Monday, April 04, 2011

Art Copyright and Remix

The remix is now an established form of cultural production. While legal action and artistic endeavour push remix to new heights of sublimity and farce, the massive growth of what Lawrence Lessig calls the "read/write" culture continues unabated as a source of music, visual and literary arts. Recent examples include Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (2009) as a work of remix literature, and MIA's Paper Planes (2007), which uses the riff from The Clash's song 'Straight To Hell'. The works of the 2010 Art Remix exhibition at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts also contain many examples of remix in the visual arts.

Remix is an important part of digital culture. As a result of the extent remix has developed in relation to digital technologies, it has become a popular topic in theoretical and academic contexts as well. This interest has resulted in debates concerning how we should understand remix in a wide variety of practices and genres. For example, Michele Knobel and Colin Lankshear describe,

"Remix means to take cultural artifacts and combine and manipulate them into new kinds of creative blends. In this sense, remix is as old as human cultures, and human cultures are themselves products of remixing. Since the late 1980s, however—originating with highly contrived forms of music remix by dancehall DJs—remix practices have been greatly amplified in scope and sophistication by recent developments in digital technologies. These make it possible for home-based digital practitioners to produce polished remixes across a range of media and cultural forms. This has in turn strengthened remix culture, encouraging seemingly endless hybridizations in language, genre, content, technique, and the like, and raised questions of legal, educational, and cultural import."
- Abstract from Knobel, M., & Lankshear, C. (2008, September). Remix: The Art and Craft of Endless Hybridization. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 52(1), 22–33. doi: 10.1598/JAAL.52.1.3

Remix as both a theoretical field and practical concept is discussed on the excellent blog Remix Theory by Eduado Navas, as well as in the work of Paul D. Miller (aka DJ Spooky that Subliminal Kid), and in documentary films such as Good Copy Bad Copy (2007). As I have already mentioned, the work of Harvard University Law Professor Lawrence Lessig is well-known in relation to remix culture, and to Lessig's name we should add Henry Jenkins as a source of valuable writing on the topic.

The advent of new ways to legally frame and claim copyright, such as the Creative Commons (CC) Licence options, has given new scope to the practice of remix. Combining CC licensing with online archives, such as the Internet Archive or the Freesound Project, provide remix artists with the raw materials for their work. To say anything about the digital tools that are available for remixing here would not do justice to the topic. The number of digital tools available for remixing audio, image and text today is huge.

Which leads me to the motivation for this short post on a huge topic. Next Thursday 7 April between 13:00-16:00, HUMlab will be hosting a short course entitled Artistic Expressions and Copyright: The theory and practice of remix culture, which will first look at the origins of remix in the arts, then some contemporary examples, and finally some of the tools available to remix in various media on your own. If you are interested or experienced in remix I would like to invite you to spend a few hours with Carl-Erik and myself making and breaking culture as it is meant to be......(follow the course title link for registration).

The notes for this short course are available here.

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