Remix Culture and the Radical Imagining of Alternative Intellectual Property Policies


Session Title:

  • Open Source and Intellectual Property Rights

Presentation Title:

  • Remix Culture and the Radical Imagining of Alternative Intellectual Property Policies




  • This presentation addresses the cultural activism manifest in widespread free culture and open access movements, which engage reproductive practices and technologies in a radical response to cultural  policies that do not adequately acknowledge the enormous importance of sharing and reusing for creative processes. Tracing a shift away from negative opposition to such policies (which had had a tendency to feed the criminalizing rhetoric of dominant intellectual property discourse), my paper shows how contemporary remix and mash up cultures carve out para-legal spaces which challenge the relevance of property-based intellectual property policies by imagining alternatives that invoke concepts of the common and the collective, thereby pointing to a vacuum of functional and relevant cultural policy. Among the examples presented in my discussion will be the challenging of digital rights management technology by media art collectives and sampling musicians, and the critical appropriation of data-mining technologies by contemporary appropriation artists.

    While digital technologies continue to make copying an inevitable component of virtually all of  our interactions with contemporary cultural content, creative expressions that incorporate processes of appropriation and copying continue to face sweeping vilification. At the same time, cultural theorists broadly acknowledge that all art forms that are based in reproductive media have contributed to the emergence of a resistant, critical cultural landscape which upholds open access and sharing as concepts that are universally embedded in humankind’s inherent drive to create and communicate. The different fields in which these values are manifest all explore a democratization of culture that benefits from the reproductive qualities of digital media. In this, insistence on the positive value of copying and sharing always resists the enclosure of creativity and productivity by intellectual property policies that are based on profit-driven models of private property. Yet, over the past few years this resistance has taken on a new quality. Initially, opposition tended to directly target property-based limits to creativity. My paper will trace a shift away from resistance that is based on the diametrical, often anarchical opposition of property-based models. I will discuss how instead, resistant cultural movements that insist on the merits  of sharing and copying are today framed in a positive rhetoric of civil liberties and constitutional as well as human rights.

    As I will show, this approach makes possible a conceptualization of resistance to existing cultural policy that refuses to indirectly confirm the validity of profit-oriented intellectual property regimes (i.e., theft as a challenge to property), but that challenges this assumed validity through the invocation of basic  democratic values such as the freedom of expression, the freedom to receive and impart information and ideas, or the right to privacy, as outline, for example, in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and various national constitutions. A range of examples from the world of contemporary art will show how this pushes existing national and transnational doctrines of fair use and fair dealing to their limits, by  urgently demonstrating the need for policies that honor the inherent value of sharing and collaboration, and by imagining (and performing) viable alternatives to traditional property models.

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