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ARTICLE | On creativity, innovation, copyright and remix culture.

As a social media+internet+technology enthusiast, I am deeply interested in information sharing, crowd-sourcing, collaborations, as well as intellectual property, copyright and remix.

I am an advocate for Remix Culture. A premise coined by Lawrence Lessig, it relates to a society where the public is free to add, change, influence, and interact with their culture.

Current modern-day culture is Read Only. In a Read Only culture, a small professional group (corporation) produces all the culture that is then consumed by the masses (TV, film, music, etc). The public can only absorb and take in (watch) the culture, but it leaves no room to interact (remix) with the culture.

Kirby Ferguson is the creator of the web-based series ‘Everything is Remixed’. This short video clearly and concisely explores how our culture has always depended on copying and re-inventing.

These other parts of the series are great audio-visual examples of:

Remix and Music

Remix and Film

Other forms of remixing you might be familiar with:

  • Wikipedia: Crowd-sourced Information
  • Facebook, Youtube, Vimeo, Flickr, Tumblr etc: Allows user to distribute content that they do not own.

‘Rip: A Remix Manifesto’, one of my favourite documentaries, takes on the changing concept of copyright and looks into the notion that creativity is being stifled by copyright law, which ironically was originally enacted to foster creativity. (You can watch the documentary here.)

This doc brings forward fantastic food for thought on this topic, a lot of which I have transcribed below.

Believe it or not – copyright was originally designed to encourage people to create, not stop them. Once upon a time, all ideas were in the public domain. Every invention and every piece of art could be built upon by the generation that followed.

One inventor built in the public domain to create the printing press (1439) – the machine that created the modern world and with it a beautiful dilemma. Now ideas could be spread around the globe, but how could an individual now profit from his or her creative efforts? The solution was the first copyright law (1710).

The Statute of Anne gave authors exclusive rights to their work, but the law was meant to be a balance between the rights of authors and those of the public, so after 14 years the work would fall into the public domain and anyone could copy it. But over the years people kept inventing newer and better copying machines, each disrupting the business model that had come before.

From the radio to the VCR, each technology originally copied ideas without paying the copywriter. The solution was always a balance – lawmakers ensured the right of the new technology to innovate while maintaining the right of the authors to still get paid. By 1998 the music industry was raking in over 13 billion dollars a year and that’s when an 18 year-old college drop out invented Napster, a program that changed the world’s computers into a peer-to-peer music sharing network. The record industry realized that in this future they would lose control.

So when Napster offered to pay a billion dollars in exchange for a license to allow their users to keep copying, the record industry refused to evolve, parted with history, and started suing.

Remix culture is up against one of the most powerful industries on earth: media. Once comprised of countless movie studios and record companies – 6 Hollywood studios and 4 major record labels now control Hollywood. And these companies are owned by even bigger companies: Disney, Viacom, TimeWarner, Newscorp, BMG and General Electric own more than 90% of media holdings in the United States (for a great visual map of such media conglomeration ownership, click here).

All these companies are represented by two lobby groups The Recording Industry Association of America and the Motion Picture Association of America. This is who owns and controls our culture. Their primary goal is to preserve the business model that made these corporations rich in the first place. Even if it means convincing governments to halt the flow of ideas, new technology or better business models.

“Corporations are completely taking over our culture and telling us that we can only consume it and we’re saying ‘no, we want to create with it, respond to it, take it, mutilate it, cut it up.’ We’re saying ‘you don’t ask us whether we want to have billboards all over our towns, you don’t ask us if we want to see Nike everywhere we go… so why do we have to ask you to take a little bit of it and make something out of it?” – The Culture Jammers

In the past few months we’ve witnessed an anti-piracy bill making its way through congress. SOPA and PIPA have been brought forth by the two lucrative lobbyist groups mentioned above and they seek to give corporations and government the control to block websites with direct and even indirect connections to piracy.

Today I awoke to headlines of SOPA and PIPA being set aside… for the time being. This is an issue I feel very strongly about and am eager to take part in.

The problem we are up against here has to do with a dated business model that doesn’t correspond with the present state of technology and culture. We are a remix culture – we must evolve, look forward proactively and develop new systems/models that work in conjunction with our present realities.

“Remixing is writing in the 21st century. It is literacy for a new generation. It is building a different democracy. It is building a different culture where people participate in the creation and the recreation of the culture around us. It is a form of culture that has existed since the beginning of human society, all the way through the present except for one century – the 20th century.” – Lawrence Lessig

Here are some other great references on this topic (taken from Everything is a Remix):


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