Sunday, April 7, 2013

NMN Assignment Three - Remix Culture

In this blog post I will be critically evaluating whether remix culture is fundamentally at odds with older media institutions and practices.  In researching this topic I found what appeared to be more evidence in support of remix culture thriving within societies than evidence opposing it.  Key points that became central to responding to this question included societal and cultural implications, examples of media (both old and new) that have participated in remix culture, and opposition to remix practices.  

Remix culture has been around prior to 200 BC, where  Roman audiences saw Latin versions of a Greek plays.  Latin literature was founded on Greek and Roman history and myths including works like Homer's Odyssey.  Shakespeare's works are also examples of remix culture, as he adopted his plays from folk tales, myths, history and other writings.  In his paper  titled “Remix and Remixability”, Lev Manovich states “...most human cultures developed by borrowing and reworking forms and styles from other cultures; the resulting “remixes” were to be incorporated into other cultures.  Ancient Rome remixed ancient Greece;  Renaissance remixed antiquity; nineteenth century Europe architecture remixed many historical periods...” (page 1)  With literature being the medium of media at the time, and folklore and myth assuming no proprietary authorship, these historic examples create a connection between the influence and importance of societal culture and remix culture.  Modern remix culture can be seen as, “the way in which youth culture today more visibly orients itself around creating media by extracting component pieces from other people's media creations, then connecting them together to form something new.”  This definition is provided by P2P Foundation, an international organization focused in studying, researching, documenting and promoting peer to peer practices in a very broad sense within a collaborative community.  Lawrence Lessig is a member of the P2P Foundation, and a Harvard Law graduate and activist in favour of sensible intellectual property law.   He is also known for reviving creative culture and describes the importance of  remix culture by saying that “progress and wealth creation of a culture is fundamentally tied to this participatory remix process.” in his book “Remix”.
Lessig provides great examples of the connection between cultural progress through user generated content and remix culture in his November 2007 TED Talk “Lawrence Lessig: Laws That Choke Creativity”

                                 TED Talk: "Lawrence Lessig: Laws That Choke Creativity"
              Lessig talks about remixing not as piracy, but recreating other people's content to say things differently

In his talk Lessig discusses user generated content being produced for the love of what the creator is doing without the aim of  money, where we have to realize the economic potential of youth culture as artists and creators free to embrace content.   He talks about how these new tools of creativity have become tools of speech and ultimately expression.  And though we are recreating with digital technologies, it is the technique that has become democratized.  His comments reflect not only the media practices of youth in developed countries today,  but the power youth have on culture and politics, money, and connectivity globally.  Lessig goes on to state that “ In our youth, we watched t.v., kids of today make t.v.”.  Lessig appears to share a similar belief with Henry Jenkins in youth culture playing a strong role in remix culture and new media. In his PBS lecture, “Your Kids on Social Media” Jenkins states, “ are not readers of their culture, they’re authors of their culture”  If we look to censor by laws or financially repress remix culture, we will affect the progress of culture on the whole.  New media is the  vehicle that essentially archives our stories, connects us to history and the present beyond our reach, shares our thoughts and actions in real time, and is reshaping our future through the vision and creativity of our youth .  In this regard, I cannot say remix culture is fundamentally at odds with older media institutions and practices, it appears to compliment it.
Piracy, copyright violation, and issues of ownership and authorship, create tension between other media institutions and practices.  If we look back before copyright laws appeared, we can say that many folk tales carried no specific author, however, the cultural origin of the tale remained an important element to be passed down generationally, with a desire for ownership by a group.  For example, how many versions on the origins of Santa Claus exist?  In the case of folktales, authorship and ownership can be very difficult to navigate.  Lessig talks about modern instances in remix culture not as acts or intended to be acts of piracy, rather creativity, recreating other people’s content to say or express things differently.   

The Walt Disney Company makes for a very interesting case study on remix culture at odds with older media institutions and practices.  Disney has masterfully adapted and remixed works of all types such as folk tales, books, plays and even music.  Disney media forms that have emerged from these sources include Hercules from Greek mythology, the American folk tale of Pocahontas, The Little Mermaid by Dutch writer Hans Christian Andersen, Peter Pan based on characters by Scottish playwright J.M. Barrie and an orchestral score heard in Sleeping Beauty, adapted from the Tchaikovsky ballet.  For over 90 years they have masterfully grown with the technology of the time keeping succinct with cultural literacies and practice.  Through rapidly accelerating new technologies, Disney has transformed animation, books, movies, television, and video games into a variety of media mirroring the times   Disney has also  seamlessly moved back and forth through these mediums, working with companies like Pixar to revolutionize animation, and soon to be released, their newest version of storytelling; the  Disney Infinity video game  Disney animation has shifted to television, made books into movies, theme park attractions in the case of Pirates of the Caribbean also into movies, and even adopted toys that became cartoons into movies in the case of Transformers.  Disney is an extremely powerful media force, with television networks, and a number of broadcast media divisions in house, not to mention, a commercial global influence across a large number of cultures.

The problem rests in Disney’s self serving interests toward remix culture.  From the small sampling of works mentioned previously, it is clear to see that Disney has overwhelmingly received the fruitful benefits of remix culture, however Disney spearheaded a major shift in copyright law in 1998 called the Copyright Term Extension Act, but more commonly referred to as the Mickey Mouse Protection Act.  This law overwrote the previous copyright law (1976), which protected the work for the life of the author plus 50 years, (or 75 years for corporate authorship).  The Mickey Mouse Act extended the terms to the life of the author plus 70 years, (or 120 years for corporate authorship), or 95 years after publication, whichever endpoint is earlier. Copyright Term Extension Act:  Theses terms completely favor Disney, and are a major blow to remix culture.  Corporate giants like Disney have claimed copyright violation on remix works, that have not actually been in violation, which have resulted in the disabling of user accounts and unnecessary censorship, stunting participatory and convergence culture.  This action is very confusing as Disney has pillaged literary works, and media forms born of other authors for their own profit relentlessly. Ultimately it can make remixing of works that Disney has assumed ownership over a very difficult task.  Eric Faden, Associate Professor of Film/Media studies at Bucknell University, made a remix of his own which can be found on on Youtube:,satirizing Disney films using their own material on the copyright principles they lobbied for.  The video called “A Fair(y) Use Tale”, has been used  to highlight fair use copyright practices, demonstrating that remixing can create new authorship with copyright material.  The video is under a Creative Commons license, meaning you do not require permission to show it.  It appears Faden has responded to Disney’s proprietary interests in a very strategic way; one that definitely reflects current remix culture.    

                                               Youtube  "A Fair(y) Use Tale"  by Eric Faden
Faden's video is a successful example of remixing within the laws of intellectual property and copyrights
Another example of shifting in remix practices stemmed back to BMI (Braodcast Music Inc.) founded in 1931.  Lessig describes how it pioneered a democratic attitude toward the business of how the content would be spread.  They took public domain works and gave it away for free to subscribers, upsetting the exclusive performance license that ASCAP (The American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers), previously held on most popular content.  It is evident that adjusting within a remix culture is not new; it seems to evolve as  society and technology evolve.  In a participatory remix culture, we can not stop the use of new technology, and the limitless applications for it.  The problem we face is criminalizing our actions.  Stringent copyright laws create opportunities for users to be in constant violation.  In a  participatory new media landscape we engage in remix culture regularly and knowingly breaking copyright laws until we are caught (Youtube accounts being shut down), or sites being sued (Napster).  Owen Gallagher was interviewed by Henry Jenkins on his weblog on the topic of remix culture and current legal responses to the remix community  Gallagher states, “Of recent times there has been a serious crackdown on video sites like YouTube where copyright owners have made claims of copyright infringement and the videos have been taken down, in compliance with the DMCA. Unfortunately, many remixed videos that legitimately make fair use of copyrighted content are being caught in the crossfire of outright piracy. I feel it is very important to highlight the distinction here as this is possibly the number one reason why the remix community gets targeted and bullied by ‘overzealous’ copyright owners.”  

To conclude, I believe that remix culture is not at odds with older media institutions and practices.  Remix culture appears to have successfully evolved with advancements and changes in both society and technology.  It is however, facing challenges as we entangle in the messy business of money and ownership.  

Note:  Although I did not cite the "Everything is a Remix" series, it was very informative and grounding in my research of this topic.  The videos are definately worth a view.  I have posted Part 1, and have provided links to the remaining sections.

                                          Youtube:  "Everything is a Remix Part 1"  By - Kirby

Works Cited:
Manovich, Lev. "Remix Culture." N.p., 15 Nov. 2005. Web. 02 Apr. 2013.

"P2P Foundation." P2P Foundation. N.p., n.d. Web. 02 Apr. 2013.

"Lawrence Lessig: Laws That Choke Creativity." TED: Ideas worth Spreading. TED Talks, Nov. 2007. Web. 02 Apr. 2013.

Jenkins, Henry. "Your Kids on Social Media." PBS. PBS, 06 July 2009. Web. 31 Mar. 2013.

Disney, Walt. "Creating Disney Infinity - Intro Trailer | Disney Video." Disney Video. Disney Video, n.d. Web. 03 Apr. 2013.

Disney, Walt. "Disney History." The Walt Disney Company. The Walt Disney Company, n.d. Web. 03 Apr. 2013.

"Mickey Mouse Law." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 03 Aug. 2013. Web. 02 Apr. 2013.

Faden, Eric. "Eric Faden Homepage." Eric Faden Homepage. N.p., n.d. Web. 04 Apr. 2013.

Jenkins, Henry, and Owen Gallagher. "“What Is Remix Culture?”: An Interview with Total Recut’s Owen Gallagher (Part Two)." Confessions of an AcaFan. Henry Jenkins, 04 June 2008. Web. 04 Apr. 2013.

Everything is a Remix Part 1 by Kirby

Everything is a Remix Part 2 by Kirby

Everything is a Remix Part 3 by Kirby

Everything is a Remix Part 4 by Kirby

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the post, Gail-Ann. Great topic! I was really interested in this as well and enjoyed researching and reading up on it. You (and Lessig) point out one thing that's rings true to me - remix is everything. It has been around for centuries and blending cultural artifacts generates more culture. In my Flickr narrative, I did think that remix is "at odds" in a way because traditional communications channels were very much single-function focused (one to one) and a lot of the conversations/content/material isn't digitized to be easily remixed. Problems only seem to arise when new remixed pieces start generating a profit and causes confusion on authorship and intellectual property. I agree that remixing should be encouraged and the creative work that gets outputted is essential for cultural growth in society and technology. Great post!