and/or come say hello in Discord: