Remixing culture and the problem with copyright

Copyright protections are inhibiting violation of US law.

We live in a remix culture. Open source, user-generated content and its reuse, etc. But overly broad enforcement of copyright threatens to stifle the next generation of creativity and innovation, a new report from the Center and American University's Washington College of Law finds.

The study, entitled "Recut, Reframe, Recycle: Quoting Copyrighted Material in User-Generated Video," details how such video reuse fits into the Fair Use doctrine. NBC Universal and other copyright holders, however, are determined to reinterpret the law and this doctrine to the detriment of culture. Our remix culture. (Same as it ever was.)

The courts tell us that fair use should be "transformative"--adding value to what they take and using it for a purpose different from the original work. So when makers mash up several works--say, The Ten Commandments , Ben-Hur and 10 Things I Hate about You , making Ten Things I Hate about Commandments--they aren't necessarily stealing. They are quoting in order to make a new commentary on popular culture, and creating a new piece of popular culture.

Big deal, you say? Consider the alternative.

The effervescence of this moment at the dawn of participatory media should not be mistaken for triviality. The practices of today's online creators are harbingers of a far more interactive media era. Today's makers--feckless, impudent, brash, and extravagant as they often are--in fact are the pioneers of an emerging media economy and society. Recognition of the importance of fair use, within the copyright law toolkit for cultural creation, is both prudent and forward-looking for those concerned with maintaining an open society.

This should not be interpreted as a free-for-all on copyright. It's not. I'm sympathetic to authors including my daughter. She has been working on a class project wherein they have to write their own court case. Hers was a finalist but ultimately not selected. This morning she said to me, "Dad, I'm glad that my court case didn't get chosen for our project, because the teacher is now adding all sorts of characters and things and I wouldn't want my case changed like that." She's right...but only to a point.

Scout's (my daughter) rights end where the community's begin. Actually, arguably the community's take precedence because we can survive without Scout's court case. We can't survive (or, at least, thrive) without communal culture.

Read the report [PDF]. Worth the time.

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