When is a Remix no longer a Remix?

As many of you may know, I’m a big supporter of Creative Commons and the ideals of open sharing. I publish most of my stuff under a CC licence, usually BY-SA, because I think sharing is important and I believe that the world is a better place if we allow others to build on what we do (in the same way that I often build on the influences of others).

So, a while back I published a couple of things to the OER Commons; a site where teachers can upload and freely share their educational resources with others. The general idea is that if you publish to OER Commons, anyone can take your work and remix it and build upon it to create a version for their own individualised use. For busy teachers who all too often find themselves “reinventing the wheel” in the creation of their own teaching resources, it’s a brilliant concept. You can also attach metadata to the resources you share to make them more searchable, and even map them to the US Common Core standards if you wish. If someone finds your work useful, but wants to make slight changes, the site provides the option to remix the work, connecting the new work with the old work via metadata. Like I said, it’s a brilliant concept.

One of the resources I published to the OER Commons was a worksheet called “What Rights, where?” which aims to be a guide on how to select the appropriate Creative Commons license for a piece of creative work. It links to a Google Doc which suggests a range of scenarios and asks the user to think about which of the CC attributes might be most appropriate for the circumstances.

I got an email the other day informing me that another OER Commons user, Binod Deka, had made a remix of my What Rights, where? worksheet. I was pleased to think that someone liked it and might have found it useful enough to remix it for their own needs. After all, that’s the whole point of OER Commons.

Of course, I was also curious as to what changes he might have made to it, so I took a look at his version to see what was different. You can see his version here. The weird thing is that, from what I can see, it bears absolutely no resemblance to my original. His seems to have just removed 100% of the content that I provided, and he has replaced it with a plagiarised cut and paste of information from the Wikipedia definition of what Rights are. It’s a related idea I suppose, but completely disconnected from my original work.

I suppose it’s one of the risks you take when you share openly, that you have to trust that people building upon your work won’t destroy more than they create. While I’m glad to see my work getting used, I’m not too thrilled about the idea that his work of plagiarism from Wikipedia purports to be a remix of something of mine. I don’t think it was done with malice or any ill-intent, but it’s a bit annoying. It’s also a bit ironic that the work that gets credited as the source (mine) gets cited with a remix link, and the work that is actually used in the remix (from Wikipedia) is not cited at all.

I like the term “remix” because it implicitly suggests that the original work should still be somewhat evident in the new work. A remix is not designed to completely mask the original work in the same way that students are taught to hide their original sources lest they risk an accusation of plagiarism. I have no issue with someone remixing my work, but I’m perplexed by the idea of my work not being even remotely evident in the remix.

All of this got me thinking… At what point is a remix no longer a remix? For that matter, when does plagiarism cease to be plagiarism? And how much originality needs to added to an idea of influence before you can legitimately consider it to be a new work?

As always, your thoughts are valued in the comments…

Featured Image: Acrylic Paint from Wikipedia

Pay It Forward

tl;dr… just click here and do the right thing.

I’ve done it. You’ve probably done it too.  You’re making some kind of digital product and you needed a digital asset of some sort to use with it. Maybe you were putting together a short video and needed some music for the soundtrack, or maybe you were working on some kind of poster and needed an image to include on it. Fortunately, we live in a world where we have access to amazing digital tools that make it easy to create, as long as you have some raw materials to work with.

While it’s technically quite simple to just find what you want online and use it, there are some ethical (and legal) questions about just taking anything you find on the web and using it as your raw material. Unless you have permission to use those resources you really shouldn’t use them. It’s effectively stealing.

Thankfully, that’s where Creative Commons comes in. Creative Commons provides a legal and ethical solution to this problem by allowing creators to licence their work using a simple and flexible set of permissions so that when others want to use or remix their work, those permissions and conditions are clearly stated up front. It’s a very good system, and the best attempt at copyright reform that we’ve seen succeed so far. I’m a huge fan of Creative Commons, and could not have produced most of the stuff I make without it. It’s also one of the reasons I publish most of what I make with a Creative Commons licence as well, so others can take, use and remix. It’s just good karma.

So, have YOU ever used Creative Commons material? Have you ever gone to Flickr or Jamendo or Wikimedia Commons or CC Mixter or Soundcloud or YouTube, or any of the many other sites that allow creators to provide their content freely for you to use?

I’ll bet you have. So here’s your chance to show your appreciation for what Creative Commons provides for you. The Creative Commons people are raising funds to produce an ebook about open business models. I want to encourage you to head over there right now and back them. For 10 bucks you’ll get a copy of the ebook when it’s released. And of course it’s on Kickstarter so more money gets you more stuff if you want to back them for more.

The book will no doubt be a really interesting read, so please make sure you get a copy. But seriously, even if you don’t need the book, consider it an opportunity to make a donation to Creative Commons as a way of saying thanks for what they’ve done for all of us over the last few years. They are helping keep our culture free and open and shareable.

Update: I just checked and they have just hit their 50k funding goal! That’s awesome news, but is no reason to stop backing them. Go show them that you appreciate what they’ve created for us all.

Header image by Kristina Alexanderson
https://www.flickr.com/photos/kalexanderson/6153035729/in/album-72157627559005689/

The Remix Society

I’ve been talking to a lot of teachers lately about copyright, Creative Commons and how we might deal with the issues that arise when we want to use other peoples’ images and media and remix them into something new and creative. The restrictive thinking of traditional copyright has become an anachronism in the digital age. It just doesn’t serve us well any more.

The example I’ve been citing is the one I heard Larry Lessig mention, and that’s the story of how when land owners were once given title to their land, the title of ownership used to be phrased in language that essentially said they owned not only the parcel of land, but all the ground below it to the center of the earth and all the sky above it to the heavens. It was a nice romantic concept, this idea that you owned not just the surface of the land but the infinite column of space that extended above it.

Well, it was a nice romantic concept until the airplane was invented, that is. As more aircraft started to appear in our skies a number of greedy land owners started to make demands for payment to allow these aircraft to pass through “their” space, which they technically owned. The point is that the original land titles which gave them ownership of this space above their land were drafted in a time when the idea of travelling through the space was unimaginable. It was simply not a problem that anybody envisioned and so the laws were written in a way that did not take account of the possibility. As aircraft took to the skies, the laws had to be changed to allow for it… for to not adapt the old, outdated laws would have completely stifled the development of flight. Put simply, the old laws no longer made sense – the airplane caused a complete rethink of how these laws should work.

It easy to see the parallels with copyright law in the digital age. Many of our copyright laws were written in a time when the implications of the digital age were equally unimaginable. Copyright law is not written with the notion that creative works could be infinitely reproducible and easily mashed together to form new creative works, and that digital convergence allows all media types to be easily brought together and combined, edited and remixed in new ways. Copyright law was written in a time that never imagined that the price and power of computing devices would drop to the point that they could be used to make artwork, create music, edit movies and build media that would have required highly specialised equipment and thousands of dollars only a few short years ago, so that the barrier to entry is such that anyone who wants to create can produce professional looking work with limited resources. Finally, consider that not only has the cost of making media dropped to virtually nothing, but the cost of distribution of that media has also dropped to almost nothing… consider that a creative kid sitting in their bedroom can now use a computer and their own creativity to make a video and distribute it to a global audience of millions at essentially no cost. This is not the world that copyright was written for.

Creativity has always been built on the work of others. Our great artists, musicians and film makers have always stood on the shoulders of the giants that came before them, building on their ideas and extending them into new areas. Very little creative work comes from a foundation of nothing… it nearly always uses, references or extends upon the work of others. Manet influenced Monet, who influenced Renoir, who influenced Gauguin, who influenced Picasso, who influenced Duchamp, and so on. Some of the greatest creative minds in history were great because they built on the ideas of those who came before them, adding to them and creating yet more new ideas because of it.  We have always been a remix society.

I have no idea what the long term answer is to all this but I do know that we need to find one. Creative Commons goes some way towards providing a balance between protecting the intellectual property rights of the creator and allowing some reasonable use of their work for remixing and recreating. It provides some common sense to an area where it often seems to be lacking.

This video is a great example of what can be done when someone wants to be creative with the work of someone else… the song, Again and Again by The Bird and The Bee, is borrowed to provide a soundtrack for an amazing piece of visual work that is creative in it’s own right.  Created with nothing more than a Macintosh computer and an amazing degree of creativity, the video has been viewed nearly a million times on YouTube.