[Essay] Remix: The battle between Creative Culture and Illegality.

Innovators beholding expertise and digitally-centric skills that range from amateur to professional standards are taking on “the role of producers – to cut, past, sample or jam with content – in order to produce something [new] which is distinctive of their own social and creative” aesthetic. It is in this way that remix culture is, arguably, the 21st century’s counterpart to the post-modernism movement that defined the 1980’s, wherein the interpretation of reality and what it meant to the individual creator was the focal point of the art industry. The notion that “culture builds on the past” or simply, that “everything is a remix”, is the basis for the legal implications that result from the unforgiving copyright legislation that aims to protect ‘original’ work from appropriation. For this reason, intellectual property law is restricting an individual brand of creativity, but can remix culture be justified as an innovation of consumers becoming creators if the new is a re-imagining of the old?

The reworking of already existing cultural works is an integrated experience of published art forms referenced in new creations and is readily accessible as a novel means of communication across media platforms – a justified innovation for this reason. Remix culture has restored the voices of a world developing within the generation of technological advancements. For example, recreational and aspiring musicians ‘mash-up’ songs, recording them in their rooms (or home studios), and sometimes even film a music video to accompany the remixed piece that is then uploaded online to YouTube [1] or SoundCloud [2]. Similarly, fan-fiction and fan-art are also composed in an online community, such as a network of Tumblr blogs, wherein creators are dedicated to recreating and immersing themselves into the alternate worlds already imagined by authors, playwrights, and directors. Even with the inspiration and influences that the past ‘original’ material provides to remix culture, the innovative creativity of the new creators is not without meaning, nor is it unoriginal. The innovators are networking across self-made online communities to open dialogue about the ‘original’ works and how it is suited to, enjoyed in, and adapted and transformed to fit the remixed version across different media platforms.

The tough penalties of copyright law, however, are “…stopping the spread of unauthorised speech” and criminalising it, but how is it a fair practice when “Hollywood’s greatest achievement is transforming the old into the new?” Hollywood films are a product of genre and sub-genre conventions that are transformed and adapted to fit each ‘new’ plot, and furthermore, the highest grossing of those films are generally remakes and franchises. The most recent box office example encompassing remix culture is the Pitch Perfect franchise, wherein an a cappella group sings ‘mashed-up’ covers of chart topping songs. Hollywood is able to showcase remix culture to different extents. Innovators, however, are fighting a war to be allowed to put their creations on show. Copyright law is limiting and, in some cases, entirely preventing remix culture, forcing innovators to ‘break the law’. Significant fines and even jail time are a reality for anyone appropriating material owned by someone else.

Remix culture is an innovation of consumers becoming producers, creating original art from already published work. The reality of the remix, however, is that the “past is trying to control and limit the future”; therefore, copyright legislation is increasingly criminalising new creators. All artists should receive recognition for their hard work (and this should be reflected in remix culture), but copyright law should not trivialise the affordances of modern technology and innovators who are unknown on the hierarchy of creators.

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[1] The linked material here is a music video published on YouTube of Louisa Wendorff’s mash-up of Taylor Swift’s songs Blank Space and Style from the album 1989.

[2] The linked material here is a recorded cover of One Direction’s Drag Me Down mashed-up with Taylor Swift’s I Knew You Were Trouble, uploaded to SoundCloud by Jessa Suarez.

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