Fair Use Remix Institute (FURI)
Mix is the idea of taking ideas, expressions, putting them together and making something new. Culture is remix. Knowledge is remix. Politics is remix. Everyone in the life of producing and creating engages in this practice of remix. Remix is how we live. —Lessig
In 2008, Open Youth Networks conducts the Fair Use Remix Institute (FURI) a two week workshop occurring from July 7-18th involving a diverse group of socially conscious Chicago area youth (ages 14-18). The Fair Use Remix Institute (FURI), addresses the specific need for urban youth growing up in the 21st century networked publics to develop critical media literacy and production skills that enable them to participate more fully in the debate around fair and flexible copyright laws within schools as well as the networked publics.
Jonathan McIntosh, co-facilitator of FURI has been invited to speak about his work and other political remix videos at the 2008 Ars Electronica event in Linz Austria this September. Jonathan’s essay, Building a Critical Culture with Political Remix Video can SOON be found here.
What is Remix?
* Political Remix Videos are critical or satirical works of art focusing on political, social, cultural or economic topics and created by remixing corporate intellectual property and/or appropriated footage generally without the permission of the copyright holder. A key component of Political Remix Video work is that it’s frequently highly critical of the source content and source media itself. As such, many Political Remix Videos “should” be classified as Fair-Use in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107. (McIntosh)
What is Fair Use?
** … where copyright materials are employed for purposes of comment, criticism, reporting, parody, satire, or scholarship, or as the raw material for other kinds of creative and transformative works, the resulting work will likely fall within the bounds of fair use.– Fair Use Guidelines for Video Remixes, 2008
Laws From the Pre-Digital Era Clash With New Technologies
In the last few years, it has become increasingly evident that we are in the midst of a new digital internet revolution that is redefining how youth learn, consume, create, and participate in society. The growth of user-driven content and digital sharing practices has actually revived a pre-mass media tradition of participatory culture – a system in which everyday citizens amateurs – can produce and disseminate news, culture and digital programming through the networked publics, effectively bypassing government filters or corporate gatekeepers. Lawrence Lessig, a Stanford Law Professor describes this new development as the “Read/Write Culture” —one where citizens participate in the creation and recreation of meaning and information through cultural production.
Young people are at the cutting edge of these emergent technologies and cultural practices. These early adopters are charting new territories in terms of genre and expressive modes of communication, one of which is Remix. In the last few years, the Culture of Remix has become a dominant practice on content-sharing sites such as YouTube, Revver, Miro and others.
These tools of creativity have become tools of speech. It is a literacy for this generation. This is how our kids speak. It is how our kids think. It is what your kids are as they increasingly understand digital technologies and their relationship to themselves. – Lawrence Lessig, Stanford University Law Professor, “Remix is a Cultural Right”, November 2008
Remix culture – the act of taking culture and making it into something different – is a technique that has been democratized and it is now becoming embedded into everyday practices and common law cultural norms. (Aufderheide) In part because remix is such a potent form of critical expression, particularly for youth, a growing number of scholars, legal experts and artists have come to believe that remix is a “cultural right.”
Nonetheless, the architecture of copyright law and the architecture of digital technologies as they interact have produced the presumption that remix is an illegal act. This conflict has escalated into a debate between two positions that are becoming increasingly polarized. One side argues that remix is a violation of copyright law and a form of piracy. This side is attempting to use anti-piracy and filtering dragnets to automatically remove any digital content from video sharing sites that incorporate copyrighted material —whether or not there is a fair use claim to quote that material. On the other side, Lessig points to “…a generation that rejects the very notion of what copyright is.” This is a potentially corrosive culture that believes it is “okay to live outside the law’.
Lessig observes that antiquated laws have created a situation in which many youth regard the law as something that should be fought at every turn. This claim was recently confirmed by a study by the Georgia Institute of Technology’s School of Interactive Computing called Remixing Authorship. The report sites the increasing popularity of “remix culture – a society that encourages derivative works by combining or modifying existing media.” The study finds that those users who engage regularly in the practice of remix, even when the works they create are for critical commentary and are clearly covered under fair use doctrine, “are generally uninformed and unconcerned about the law.” In other words, the majority of young digital creators do not understand how the work they produce connects to Fair Use, free speech, communication rights or the First Amendment. Many of them believe they have the moral right but not the legal right to do what they do.
As Lessig explains,
We have to recognize something about our kids – that they are different from us. We made mixed tapes they remix videos. We watched TV, they make TV. It is technology that has made them different. We can’t kill the instinct technology produces, we can only criminalize it. We can’t stop our kids from using it, we can only drive it underground. We can’t make our kids passive again, we can only make them ‘pirates’.
Although many are justly concerned that young people fail to fully understand the ethics of appropriation and lack respect for the authorial integrity of artists, there is an equal lack of understanding regarding the important differences between remix as Fair Use on one hand and media piracy as theft, on the other.
This situation is what impelled a national blue ribbon committee of legal experts to convene over a period of a year to recommend and publish a set of Fair Use Guidelines for Video Remixes. These Guidelines are being printed and disseminated free of charge to the youth participants in FURI . Written by the ACLU of Northern California, Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard Law School, Center for Social Media, School of Communications, American University Program on Information Justice and Intellectual Property, Washington College of Law, American University, and Public Knowledge – Fair Use Guidelines for Video Remixes will inform the curriculum and media production process throughout FURI.
At its heart, FURI addresses the urgent need to educate young digital creators about the history and intent of copyright law, the differences between piracy and fair use and how best practices in remix culture are, in fact, linked to the exercise of First Amendment rights to free speech and to their own communication rights. In this way, FURI addresses a larger societal imperative that youth be informed about the public policy debates that affect their lives and rights as citizens.
In her recently published study, Civic Life Online: Youth and Digital Democracy, Kathryn Montgomery, Dean of the School of Communications at American University identifies five key policy battles that are currently “relevant to the future of youth democratic communications.” These include: network neutrality, intellectual copyright, equitable access, online safety and community broadband. Montgomery points out that the way in which these policy debates play out will determine how youth today and in generations to come will use digital communication tools for civic involvement. A long-term goal of FURI is to enable youth to better advocate for flexible and fair copyright laws and other public policy positions based on their own experiences as digital content producers within the framework of participatory culture.
Digital Media Literacies
Still, in addition to the public policy debates surrounding remix as a cultural right within the political sphere, there is another critical need that FURI is addressing. This is the need for students to develop digital literacy skills that enable them to create and analyze media in a critical context. Based on years of study, practice and pedagogical evidence, Open Youth Networks strongly believes that a well-developed curriculum that guides youth through the process of creating political remix videos could become one of the most effective media education pedagogical strategies for the 21st century. This is because the process of remix involves the deconstruction and reconstruction of meaning through the manipulation of media languages—which is essentially the cornerstone of media literacy education. Although an increasing number of students are accessing online video remix tools at home, many teachers are unfamiliar with the technology and/or they believe that remix violates copyright. The fair use doctrine clearly covers non-commercial scholarship and educational uses. Yet, teachers need materials, tools kits, examples and curricula that enable them to understand and apply these technologies effectively in a media educational framework.