Chiptuning Intellectual Property: Digital Culture Between Creative Commons and Moral Economy

Martin J. Zeilinger


A multitude of legal restrictions imposed on digital creative expressions impact how musicians are able (or unable) to practice their craft. This essay considers how chipmusic deals with this impact. In exploring the form’s close ties to appropriation-based production techniques and its use of Creative Commons licenses, I describe it as an active site for implicit critiques of restrictive copyright regimes. I conclude by considering the concept of a moral economy of appropriation-based creative techniques as a new framework for understanding digital creative practices that are characterized by shared cultural norms and resist conventional intellectual property policy.


Chipmusic; Creative Commons; Moral Economy; Intellectual Property; Demoscene

Full Text:



Bit Collective. [consulted: April 24 2012]

bitpeoples. [consulted: April 27 2012]

Arnold, Thomas C. 2001. “Rethinking Moral Economy.” American Political Science Review, Vol. 95, No. 1. pp. 85-95.

Aufderheide, Pat & Jaszi, Peter. 2011. Reclaiming Fair Use: How to Put Balance Back in Copyright. University of Chicago Press, Chicago.

Austin, Alec, Henry Jenkins et al. 2006. “How to Turn Pirates Into Loyalists: The Moral Economy and an Alternative Response to File Sharing”. [consulted: April 24 2012]

Baio, Andy. 2009a. “Kind of Bloop: An 8-Bit Tribute to Miles Davis”, [consulted: April 25 2012]

Baio, Andy. 2009b. “Kind of Bloop: An 8-Bit Tribute to Miles Davis”. [consulted: May 3 2012]

Baio, Andy. 2011. “Kind of Screwed”. [consulted: April 24 2012]

Banks, Mark. 2006. “Moral Economy and Cultural Work.” Sociology,/i>, Vol. 40, No. 3, pp. 455-472.

Benkler, Yochai. 2006. The Wealth of Networks: How Social Production Transforms Markets and Freedom. Yale University Press, New Haven.

Berry, David M. & Moss, Giles. 2005. “On the ‘Creative Commons’: a Critique of the Commons Without Commonalty.” Free Software Magazine, Vol. 5, pp. 1-4.

Borzyskowski, George. 2000. “The Hacker Demo Scene and Its Cultural Artifacts”, consulted: April 6 2012.

Carlsson, Anders. 2008. “Chip Music: Low-Tech Data Music Sharing.” ed. Karen Collins From Pac-Man to Pop Music. Farnham: ed. Karen Collins. pp.153-162.

Carlsson, Anders. 2009. “The Forgotten Pioneers of Creative Hacking and Social Networking – Introducing the Demoscene.” Re:live Media Histories Conference Proceedings. Melbourne: University of Melbourne & Victorian College for the Arts and Music. pp. 16-20.

Carlsson, Anders. 2012. “What Happened in 2006?”. [consulted: April 27 2012].

CBC. 2012. “Super Mario at a Rave!” [consulted: April 6 2012].

Chipmusic. [consulted: April 23 2012].

Chipmusic. 2010. “Forum Rules”. [consulted: April 8 2012].

Cox, Alex. 2009. “Past, Present and Future of the Demoscene”. [consulted: April 6 2012].

Driscoll, Kevin & Diaz, Joshua. 2009. “Endless loop: A brief history of chiptunes.” Transformative Works and Cultures, Vol. 2,

Foong, Cheryl. 2010. “Sharing with Creative Commons: a Business Model for Content Creators.” Platform: Journal of Media and Communication, pp. 64-93.

Free Music Archive. [consulted: April 27 2012.]

Gilmore, Thomas. 2012. “A Brief History of Chipmusic”, [consulted: April 7 2012].

Gruetzmacher, Thomas. 2004. “PC Demoscene FAQ”, [consulted: April 6 2012].

Haigh, Maria. 2010. “Of Ducks and Downloads: The Moral Economy of Intellectual Property in Post-Soviet Society.” Libri, pp. 248-258.

Hartmann, Doreen. 2010. “Computer Demos and the Demoscene: Artistic Subcultural Innovation in Real-Time.” ISEA 2010 Ruhr Conference Proceedings, Dortmund/Germany, pp. 124-126.

Je_Mapelle. 2011. “This Girl Is Stealing chipt00ns”. [consulted: April 11 2012].

Kirn, Peter. 2008a. “Chiptune Music Theft Continues; Crystal Castles Abuses Creative Commons License”. [consulted: Sept 29 2009].

Kirn, Peter. 2008b. “CSI: Chiptune – nitro2k01 Gets Scientific with Alleged Violations; Crystal Castles Responds”. [consulted: Sept 29 2009].

Kopstein, Joshua. 2011. “Timbaland Stole Chiptune, The Internet Stole It Back” [consulted: May 2 2012].

Legalsounds. [consulted: April 23 2012].

McLaren, Malcolm. 2003. “8-Bit Punk”. [consulted: Oct 7 2009].

nitro2k01. 2008. “Crystal Castles and Chip Music Copyright Infringements”, [consulted: April 12 2010].

Receptors. 2012. “Developing Pitfalls of Creative Commons Licensing?” [consulted: April 8 2012].

Scott, James C. 1976. The Moral Economy of the Peasant, New Haven.: Yale University Press.

SoundCloud. [consulted: April 28 2012].

Stamnes, Bent. 2012. “The Great Demoscene Sourcecode Giveaway”, [consulted: May 2 2012].

Svensson, Mans & Larsson, Stefan. 2012. “Intellectual property law compliance in Europe: Illegal file sharing and the role of social norms.” New Media & Society, Prepublished April 10, 2012, doi:10.1177/1461444812439553.

Thompson, E. P. 1971. “The Moral Economy of the English Crowd in the Eighteenth Century.” Past & Present, Vol. 50, pp. 76-136.

Tomczak, Sebastian. 2009. “Authenticity and Emulation: Chiptune in the Early Twenty-First Century.” International Computer Music Conference Proceedings Queens University Belfast, n.p.

VCMG. 2012. “LegalSounds is selling YOUR music for their profit!”. [consulted: April 11 2012].

Wikipedia. “Timbaland plagiarism controversy”. [consulted: May 2 2012].

Zeilinger, Martin. 2011. “Remix Cultures and the Imagining of Alternative Intellectual Property Policy.” ISEA 2011 Conference Proceedings, Sabanci University, Istanbul/Turkey.

Zeilinger, Martin. 2013. “Chipmusic, Out of Tune: Crystal Castles and the Misappropriation of Licensed Sound.” Rosemary J. Coombe, Darren Wershler & Martin Zeilinger (Eds) Dynamic Fair Dealing: Creating Canadian Culture Online. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, .

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.