Remix Culture

everything is a remix

Remix culture is a term used to describe a society which allows and encourages derivative works. Remix is defined as combining or editing existing materials to produce a new product. A Remix Culture would be, by default, permissive of efforts to improve upon, change, integrate, or otherwise remix the work of copyright holders.

In his 2008 book, ‘Remix,’ Lawrence Lessig presents this as a desirable ideal and argues, among other things, that the health, progress, and wealth creation of a culture is fundamentally tied to this participatory remix process.

In his book, Lessig describes modern culture as ‘Read Only.’ In a Read Only culture, a small professional group produces all the culture that is then consumed by the masses. The public can only absorb and take in the culture, but it leaves no room to interact with the culture. This is analogous to a Read Only CD which allows only the viewing of its content. Modern consumptive culture is a form of permission culture. Advocates of copyright protection argue Read Only culture is necessary to nurture creativity. They argue that without protection of their work, artists would have no incentive to produce original material because their work will be taken and modified by others.

By contrast, remix culture is a culture where the public is free to add, change, influence, and interact with their culture. This is analogous to a Read/Write CD where the owner can change their material on the disk. Amateur producers make and distribute the content. Lessig argues that Read/Write culture will nurture creativity by all individuals to produce and influence their culture. In this culture, all members are producers who continually consume, remix, and produce new material. By taking input of all the participants, the culture will become richer and more inclusive. Remix and participatory cultures can provide significant social benefits.

Examples can be found in Folklore, Graffiti, music Sampling, in movies, and on the internet. The culture of the commons was always a remix culture and it existed way before any copyright law. All the Folk tales, Folk songs, Folk art, Folk poetry etc. were revised constantly, much the same way as it happens on the internet today. Graffiti is an example of Read/Write Culture where the participants interact with their surroundings and environment. In much the same way that advertisements decorate walls, graffiti allows the public to choose the images to have displayed on their buildings. By using spray paint, or other mediums, the artists essentially remix and change the wall or other surface to display their twist or critique.

Sampling in music making is a prime example of reuse and remix to produce a new work. Sampling has had wide spread popularity within hip-hop culture. Grandmaster Flash, and Afrika Bambaataa were two of the early artists in the hip hop community to employ the practice of sampling in their music. However the practice of sampling can be traced to earlier artists. Led Zeppelin sampled many acts including Willie Dixon, Howlin’ Wolf, Jake Holmes, and Spirit as remix within the legal dimensions of copyright. By taking a sample or small clip of an existing song and distorting and incorporating into a new piece, the artist has remixed the song and made it their own.

Wikipedia is a further example of remix, where the public is encouraged to add their knowledge. The website essentially allows a user to remix the information presented. Amazon.com called Wikipedia ‘the world’s most exhaustive and up-to-date encyclopedia’ because it is edited and produced by such a large pool of knowledge.

In Film, remix is often used. Most new Hollywood movies are adaptations of comics, graphic novels, books, or other forms of media. The majority of other Hollywood cinema works are typically genre films that follow strict generic plots. These forms of movies hardly appear original and creative, but rather rely on adapting material from previous works, which is a form of remix. A prime example is the film ‘Kill Bill’ which takes many techniques and scene templates from other films.

Author Ramsay Wood argues that the fables in The Panchatantra are the oldest known example of remix culture. They are an ancient Indian inter-related collection of animal fables in verse and prose, in a frame story format.

On the internet, remixes of songs, videos, and photos are easily distributed, which means that there is never a final project for anything. There is a constant revision to what is being created, which is done on both a professional and amateur scale. One very simple and common way people remix is through music and advertisements. Programs like Garageband and Photoshop make it extremely easy to rework what has been done on a professional scale. The internet makes remix an art available to the masses to produce and distribute.

Lessig argues that ‘outdated copyright laws have turned our children into criminals.’ Under current copyright laws, anyone with the intent to remix an existing work is liable for lawsuit because the copyright laws protect the intellectual property of the work. However, the current copyright laws are proving to be ineffective at preventing the piracy and sampling of intellectual property. Lessig argues that there needs to be a change in the current state of copyright laws to legalize remix culture. One proposition is to adopt the system of citation used with book references. The remix artist would cite the intellectual property they sampled which would give the original creator the credit, as is common with literature references.

Writer and director Kirby Ferguson argues that everything is a remix, and that all original material builds off of and remixes previously existing material. If all intellectual property is influenced by other pieces of work, copyright laws would be unnecessary. Other (copyright) scholars such as Yochai Benkler and Erez Reuveni promulgate ideas that are closely related to remix culture. Some scholars argue that the academic and legal institutions must change with the culture towards remix based.

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