CCTP-725: Fall 2011

Week 4 Discussions


Plagiarisms in the Data Cloud – Jess Steele
Morley Winograd and Michael Hais, in Millennial Makeover, describe a new culture transformed by a “technology tsunami” (140), specifically peer-to-peer (P2P) architecture, such as Napster. Transferring power away from the network provider and into “the hands of the user”, the authors describe the formation of a new ethos surrounding property and information, where users:

“Ought to be, free to do whatever they wish with any information they can find. Since no permission is required to interact with anyone else and there is no intermediary gating the nature of that interaction, there doesn’t seem to be any reason to have rules that would limit such interactions…creating a mindset that resists any attempt of any kind to control what is shared, whether it comes from a music industry magnate, publisher, or political power broker. And Millennials have experienced the power of this new architecture more than any other generation” (Winograd & Hais 140-44).









Following the onslaught of legal battles over DRM cases, such as those between Napster and the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), the editors argue fostered a Millennial suspicion “of all elites attempting to control what they were allowed to know” and “special interests” who “would stop at nothing” to prevent sharing of “information” thought to be “inherently ‘free’” (Winograd & Hais 148).
Deploying advances in technology, this generation acquired “information acquisition” characteristics, becoming their own “producers” to create and favor more “authentic” approaches to media and information (Winograd & Hais 140-56).
napster-sb.jpg
Source: slashgear.com
Evelyn McDonnell describes the clash between this emerging remix culture and the forces restricting it as one of convergence and divergence, where a convergence culture which “seek[s] out new information and make connections among dispersed media content” comes to odds with copyright law. Apart and in conjunction to the mainstream media case studies we have examined, issues of plagiarism and academia have faced similar clashes of culture and authority and could perhaps provide case studies for the evolving issues of remix culture, law and theory. While there are clearly often cases of mis-use, from online “essay shops” to Fraternity test sharing, as we know, the notion of an original concept is arguable. As Emerson states, “Our debt to tradition through reading and conversation is so massive…that is a large sense, one would say there is no pure originality. All minds quote. Old and new make the warp and woof of every moment” (Miller 68). One wonders to what extent the idea and repercussions of academic plagiarism extends beyond issues of copying to creation: recontextualizing, remixing, and playing with knowledge and meaning.

As a Georgetown student, or any student, you are obligated to sit through the predictable plagiarism “talk”. Typically, those in an academic environment are provided an overview of how to site original – or prime resources – with additional resources /links etc. on how to properly credit original authors and sources. In today’s “data cloud” (Miller 21), issues of “original” content, authorship, and method are arguably still far too vague to be tied into neat guidelines that cohere to today’s digital mix of online and offline content. Similarly, browsing through US Code, Title 17, the “Definitions” of art and media , although impressive, seem too narrow to capture the intricacies of “categories” of information or media and at the same time, too large for a novice creator to ensure proper fair use guidelines are met.

Academic institutions, similar to the legal and commercial copyright law that threatens art and media, threaten dire consequences for those accused of plagiarism or collaboration from failure on a grade to academic expulsion. Entrenched in long-standing traditions of academic integrity based on century-old honor codes and the high standards of the institution, one questions if the creative process is stagnated when the value for creation does not outweigh the possible repercussions. Paul D. Miller explains, “By the start of the twenty-first century, the academy is such a reflection of class structure and hierarchy that it tends to cloud any real progressive contexts of criticism and discourse” (Miller 48). Beyond quotations in papers, one could question how the academic culture of collaboration and “thinking outside the box” is affected by anxiety of academic standards when the risk of appropriating ideas is so high.

As we observed in Shepard Fairey’s case, Professors and students alike attempt to avoid the repercussions of plagiarism which become vague as artistic appropriation technologies and methods change, often leading to inefficiencies in plagiarism rules as a whole. As a member of my undergraduate Student Senate, I am aware plagiarism rates are high nationally and often go unreported. More statistics are available here. One NYU Professor gained media attention for vowing “never to probe cheating again”. As our culture changes, these cases exemplify the need for “authority” to reflect these changes. The question still remains how.
Panagiotis-G.-Ipeirotis.png
NYU Professor Ipeirotis




Going back to Miller and the notions of the Millennial generation – there seems to be a need for collaboration. Miller writes,
“By Dj-ing, making art, and writing simultaneously, I tried to bypass the notion of the critic as an authority who controls narrative, and to create a new role that’s resonant with web culture: to function as content provider, producer, and critic all at the same time. It is role consolidation as digital performance” (Miller 48).
While we have grown up in a new era of remix, my generation still holds on to a value system that disapproves of copying, values creation and yet understands a more complex notion of “new” and “original”, “producer” and “audience”, and so forth. Instead of a hierarchal approach, law and copyright rule might learn from a more nuanced networked approach which meets the needs of these changing definitions and relies on such Millennial characteristics and values.

Works Cited
Miller, Paul D. Rhythm Science. The MIT Press, 2004.
Winograd, Morley, and Michael D. Hais. Millennial Makeover, MySpace, YouTube, And The Future Of American Politics. Rutgers Univ Pr, 2008.

Erica Harp

(1) Inevitable Use, Reasonable Regulation: The Nature of a Cultural Production

In Lessig’s Remix, he points out the logic and predictability of content sharing depending on the code/form of the specific production; chiefly, the distinction between the technical limitations that make analog media difficult to reproduce and the technical facts of digital media that make it easily and infinitely sharable. Lessig points out an obvious but important point—copyright laws were effective with analog media not because people were more compliant, but because they complimented the natural constraints of the medium’s code. In this application, the law is more like a bumper rail at the bowling alley or a shepard dog for the herd—it doesn’t go against the general direction or the broad consensus, but curtails the fringes to keep order. Regulation that compliments and appears reasonable is effective, clearly regulation that does not is rejected—as seen with digital media.

This concept leads me to visions of a future that focuses on infrastructure rather than content—which is already emerging. If effective law and enforcement of that law is dependent on regulation’s compliment to the nature of a technology, than law must refocus on existing limitations rather than trying to control the limitless. Digital content is too infinite and unwieldy to control, but devices and infrastructure remain finite and are better suited for intervention from the law. While a free media, free access, free infrastructure model that eliminated any and all restrictions would certainly be interesting that outcome remains unlikely in an economic landscape such as our own; lawyers, economists, and business people will continue to search for and exploit market opportunity. Without value judgment on exploitation for profit, I would say the vantage point has clearly shifted from content to structure. If there is money and industry to be made, the distribution of content is no longer the source. The commodity has shifted—and if a greater number of parties are to be satisfied, infrastructure is probably the answer. The public increasingly balks at paying for easily attainable media than can be acquired for free, but paying service fees and paying for the physical technology remains reasonable and accepted. Business can still make profit, regulation becomes easier, the artist can create freely, and the public can consume in a way that seems natural.

(2) Creativity and the Construct of the Celebrity: Is Economic Return for the Artist Still Viable?

In reading about copyright and creativity, I continually thought of the figure of the “sell out” in contemporary media production. It is popular to rebuke artists for their decision to amp up their popularity, align with commercial enterprises outside of their initial creative productions, and alter their productions for larger capital gain. It could be said that this is nothing new—that people frequently cave to the desires of greed, etc. But if its nothing new, than why the rise of the celebrity since the late 1990’s/early 2000’s. Some of it can be understood through the emergence of new technology and new technology’s effects on journalism, which trickled down to gossip magazines. It’s easier to create the notion and persona of celebrity when Perez Hilton can blog and mega-starts can tweet day and night. Even so, I would argue there are other forces at work; perhaps, the shift in the media content consumption model (i.e., paying to not paying) has perverted expectations of the popular artist. If the model of popular artistry in the 20th and 21st century possibly offered fortune, than the sell out celebrity makes sense—if you can’t maximize income on record sales anymore (as the artist, producer, label, etc) than you have to make up for it somewhere else (product promotions, clothing lines, etc).

This may seem disjointed, but this also makes me wonder about the viability of current notions of “success” for artists in the new face of media. It seems that at this point, an artist can resign to the status of a product and sacrifice the artistry to make money, or accept the financial hit and continue in artistic pursuit. Perhaps there was a golden window of time—peak success of the RO period? —where one could be an artist, make lots of money, make lots of money for companies, and that worked. But the structure that supported that past has collapsed. If companies want money, they probably need to shift from creative content to infrastructure and if “artists” want money, they need to give a lot to gain and become celebrities instead. If artists want to be artists, then the expectation of how that artist creates revenue will need to be redefined. Of course this is and has been true for sometime, of course non-commercialized art scenes have existed and continue to, but I am suggesting that distinctions in this matter will continue to change and that the old model is nearing a breaking point.


As a photographer, I am well aware that the digital/legal issues explored in our readings continually surface and threaten to change the way that the photography profession functions. While the readings were themselves very interesting, especially the theories of IP law and the various accounts of Shepard Fairey and his work, I think the most interesting question this week was posed by Prof. Irvine on our syllabus- What is a digital media object, and how can there be “copies” of identical digital files?

These questions force us to examine the base unit of a digital file, and simultaneously, the base unit of an idea. I am a novice at the law (so bear with me) but I feel that these two notions are intrinsically linked. From a modernist perspective, one could argue that a pixel or even 0s and 1s (binary code) are the base units of digital files. From a linguist’s perspective, however, these units are comparable to words, which are always referential, interindividual, and borrowed. Although these particles eventually make up the whole, extending copyright protection to each would be like copyrighting every word in the English language- wrong (who can own a language?), useless, and beside the point. It is at this stage that inspiration/invention/intention come into play. How can you define when a file or idea becomes someone’s property?

Because it is already hard enough to define a digital media object, figuring out what constitutes a copy of said object is that much more difficult. The transferability of digital files makes this even harder, as files are easier to copy and recreate, and one-offs are becoming more rare. At SCAD, part of our Photoshop training involved the professor giving us each the same file (with identical layers) and a print out of our end goal for that image. Each of us was to alter the file (in whatever ways we saw fit) to produce the image we were handed. Because Photoshop has so many tools and each of us found different ones more intuitive and easier to handle, we each used different methods to end up with the same result. Although our final products were arguably identical, the actual files were not. Where I might have clone stamped at 80% opacity, some one else might have created a duplicate layer and masked. Where one person used an RGB curves layer to color correct, another might have used levels and a numbers system. The actual pixels then would not be identical across the board. By legal standards, are these files the same? And philosophically speaking, what does it mean to protect a whole rather than its parts, or vice versa?

Ontological questions are always slippery, (and usually lead to a Pandora’s box phenomenon) but how do we as a society/government resolve these issues to create an incentive for creative expression (via social planning theory)? In terms of practical law, I thought that Lessig’s suggestion that permission should be assumed free rather than not was a good one. This copyright deregulation would actually enforce the motivation for “creatives to create.” I also really appreciated Lessig’s analysis of these issues as both timely and timeless, really posing the question, “Where did innovation and creativity come from? Building walls and protecting them, or sharing and expressing?” If the end goal is a progressive, creative, and technologically cutting edge society, then our laws should reflect that.

Additional thought
In re-reading a few pieces today before class, I came across a sentence in Lessig's Preface to Remix that struck me in the very copyright/ironic nature of its formatting. On page xv, Lessig says:

"The inspiration for this book is copyright wars, by which right-thinking sorts mean not the 'war' on copyright 'waged' by 'pirates' but the 'war' on 'piracy,' which 'threatens' the 'survival' of certain important American industries."

This sentence is important not only in its literal message, but in how Lessig formed it. Dissecting this sentence involves acknowledging the use of quotation marks to mean one of two things. 1. A quote from another's text, or 2. an ironic tone attached to the quoted word or term (definitions I just made up myself but that I think are relevant). Are these two functions not themselves the basis of what we have been discussing: borrowing, remixing and parody? And by requoting this sentence I have reinforced the irony of its message by using additional quotation marks. I would love to hear others' responses to this sentence and my initial examination of it.

Serene Al-Kawas



1. Critical Scholarship on Copyright and Intellectual Property

Ginsburg's argument that "greed" is a two-way street (on both the part of copyright owners and users) is undoubtedly an important and well-intentioned contribution to debates about copyright and intellectual property. Her intention, I believe, is to give a balanced account of the "overreaching" of copyright greed (on the part of owners and users), and then to offer an alternative perspective that highlights the importance of in balancing these two competing interests. Indeed, most copyright law attempts to find a balance between the rights of copyright owners and users (e.g. the doctrine of fair use, or the "anti-circumvention" vs. "safe harbor" clauses in the Digital Milenium Copyright Act).

Though I wouldn't reproach Ginsburg for honorable intentions, this scholarship misses the mark. The problem is that the flow of "greed" or "overreaching" in this case is not an equally paved two-way street. Though users have recently become empowered through the use of digital, network/Internet, and peer to peer sharing technologies, the "impersonal...unlovable corporation" still holds much more legal sway than any individual user or emerging artist. The approach fails to recognize the power dynamics at play in the legal and economic realms; moreover, she fails to recognize the precariousness her own position in defending the law as a legal scholar. In short, Ginsburg's "balanced" approach must be honed through critical scholarship.

Lessig's argument in Remix challenges Ginsberg's notion that recent responses to technological innovation are adequately mediating concerns by copyright owners and users, although they employ similar moral rhetoric. In addition to reforming copyright and IP law to "make art and commerce thrive in the hybrid economy," (reducing inefficiencies that have become barriers to creation [cited by Fisher as the Utilitarian approach]), Lessig implores us to do it 'for the kids:' "...the real failure of this war is the effect that this massive regulation has had on the basic integrity of our kids. Our kids are 'pirates.' We tell them this...our kids increasingly adjust their behavior to answer a simple question: How can I escape the law?"(283) Similarly, Ginsberg offers this use of 'piracy' as an example of semantic overreaching. The use of 'piracy' applied to non-commercial home use makes "the real pirate's acts seem less blameworthy."(4) M.I.A. and Diplo parody this use of 'piracy' with their mixtape, Piracy Funds Terrorism.

Dr. Jared Ball is a local scholar (professor of communication studies at Morgan State University) who focuses on African American culture and media studies. Ball takes the critical scholarship to the next level in his 2011 book //I Mix What I Like: A Mixtape Manifesto//. The book presents an analysis of the underground hip-hop mixtape as a type of "emancipatory journalism" in the context of "the colonialism that continues to engulf African America and by extension the world." For Ball, given the dominance of four major corporate music labels (Sony, Universal, EMI, and Warner), "copyright is thus a form of colonization. As has been said, 'if you listen to commercial radio, you will likely live and die without ever hearing an artist who owns their own music.'[citation] The goal, again is to manage which artists and ideas become popular, so as to limit their 'negative' impact on maintaining a colony." Ball's work should not be dismissed as radical. On the contrary, his insightful analysis brings to the fore the underlying issues that make copyright important (i.e. control of ideas through economic manipulation with the goal of U.S. empire building). Both Ball and Ginsburg note the importance of "core copyright industries" as a significant contributor to U.S. GDP. (Ginsberg 2, footnote 1; Ball 82).

Rather than attempt to summarize Ball's work, I'll provide the chapter list from the table of contents for those interested in further reading:

Chapter 1: The Colonized Rhythm Nation
Chapter 2: Media as Ideology, Culture, and Colonialism
Chapter 3: Education and Conceptual Boundaries
Chapter 4: Journalism and Conceptual Boundaries
Chapter 5: Revisiting the Corporation and Cultural Industry
Chapter 6: The Politics of Popular Culture
Chapter 7: Intellectual Property, Copyright, and the Ownership of Thought
Chapter 8: Payola and Playlists
Chapter 9: Washington, D.C.: A Case Study in the Colonizing Function of Radio
Chapter 10: National Public Radio as Fanon's Radio-Alger
Chapter 11: Managed Outcomes
Chapter 12: The Mixtape and Emancipatory Journalism
Chapter 13: Freemix Radio: The Original Mixtape Radio Show
Chapter 14: White Liberalism and "Progressive Journalism"

Ball, is a founding member of Organized C.O.U.P and maintains the voxunion website. He has created FreeMix Radio to promote his vision of the mixtape as emancipatory journalism. Here is an example of one of Ball's mixtapes:

http://www.voxunion.com/realaudio/coupradio/GeorgeJackson.mp3

In this video, Ball describes the why and how of FreeMix Radio:



Ball is also the producer and host of the Legacy Edition of We Ourselves (facebook page), airing on DC's 89.3 FM, WPFW.

Ball's work is a necessary addendum to the legal work of scholar's like Fisher, Ginsberg, and Lessig. Without critical scholarship, theoretical and legal arguments about copyright fail to acknowledge the power dynamics at play in creative industries. Ginsberg, though attempting to provide a balanced framework for examining copyright and IP issues, fails to recognize her own position as a stake-holder in the legal system as a legal scholar. While Lessig champions vital reforms to the copyright system, Ball's critique makes the case for revolution. Critical theory may unpopular and upsetting, but even in the (post)postmodern context, it would be mistaken to argue that scholarship can become (post)post-colonial, (post)post-race, or (post)post-power. Questions of scholarship for whom and for whose best interest are just as relevant today than ever before.

2. Question for Discussion

How has the DMCA been applied to contemporary technological innovations, such as bit torrent technology, online streaming music services such as Spotify, or podcasts and webcasts?

I will start a two discussion threads in the course wiki to begin answering this question. Of course, I invite others to edit, comment, and update the list so we can do scholarship "in real time" as professor Irvine has suggested.

3. Interesting Examples


The Hood Internet appropriates the Shephard Fairey image for their mixtape.


My blog post rant about running into trouble sharing my (re)mix of Madonna's Express Yourself with Lady Gaga's Born This Way. Admittedly, not very transformative. http://mindfulmediablog.blogspot.com/2011_03_01_archive.html

external image its_not_a_critique.jpg
Negativland's statement on artistic appropriation recognizes the power dynamics at play in the copyright wars.

4. Digital, Legal, Economic and Artisitic Ontologies


In contemporary copyright debates you have at least three competing value systems at play: art (visual art, music, literature, mixed media, etc.), law, and economics. These are all complicated by the underlying technological innovations that destabilize the theoretical assumptions of each field. Why does one kind of knowledge tend to dominate another? What are the historical circumstances that lead to the complex relationships between these fields? What new technological innovations can we envision that will undermine and/or (re)stabilize the delicate balance between these fields?

Reading Serene's post above, I thought about "minimal units" of digital works. In the digital world, sound is information. Or rather, digital recordings are information about sound waves, rather than waves themselves. In the same way, the piano roll was information about a score, and couldn't really be read as the score itself. For this reason, semiotics might be very useful in determining what might be considered a minimal recognizable unit for digital copyright. That is, most digital "information" (as pure data) isn't usable or recognizable on its own. It requires software or hardware to be turned into a usable object of knowledge. Just as Serene noted, it would be pointless to attempt to copyright a spoken language. (Though aren't there copyrights for computer programming languages?) But a string of words (themselves complex signs) can be copyrighted when strung together in discourse (as a novel, blog post, etc.) Thus, it seems works of increasing digital complexity would be more worthy of copyright and IP protection, based on the labor theory outlined by Fisher.

Samuels's chapter on "Music and Sound Recording" illustrates that legal responses to technological innovations have tended to be reactive (nonetheless brokering basically adequate, though imperfect, deals negotiating claims by users and owners). Lessig would probably argue that this is part of the reason our copyright system today is largely outdated and outmoded. That is, the copyright system was developed basically as a response to existing cultural and technological practices. This underscores the need for a heuristic legal framework that can generate responses to new technologies, rather than simply codifying existing practices.

Ben King




Lawerence Lessig argues that if we make the second generation of creators responsible for getting the copyright permission to quote original creators that the cost and time it would take to get permission would inhibit the second generations creativity and that monetary gain for the original creators would be minimal. I disagree with this statement because I believe if you are going to appropriate another artist’s idea, on principle, they should be acknowledged both monetarily and written credit. It seems to me it is also a matter of respect.
For example, a little to moderately known artist Joe Satriani recorded a song in 2004 called “If I Could Fly”. Subsequently Coldplay released “Viva La Vida” in 2008 with the exact same melody giving the band their first number one billboard single in both the U.S. and Britain as well as winning a Grammy for Song of the Year in 2009 __(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Viva_la_Vida)__ without giving any credit to Satriani. After hearing Coldplay’s song, Satriani said, “I felt like a dagger went right thorugh my heart. It hurt so much...the second I heard it, I knew it was {my own} ‘If I Could Fly’” (http://www.billboard.com/news/coldplay-satriani-copyright-lawsuit-dismissed-1004012280.story#/news/coldplay-satriani-copyright-lawsuit-dismissed-1004012280.story).

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OEGGFJLpbu4&feature=related
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UvB9Pj9Znsw

Though the current system of copyright law is not perfect, I do believe that the original artist does deserve credit. One possible solution for this is: if there is enough similarity that exists between the original and the remix, the secondary artist must in one way or another acknowledge the original artist’s work. What that acknowledgement is could be debated based off anything from how similar it is to what medium it’s in.
As for Joe Satriani and Coldplay, Billboard reports that Coldplay settled out of court with Satriani for an undisclosed amount of money.

Katy Schwager

Helene Vincent

When I finished reading U.S. Code title 17: Law on Copyright and Fair Use, I felt, essentially, more in the dark about copyright law than before. To be fair, this was one of only a handful of times I have ever read an excerpt from the U.S. legal code, but I found that instead of demarcating clearly in black and white what is acceptable and not acceptable that it is filled with exceptions that render it inherently confusing. What most troubled me was the “fair use” clause, mostly because I wondered, who has the say in what constitutes fair use? Will we have a board of elected officials who arbitrate every case and hold the ultimate authority on the social value of a work? It also troubled me because I kept coming back to the Postmodernism readings from week I in which we discussed the notion that everything is an appropriation and that the concept of appropriating is not new. For centuries, artists have been inspired by the work of those who came before them, sometimes building upon it, sometimes re-contextualizing it, and sometimes completely going against it. It was this thought process that lead me to believe that legal philosophy cannot accommodate the “always already” state of remix culture because legal philosophy operates under the assumption of protecting something original, which, from a postmodern standpoint, does not exist.


As I watched the trailer for RIP: A Remix Manifesto, a statement was made that rang in my head, “Sharing is the nature of creation.” If this is true, which I believe it to be, claiming a work as absolutely your own, created with no external influence whatsoever and solely out of the content of your own private storage closet of ideas, is pretty ridiculous. The dominant philosophy behind copyright law is that its ultimate purpose is to produce incentive to create, but as Lawrence Lessig points out, it limits freedom in order to produce more free speech, it is an inherently flawed philosophy. Remix culture, Lessig states, is blooming with creativity. Ordinary citizens within remix culture want to create, not sit back passively and consume culture that is fed to them by various facets of corporate America. Copyright law has done little to deter the trajectory of citizens taking the idea of appropriation and remix into their own hands, and it is unlikely to cause any change in behavior at all. Young people will continue living as “pirates,” as Lessig states, because it is how we grew up. The digital platform allows anyone to participate in remix culture. It is empowering to feel like the creator as opposed to the consumer.


I do think it is possible for artists’ created works to have commercial rights as well as reuse in the common culture. My belief that this is possible relies heavily on many of the points Jeffrey Cunard made in his lecture on the intersection of art making and the law. In his lecture, Cunard stated that the differences between forgery and artistic appropriation must be distinguished. Forgery is malicious by nature. Forging a work implies an intent to deceive, it is the outright use of a pre-existing work or the creation of a new work that is so similar to the original it may be construed as original. Artistic appropriation varies from simply being inspired by a previous theme or composition, to transforming a work, to literal copying of a work. The common thread running through these various means of appropriation is that the new work takes something old and stale and creates something new and interesting. The Shepard Fairey Obama poster is the greatest contemporary example of this. Fairey took a photo that probably not too many people saw and turned it into one of the most iconic images of the 21st century, and image that will undoubtedly live on in U.S History textbooks forever. As Fairey himself stated, “every spoof gives more power to the original.” More people saw the original photo than ever would have had Fairey never made that poster. Reuse is therefore beneficial to everyone, including those who created the “original” works (I use the term original loosely, because, as I stated earlier, I believe that the term holds little to no validity anymore). The problem with reuse in the common culture is that we live in a world where everything revolves around money. When you create something, you create it expecting to make money off of it, so to see somebody else making money off a remix of your creation is, I’m sure, very frustrating. However, unless someone is taking precisely your song, precisely your artwork, in other words forging, there is no basis for that frustration because we live in a world where we build off of one another’s successes and failures. The remixing of a work does not render the original void of value and does not necessarily decrease interest in the original. Jay-Z will still make a lot of money, even if Girl Talk steals his hooks.




external image AndreTheGiantSticker.gif

As far back as 3rd grade, I saw Andre the Giant’s face stamped on street signs, the sidewalk, in the local pizzeria window. Creator (or perhaps “sourcer”, but not “originator”) Shepard Fairey is from my hometown of Charleston, so his now (in)famous insignia made its way from RISD back to South Carolina and reproduced exponentially. From a visual standpoint, I appreciated seeing a recurring image that was not connected with a brand or commercially-driven (though now it has been commodified). Even at a young age, I could tell that this was not like one of the thousands of ads that most Americans see each day--it made me wonder and want to know more. In fact, tracing its meaning would be close to impossible unless you were in the know--perhaps my first encounter with art pour l’art?

This experience exemplifies copyright sage extraordinaire Lawrence Lessig’s TED Talk on “How Creativity Is Being Strangled by the Law”, as one of his main arguments is that the youth of today are experiencing the revival of a read-write culture through digital technology. In the 20th century, we became what John Philip Sousa feared, a read-only culture. I completely agree with Lessig in that the youth of today embrace amateur culture. This is not to be confused with amateurish culture. The delineation lies between purely taking someone else’s content and passing it off as your own or utilizing digital technologies and digital media objects as a means to say something differently. Shepard Fairey wasn’t trying to make viewers believe that he is the originator of all things Andre the Giant. He created, around a frankly campy pop culture figure, a whole new statement and a whole new myth.

Indeed, not only is the amateur culture embraced, but it’s becoming the norm for younger generations. As Lessig points out, the “tools of creativity have become tools of speech”. It seems that the laws were structured for a time when these tools did not exist, much like Lessig’s example of rights changing when airplanes came into use and flew over property. He indicates that these laws create the “presumption” that utilizing digital technologies is illegal and one is “trespassing”. The laws appear to be in place to regulate copies, but in actuality, isn’t every single instance and use of a cultural item a copy?

This is an example of the amateur culture is seeping into the mainstream culture. People are producing with what they have in their cultural catalog and cultural toolbox. A child could have created a collage with newspaper clippings in the 1950s. How can we blame them for wanting to remix their favorite songs today? Like Lessig, I’m certainly not calling for open season on everything, but it does seem valid to reexamine what we criminalize in the context of today’s technology. I believe the approach to which I prescribe as described by William Fisher’s “Theories of Intellectual Property” is utilitarian. It “requires lawmakers to strike an optimal balance between, on one hand, the power of exclusive rights to stimulate the creation of inventions and works of art and, on the other, the partially offsetting tendency of such rights to curtail widespread public enjoyment of those creations” (Fisher 2). This is similar to Lessig’s call for balance with 1) artists and creators allowing their work to be made available for non-commercial interests and 2) businesses that are building the read-write culture to embrace opportunity so more free content can grow. For example, Vimeo just this week introduced a free music store to make it less confusing and painful (as they call it) to license music for user-made videos. Academic journals, arguably a medium that is vital for productive and worthy idea sharing, have also joined the open sharing movement.

One thing upon which I think we can all agree is infringing on your own copyright is just bad form (*see Nickelback story).
NPR: Nickelback Song Similarity
"This Is How You Remind Me of Someday"
--Barry Blitch

Yizhou Zhang


It was in my last year of college when I heard the name Lawrence Lessig and the term “copyleft” for the first time. My roommate was doing literature review for her thesis on online copyright issue and kept recommending Lessig’s idea to me. Now that I have read his book and watched his presentation, I’m still fascinated by all those concepts of “free culture”, “read/write culture” and the norms behind Creative Commons. I believe that his revolutionary critique of the existing legal system is extremely valuable to not only copyright owners, but the whole generation in the digital era, because we are no longer passive consumers of cultural products - we are productive audience creating our own culture based on what we see and how we feel, not by stealing or copying, but by remix and hybrid. As Lessig said, it’s time to change the rule of the game. When 80% (even more) people have become illegal “pirates” under a certain law, maybe it’s the law itself that should be changed, not the people.


Thanks to digital network and technologies, today everyone has the potential to become a member of the creative/cultural industries. What the Internet provides us is the access to materials by sharing - the interoperability, which is the nature and original intention of the digital network. Then we implant our own idea, which is unique, to give raw materials brand new meanings. Finally, with the help of digital devices and softwares, remix comes out. I had been making amateur music videos and film clips during my college years, but I had never considered that it involved something called intellectual property rights. Even though I realized it later, I still felt nothing wrong for I didn’t use any of those works for commercial purpose. Just like music fans who share covers of their favorite songs on Youtube, or game fans who make manga films based on characters and images in the game, we do it not for money, but for love and fun.


However, more and more people begin to make money from their creativity, which raises big challenges to the vested interests in the market. The core of the problem seems not the ownership of copyright per se, but the distribution of benefits. From the perspective of the business world, it’s a battle between pre-existed dominators of the market (e.g., “Big Four” record labels, “Big Six” film studios) vesus new players (e.g., grassroots artists, online communities, fan culture). When watching the film RIP!: A Remix Manifesto, I was wondering who would be the first one to sue Girl Talk for not getting permission to use those samples in his albums. Is his music still “legal” because of “fair use”, or because the interests of major record labels haven’t been influenced that much by it (compared to online downloading and piracy issues)?


Here is a case of a transnational and intercultural controversy of two table games: Sanguosha (三国杀, literally “Killers of the Three Kingdoms”), the most popular card game in China, was created three years ago by a college student of Communication University of China. On one hand, the theme, roles and their skills are based on Romance of the Three Kingdoms - one of the Four Classical Novels of Chinese literature. On the other hand, the basic rules of role assignments and skill settings are borrowed from a famous Italian table game Bang! which was designed in 2002. Combined with the images of a Japanese video game Dynasty Warriors which is also based on the same Chinese novel, Sanguosha was made into cards and sold on China’s largest online shopping platform. One of the purchasers, who was a Computer Science PhD student at Tsinghua University, caught the commercial potential of Sanguosha and then co-founded China’s first table game company with the designer of the game. The remix between a classical Chinese novel and a western card game not only made Sanguosha a cultural phenomenon and even a life style in Chinese-speaking regions, but also formed the entire industry chain of table game in related areas. However, after Sanguosha became an unprecedented success which brings the designer and his company huge profits, the Italian company which released Bang! claimed that basic rules and structures of the two games are the same with the only differences in names and backgrounds, therefore it constitutes copyright infringement. In fact, the designer of Sanguosha always admits that he did borrow some ideas from Bang!, but by emphasizing the cultural uniqueness, he sees his work neither plagiarism nor localization, but the creation of a new game based on an existing structure.

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Siyang Wu

Can we sing the song “happy birthday” in friends’ birthday party as we know that this song is under the protection of copy right?

I do believe that every piece of art work, no matter music, picture or movie, is the creature of an artist for the propose of expressing themselves, presenting their ideas and showing their emotion to the inner and outer world. The artists are stimulated by their inspiration and spurred by the outside environment. In a short, every masterpiece is produced for the love, not for the money.

In the modern era, things become complex, actually, every thing including money is complicated. When it comes to the question that “How can artists' or any citizens' created works be allowed commercial rights as well as reuse in the common culture?”, what crosses my mind is Larry Lessig said “for the love, not for the money”. That is my point, what created for the love, not for the money, should not be taken as the “copy” of the previous work. But the so called “love” is such an abstract word that it is difficult to define, and it makes trouble for the public to make a judgement on the propose of the work. To my understand, “love” is a general word that it can be a word or a viewpoints that expressed by the author. It must be something new, something that different to the “old” work. It is the difference, by which the rework express themselves to the outside world.

For example, ZARA is famous for its marketing and branding strategy. Every year, hundreds of ZARA’s designers appear on the fashion shows every where, they copy the design of those famous brand, make the similar cloth, put them into mass production and sale it in much lower price to the public. The pictures below is the comparison between ZARA men and Balmain Homme, every one even without the sense of fashion can say that they are almost the same. The damage that ZARA caused on the fashion industry should not be ignored. However, other people hold the opinion that it brings the high fashion to the normal people. How can you blame it at the same time you can not stop shopping in its store? One of the famous place in Beijing that listed on every foreign visitor’s travel plan is Xiushui Jie, where you can find “Chanel”, “Gucci” and whatever you want. Does the consumer really can get the culture behind the big brand by purchasing the piratic one? I this they get nothing but a product. Wearing a little black dress that similar to Chanel’s style doesn’t mean you get Chanel’s spirit.
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But looking at the following artworks, even you take them as the simple combinations of the former works, you have admit that they are new, since they are carrying some new idea and new emotion that they have never had. For me, the first one contains the idea of globalization, and the second one express the irony viewpoints. New technology in this media age broaden people’s eyes, provides their “raw materials”, and enable them to stand on the shoulders of a giant. Remix is a new way of creating.
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Yu-wei Wang

“Is copyright really Right?” This is the questions that keep appearing on my mind when I was doing this week’s reading. In the Theories of Intellectual Property, Fisher demonstrates four primary approaches that the theorists tend to adapt it to constitute or construct laws regarding to the protection of the Intellectual property, inclusive of the facet from Utilitarianism, Labor theory, Personality theory and Social Planning theory. Although theorists approach the laws from four different aspects, in similarity they consider the protection of intellectual property of the creators along with the restriction of its accessibility for others as necessary and of great importance in the prosperity of creativity in our society. However, under the belief of “sharing is the nature of creation” proposed from the film RIP: Remix Manifesto, the regulations toward people to freely access productions of the creators seems an obstacle of the creativity in the society. Hence, the meanings and justification of copyright becomes fuzzy to me.

In the lecture and his book, Lawrence Lessing indicates that living in this digital-content and technology-accessible era, the production and dissemination of contents are affordable and available to ordinary people. Hence, Remix the prior contents and give birth to the brand new one has become a crucial form of making arts, the expression of one’s in border definition. It is the remix that flourishes the creativity of the society. Nevertheless, facing the current law regarding to intellectual property, those remix production can be seen as infringement and the behavior of remixing is considered criminal in some extents. Does the appropriation from former works being illegal? Does the proliferation of remix productions decline the incentive of creations? The two questions pop upon my eyes. However, as my comprehension, “art nourished form art itself”. In other words, every piece of art works is influenced or enlightened from the prior works. A famous example, even though we know that Picasso has appropriated the elements of Manet’s Le déjeuner sur l'herbe to compose his painting Le déjeuner sur l'herbe d'après Manet in a different style, hardly will anyone sue Picasso of his violation toward copyright law.

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Le déjeuner sur l'herbe d'après Manet by Picasso

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Le déjeuner sur l'herbe by Manet



Remix itself is totally different from any of its original references. Moreover, in some kinds of genres, parody in particular, Remix is of crucial significance. It is known that most successful and proliferated parodies are full of the feature of intertextuality, for the audience generally perceives the spirits or sense of humor that the parody mocking on form the common contexts the creators and viewers live within. Thus, inevitably many components in the parody will derive or appropriate from existing works. However, not only the entertainment effects and the creativity that the parody shows, but the process of realizing the ideas that the composer does and the expressions he or she wants to spread through the work is the most important value of parody so as the remix artworks. Living in the hybrid of RO and RW culture, seeking the balance between them and thrive both of it via investing our creativity in it without the redundant blocks impedes us is an important issue for our generation. I think the key point here is that every individual is willing to share, sharing their ideas, works and so on with the public and the same mode keeps running which leads the creative works being diverse. While under this presupposition, some degrees of the potential commercial benefits of the creators or the business firms may be jeopardized which is the necessary sacrifice in my point of view.



I-phone is everything A parody clip makes fun on the mutiful functions in I-phone


The Remix clips of the Obama interview and the film Sparta



Xindi Guo

I originally come from a country that has very weak laws, regulations, awareness on copyright, intellectual properties and fair use. So, forgive me, if there is anything I write looks as idiocy or looks ignorant.

Lawrence Lessig’s lecture is very interesting. He thinks that the present copyright law prevents the development of creative arts because it raises the costs and times onto young artists’ publishing. I totally understand it. When I was taking a course named Media Law and Policy in my undergraduate school, I first time was shocked by the huge extra work that an author need to do under the copyright law. In that class, I was told that if a person want to publish a book in the United States, he/she needs to contact every single authors appears in the bibliography to make sure that they agree to make their ideas to be quoted. It means, if a person use one year to write a book, he/she may need more than one year on making phone calls. How about some authors do not agree that their ideas be quoted? How about some of them do not answer the call? Of course, maybe no one really does it by themselves, but the author at least need to spend money on hiring someone or having a company to do this for you. That is how copyright law raises author’s costs and times on publishing. Another story to support that copyright law makes art expansive is that I know a guy majoring in digital design. He knows nothing about Chines, but knows how to use some Chinese website to download free songs. In that way, he can get more free music resources for his assignments.

So, how to solve this problem? As Irvine questioned, how can we recognize the foundations of innovation and creativity as well as insure the foundations of an economic system? Lessig’s creative commons seems is created to solve this problem. Also, science we can borrow books from our library, can we borrow art products from an electronic database made for education? Who pay for it? I think for education use, at least governments and universities take the responsibility to pay for it.

Another thing that I have considered is both the law and Lessig use the concept commercial nature. In the US Code, Title 17: US Law on Copyright and Fair Use, the first standard to determine fair use is to see whether the art work has been used in the commercial nature. In another word, if a remix art work is made for non-commercial use, it should not be sued. Also in Lessig’s lecture, he argued that remix art should at least be free for non-commercial use. However, what is commercial nature? How to define commercial nature? Is that potential commercial use count? As a PR practitioner, I think this concept is very tricky, because how do you know those people sharing videos on YouTube is just for fun but not a social media promotion? The famous make-up girl, Michelle Phan, was just want to share make up tips with her friends, but now she is the spokesperson for Lancome. She also makes videos and share music on the YouTube channel. Is that a kind of potential commercial use in her video?




This is a popular video that made by Barely Political. I think they do not need to worry about the copyright issue, because they are survived by the words, non-commercial use. Their fantastic job on parody is encouraged by their subscribers. However, I always wonder if there are potential commercial profits. For example, because of these video, their members are invited to some activities and make money.
Here is another video from Barely Political with fantastic performance of their members and it is a good remix video of channel 9 news:




Ashley Wei

I was deeply inspired by Lessig’s TED video from this week’s readings. In his speech he passionately talked about the “amateur culture” - culture where people produce for the LOVE of what they are doing and not for the money. He also referred the culture of kids for several times, which delightfully reminds me of many things I created when I was a kid. The theory behind this appealing argument is that the digital technology, especially the Internet, revived the Read-Write culture from the Read-Only culture which came along with telephone, broadcasting and television that had occupied people’s way of living for decades. The architecture of internet enables users to generate content rather than to consume content generated only by the producers. And this single piece of technology just blew up the traditional concept of “culture” and led it to a remix culture that we are experiencing today. In my opinion, “childishness” is a very powerful thing in the world of grow-ups. Remembering having fights with my best friend when we were kids, we punched each other and said a lot of bad words that I felt a little shameful when I recalled them today, but there were no hatred in those fights at all, and we were friends all the time. Many parodies and speeches on Youtube are very similar to this kind of childish behavior. My point is, this kind of childish behavior actually made people happier and brought peace to the world - If someone doesn’t like President Bush, he made a remix video of Bush (like the one in Lessig’s presentation) instead of sending a bomb to the White House. No one would blame the video for slandering the president’s image because most people have the common sense: here it is only a playground and the only rule is to be humorous and open-minded.

I was quite impressed by the argument that “most ordinary people are living constantly against the law.” And I was sad when I heard that “we are living in a weird age of prohibition”. The technology is so promising but we just can’t use the best of it because some laws that were made decades ago in the context where no internet technology existed at all. I’m not being extreme but the bottom line is: it is a pity that we cannot optimize human creativity just because of the worries of commercial benefits lost. The kids today are way smarter than any of the generations because they are reading materials from all over the world and writing contents to audiences from all over the world, so we should let them speak the way they want to speak. The last quote from this week’s readings is the best quote I’ve ever read on copyright debates:

We can't kill, we can only criminalize it. We can't stop them, we can only drive them underground. We can't make our kids passive again, we can only make them "pirates"
- Larry Lessig, speech on Nov 15, 2007.

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Victoria Hamilton

“Vibrant cultures borrow, remix and recast. Static cultures die.”- Tim Wu, The Slate, Shady One Man Corporation

It seems hypocritical for Bridgeport who as far as I can tell has no talent or creativity of his own to be blatantly profiting off of the creativity of others in much the same way he claims that artists who sample are profiting off of originators. So in essence, profiting off of someone else’s work is alright just as long as you own the legal right to do so.

If nothing is new, and everything is an already remix, what’s the problem? Who could possibly claim primacy? Is the real matter in question legality or is it money? It’s probably always money. In the case of Jay Z and “Justify my Thug” I see it as him paying homage and respect to Madonna. Perhaps in a way for her thug. In the same way that he and Kanye paid homage to the late, great Otis Redding on “Otis” their second single from their “Watch the Throne” collaboration.

“Otis” Original Sample with References to Utilized Riffs


Every Kanye sample ever.


Does our generation think about copyright and ownership? Does it matter? Or should we just enjoy it? Is it that we’re craving attention? Is it that we need to be patted on the back? Need to be recognized?

George Clinton's copyrights end up blocking sampling, when he himself favors sampling. "When hip-hop came out," said Clinton in this interview with Rick Karr, "I was glad to hear it, especially when it was our songs—it was a way to get back on the radio."

Of course dishonesty exists and there are of course unrepentant users and abusers but for all the users and abusers out there, there are also artists who are respectfully paying homage to those who came before them. Those who inspired them to think differently. Otis Redding, Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin use gospel organ riffs in secular music. Should the church sue them for utilizing, referencing, alluding to what they know, the tradition that their style of expression is derived from? It’s inspiration.

Titus Kaphar is also another brilliant example of remix. He remixes his own work, reconfiguring history and remixing it, by appropriating and telling his story, her story and another side of the story. Kaphar created George, George, George after reading Imperfect God regarding George Washington’s life and how the issue of slavery tormented him. Kaphar references Washington’s inner turmoil by reframing him as a human, off of his pedestal with his own faults “falling short of perfection.”


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Di Lu

It’s a repeatedly stated fact that technological progress has been changing the way cultures develop. The boundary between production and consumption has never been as blurred in history as it is now in the digital age. For the first time in history, average people have been given access to create works and possible spread them to every corner of the world with technological necessities. Thanks to the increasing interconnected world and all kinds of social media platforms, as well as collective spirit of entertainment (or craving for eccentricity), not a few ordinary people become an overnight sensation and then develop it for living. Yes, it’s the time opportunity for average people. However, when it comes to copyright, individuals and their works in the dark are still those in disadvantages.

Lessig argues in one of his articles that the real harm of refusing free culture to our society is to “the works that are not famous, not commercially exploited, and no longer available as a result”. I think it can be extended to the situation where people borrow resources from the internet to create works for fun and put them on the social media platform for better sharing with family and friends, just like what Stephanie Lenz did. Those small individual digital media users (and maybe content producers) can hardly make their voice heard, and whatever comes from the competition between big players they have to take. Stephanie Lenz and Shepard Fairey may be able to fight for what they create based on the attentions they attract, but they are the very small portion who can stand in the spotlight. For the rest majority who media and the public can never know, all they can do is to remove the content from open platform, to be fined for their appreciation for the resources they borrow, and probably to stop creating works. I’m not worried if Mickey Mouse will disappear one day even though Disney has to spend billions of dollars every year in political campaigns and contributions, because at least it’ capable of writing a check of that amounts of money. But it’s obviously different for unknown individual creators for non-commercial use.

It concerns not only the future creations, but also preservation of cultural heritage passed down from our ancestors. Technological development enables old book to be digitalized and be spread to more readers, but the control of ownership get its way. I learned in one of my classes that the famous Frankenstein would have been lost because of copyright issue in printing copies if it didn’t happen to survive on theater’s stage in another form of art. I believe popularity and public recognition of a piece of work is the best way to preserve it. A joke says that the best reward for a writer is not the Nobel Prize, but the pirate book of his. Though not defending pirate books, I share the importance of easy access for readers.
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Another thing is about, as Prof. Irvine addresses in the questions, the “always already” nature of remix culture. How to define a digital media work and “copies” of it touches so many issues and I’m not confident the existing knowledge will come up with a fair standard. More importantly, it’s not what we borrow from the past or from others, but the way we interpret and organize the elements that makes us special. If the original picture of Obama Hope was not be possessed by Fairy with his own understanding, I doubt if the image could have been as symbolic as it is now. Therefore, instead of controversial time-consuming regulations on copyrights, What Lessig suggests as Free Culture may be a much better solution to the reality of remix culture.