Fair Use Practices in the Remix Culture

The proliferation of technology has made it increasingly simple for everyone to write, publish, and create their own material. The cost to produce video has become relatively inexpensive when you consider the days before YouTube and mobile technology with push-button video capabilities. It used to involve expensive high-end, industry standard, camera equipment and video editing programs like Avid or Final Cut, not to mention the deep financial pockets needed for distribution. Now anyone with a decent video phone or digital camera and simple editing software can produce and upload their own video on YouTube, and it doesn’t have to be a time or resource intensive project.

Not only has the digital culture given rise to an expansion of authorship like the previous post discussed, but also this notion of what Lawrence Lessig, author, Harvard Law professor, and founding board member of the Creative Commons, describes as free information–and the ability of people to draw on elements of prior cultural production to further the creative cause. Lessig has even published a book, Free Culture, which criticizes how big media uses technology and the law to lock down culture and control creativity–and to prove he’s not all theory, Lessig has even made his book available for free under the a Creative Commons License.  Users are welcome to access Lessig’s Free Culture under the direction that they are allowed to redistribute, copy, or remix/reuse the content as long as it is for non-commercial purposes and proper credit is given to the author.

In Chapter one of A New Literacies Sampler, Colin Lankshear and Michele Knobel address different dimensions regarding opposing mindsets about digital literacy.  In the first mindset, value is seen as a scarcity, which results in efforts to control by using copyright or licensing.  To a certain extent, Lessig’s criticism about big media and corporate interest suppressing creativity is not unfounded, especially when you look at the market share for a company like Microsoft.  But as the development for open source software grows, more people are gaining confidence with the alternatives to commercial software like Open Office instead of MS Office or Gimp in place of Photoshop.  These are examples of the second mindset, which sees value as a function of dispersion with more emphasis placed on the collective.  This mindset is more fitting with the Open Source and Creative Commons mission that sees information as public and collaborative.

A small but growing belief in the collaborative, free information, school of thought gives way to the remix culture.  It’s what happens when you take bits of cultural production that is already in existence for fair use, and either alter it, or remix it with another form of media to create something completely new.   The concept that creativity and new ideas will thrive under this model as more and more people contribute to the collective seems to be the distinctive aspect of the “new” literacy of the digital culture.


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