Remix: The Death of Copyright
Tags: Arduino, copyright, Danah Boyd, digital, emac6300, network, Papacharissi, photography, remix, social network
In danah boyd’s article, “Social Network Sites as Networked Publics – Affordances, Dynamics, and Implications,” the author makes a couple key points that I found quite interesting, especially because they seem to tie my two classes together. For those of you just tuning in, you can find this article in Chapter 2 of the book A Networked Self: Identity, Community, and Culture on Social Network Sites, publically available in a pdf here.
In addition to my Intro to Emerging Media and Communication class, I am taking HUAS 6339: Painting/Digital Imaging/Video with John Pomara. In this class, one of the topics we have discussed so far is the changing face of photography, from the traditional, chemical form it first took to the digital, highly manipulable form that now seems to be taking over the genre. In this class, the discussion took the form of the argument that digital photography is transforming the meaning of the medium, making traditional photography both less relevant and less trustworthy—in effect causing “the death” of traditional photography.
boyd’s article says that one of the four affordances that emerges out of the properties of bits (the unit that makes up the digital architecture within which digital networks must exist) and plays a significant role in configuring networked publics is persistence:
“While spoken conversations are ephemeral, countless technologies and techniques have been developed to capture moments and make them persistent. The introduction of writing allowed people to create records of events, and photography provided a tool for capturing a fleeting moment. Yet, as Walter Ong (2002) has argued, the introduction of literacy did more than provide a record; it transformed how people thought and communicated. Furthermore, as Walter Benjamin (1969) has argued, what is captured by photography has a different essence than the experienced moment. Both writing and photography provide persistence, but they also transform the acts they are capturing.”
This idea strikes me as a reflection of McLuhan’s “The Medium is the Message” message. It seems that whatever the content of the writing or photograph may be, the fact that it is written or photographed changes it fundamentally.
boyd uses these examples to argue that the persistence of information in digital networks can be problematic: “The text and the multimedia may be persistent, but what sticks around may lose its essence when consumed outside of the context in which it was created. The persistence of conversations in networked publics is ideal for asynchronous conversations, but it also raises new concerns when it can be consumed outside of its original context.”
While I think this is true, I am more interested in the concept that this persistence and loss of original context is becoming more widely accepted. People using the internet are aware of the fact that original sources may be hard to come by, but also that original sources may not even matter. They will consume the content with or without original context, and are plenty prepared to do so.
boyd addresses this concept further in another section of the article, saying, “Persistence and replicability also complicate notions of ‘authenticity,’ as acts and information are not located in a particular space or time and, because of the nature of bits, it is easy to alter content, making it more challenging to assess its origins and legitimacy.”
This is a problem that artists and musicians have been facing ever since their creative works began to become increasingly available online. But, according to boyd, “While remix is politically contentious, it reflects an active and creative engagement with cultural artifacts (Lessig, 2005), amplifying ongoing efforts by people to make mass culture personally relevant by obliterating the distinctions between consumers and producers.”
The idea of “remix” is becoming more widely accepted. Having grown up in some ways connected to the art world and with the awareness of rampant digital art theft, I was surprised to find that Professor Pomara accepts and even welcomes the concept of remix in his art classes. He seems to be well-versed in different types of digital art, including that of borrowing someone else’s creation in order to “remix” it into new art.
Having now read boyd’s comments on remix, it seems even more likely that this concept is gaining greater acceptance. Still, I am curious to hear what various artists and creators actually think when they see remixed versions of their work being sold and consumed without even their prior knowledge, let alone some kind of royalties being paid for the original source.
Another example is the emergence of open source code, open source programs, and open source hardware. Projects like Arduino allow people who are not typically considered programmers to learn and experiment with programming thanks to open source prototyping and support networks. The project’s site even says “It’s intended for artists, designers, hobbyists, and anyone interested in creating interactive objects or environments.”
All of this strikes me as a major fundamental shift in the way art is created and consumed. And though I say art, I also mean anything that can be considered as one person or one group’s creation, which previously would have been subject to copyright law—art, writing, music, code, and many others. This change is being directly facilitated by technology and digital networks. It is still being fought with lawyers and money, as copyright law is nowhere near obsolete. But clearly the opinion of the people—the consumers—the opinion which makes the most difference in overall progress—is changing with the very tides of technology.