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Remix: The Death of Copyright

Posted in Media by impressonion on February 11, 2014
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

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.

death of 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.

(C) Ted Goff

(C) Ted Goff

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.

Simpsonized Art by Meowza Katz

Simpsonized Art by Meowza Katz

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.

(C) Chris Madden (C) Roy Lichtenstein (C) Irv Novick

(C) Chris Madden (C) Roy Lichtenstein (C) Irv Novick …..ironic, isn’t it?

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4 Responses to 'Remix: The Death of Copyright'

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  1. oksanacobb said,

    Suzanna, you did a very nice job tying together the concepts from various readings as well as linking different courses. Excellent images and kudos on giving them proper credit!
    Your topic also reminds me of another of Kim’s courses Digital Textuality where we discussed the Roland Barthes essay “The Death of the Author”. In the age of appropriation and remixes, the original author of literary work or art does not hold the same power. There are contradicting views on the matter. According to Barthes, the presence of the author significantly limits the potential of the text and does not allow for a reader’s free interpretation. Not sure if all writers would agree with that. Michael Foucault was among the scholars who challenged Barthes and his theory.
    Similarly, the problem you are uncovering about the artwork such as video and photography etc. being re-appropriated or manipulated / altered to the point of it becoming a new original work belonging to another artist raises a lot of ethical, legal and proprietary questions. I remember John Pomara in that HUAS class also mentioning about some catastrophic lawsuits where the original artists and creators usually did not come out as winners.
    It is an unfortunate reality for many brilliant ideas to get stolen even despite being copyrighted. The same goes for film scripts. Since it is not possible to copyright an idea or a theme but the screenplay only, slightly changing the dialogue and moving around a few scenes will get another screenwriter all the credit for the incredible story. It is as simple as claiming a famous cooking recipe – substitute an ingredient or two and viola – you are the new author!

  2. njaymartin said,

    In Danah Boyd’s chapter on “Social Network Sites as Networked Publics,” the author discusses four structural affordances: persistence, replicability (sic), scalability and searchability (sic).

    In regards to “persistence,” Boyd acknowledges that writing and photography “transform the acts they are capturing,” (p. 46), yet she seems to lament the “never-out-print” context of text and multimedia in the age of the Internet. She offers concern about “what sticks around may lose its essence when consumed outside of the context in which it was created.” (p. 47). Well, frankly, Boyd lament always has been the case, and the Internet is just the latest repository.

    To illustrate, I will used the practice of journalism. Journalists are trained to publish only the information they gathered, researched and verified first-hand, and to keep their opinions to themselves unless they are being paid to express them in an analysis, criticism or editorial. Why do this? The simple answer: journalistic stories and photography stick around.

    Newsprint, for example, might be used to wrap fish by sunrise, but the words and images on the processed pulp exist somewhere indefinitely, more than likely in a newsroom’s morgue (library) or public libraries. While that day’s newspaper won’t get “printed” again, unless there is some need to create a commemorative edition, the stories and photographs never disappear from public view. If you have access to a copy of that day’s product, say via the public library, then you have all the media content within it.

    In taking the news story or photo further in addressing Boyd’s concern, I have been on the other end of the telephone listening to Reader A swear up and down and sideways that a news story was written with an intentional liberal bias. Less than five minutes later, Reader B calls to complain – about the same story – only this time, Reader B swears up and down and sideways that the story was written with an intentional conservative bias.

    Which reader is correct? Answer: neither and both.

    Most news stories are just an assortment of facts written in a straightforward manner. The stories have a point-of-view because it is difficult to write anything readable without one. (Try reading the official transcript of a courthouse trial; that’s writing down facts without a point-of-view.) However, most journalists are too professional to “intentionally” insert any kind of political bias in their news copy, and even if they tried, the unfairness would most likely get exorcised as the story travels the editing gauntlet on a copy desk. Thus, odds are neither reader is correct. (Journalists also are taught not to write in absolutes, and it is training I have not forgotten.)

    Yet, Reader A and Reader B are both correct in how they were consuming the content of the story they were complaining about. See, they read the story from “their point-of-view,” and that’s a valid interpretation. I, like many journalists, understand that people will bring their own filters to the media they consume, and they just might interpret a story in a manner that no one in the newsroom meant.

    In another example, let’s say you in the 21st century are reading a news story about race published in a newspaper circa 1930 in a southern city. More than likely that story is not going to read like a scene from “To Kill a Mockingbird” to you.

    Why? Because you are a product of the era in which you live, just as that news story is a product of the era in which it was produced. You are consuming the media and its message outside of the context in which it was created: a 1930 newspaper reader in a southern town.

    In my opinion, there is nothing wrong with how you interpret that 84-year-old story on race, just as it is nothing wrong with Reader A and Reader B seeing differing political bias in the exact same news story in this time period.

    Most content, whether in a morgue, or on the Internet, at some point is “consumed outside of the context in which it was created” (p. 47); that’s human nature. Or, as the adage goes: If you don’t want your mother to read what you write on the Internet, don’t put it on the Internet.


    • Interesting point, Norma. So the question we have to answer is, what is actually different about context collapse on the internet?


  3. You guys all might be interested in the Paricia Aufderheide essay in A Networked Self. It addresses issues of intellectual property and fair use from a very balanced perspective.


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