Remix Panel Discussion at CoDE

I am running a bit behind on my conference and symposium notes, but here are a few of my observations based on the screening of ‘RIP: A Remix Manifesto’, by Brett Gaylor, at CoDE a few weeks ago. I wrote about RIP before here and here. The screening was followed by an interesting panel discussion between Bill Thompson, Becky Hogge, John Naughton, Jussi Parikka and Geoff Gamlen.

The discussion focused mainly on three themes: remix culture, copyright and business models. Concerning remix culture, the idea was discussed whether culture can be narrowed down to re-mixing or sampling. What about original ideas? As Geoff Gamlen stated, without originality, we will end up in a cultural vacuum. Remix is still quite important, but it focuses more on adding value or re-contextualising things. Remix is an example of collaborative culture more in general and collaboration as a process of culture creation and/or production. These processes are new and at the same time very old, where Henry Jenkins has for instance shown that 19th century folk production was also build on these principles. As Bill Thompson however remarked, it seems that the current media does not want this kind of collaborative production. This has led to, as Jussi Parikka explained, a culture wars. As the documentary showed, you can’t stop copying.

On the issue of how to create revenue from remixes or remixing, Becky Hogge remarked remix is also used as a capitalizing/commodifying idea. However, labor time going into remixes needs to be compensated in some way, and as Jussi explained, we need business models for this. Big corporations are also incorporating open source. Open source has become a business model that can be applied by different people and companies from various backgrounds.

Next John Naughton touched upon the third theme of the larger copyright system. He described how the debate is derailed: file sharing is not automatically theft. There is nothing wrong with copyright but the copyright system in this world is obscene at the moment, John claimed. The current copyright regime is completely unfit for purpose, as the documentary has also shown. Bill argued that this is a deficiency in the democratic process; we thus need to focus on congregational change. The legislation machine is not listening to the requests for reform. Becky recalled her experiences as a legislation lobbyer for the open rights movement and stated how everything revolves around money: copyright is bought by intense lobbying operations which influence legislation.

Going back to the theme of revenue from remixes and remixing, Geoff remarked how the current system is inhibiting, as he would very much like to sell the work that he makes with his collective. He explains how they found other ways to make a living other than releasing remixes. According to Geoff they have never found any opposition from copyright owners.

Returning to the theme of remix culture, John asked whether remix unchecked is the end of originality. This is the rhetoric of people like Jaron Lanier. But as John remarked, there is no way to stop people from being creative. This also poses the question whether creativity is only fuelled by the money that comes from copyright; to what extend are creative people motivated by money?

On the theme of copyright again, the question of moral rights came up. Does a creator have inalienable rights to control the way her or his creative expressions are used? Are moral rights still relevant in the digital age? Jussi explained how this leads back to an ontological point about creativity. We always create from a reservoir of culture, think for instance about language and sound. So even if you have moral rights, this does not mean you control the next step. But what if, as Geoff stated, if it is not possible to control it anymore, your cultural contribution becomes a characteristic part of a remix you don’t agree with?

Returning again to business models, Becky claimed the film did not really tie up the idea of how to pay/reward people for their work. As the great corporations do not let alternative business models come to the rise, they actually make piracy happen, she claimed. John remarked how the film as a political argument reaches a large number of people by focusing on remix culture. But it likewise misses a large group of people: everyone over 40. They don’t see the importance of remix culture, according to John. The film also does not really focus on how remix applies to other or older parts of culture. Every vibrant culture continuously borrows from what comes before.

Going back to the models bit, the discussion returned to the question of who makes money out of remix? As Geoff explained, Girltalk for instance gets paid for being a DJ, not for publishing his work. It is a rare thing to get paid for remixing. As Jussi remarked, this is not something uncommon, there are only very few artists and writers (as well as academics) who actually make money with what they do, most of them can’t live of their work. Geoff commented that there must be a way to think out a digital rights system that works and at the same time provides money for cultural producers. Jussi described how capitalism functions as an absorption machine; it absorbs contradictory mechanisms. Remixing seems to be adverse but corporations are slowly coming up with business models to incorporate remixing. Remix is thus not anti-capitalist, and as Geoff added as a final remark, it is not against corporate interests at all.


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