Remix culture

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Remix culture is a society that allows and encourages derivative works by combining or editing existing materials to produce a new product.[1][2] A remix culture would be, by default, permissive of efforts to improve upon, change, integrate, or otherwise remix the work of copyright holders. In his book Remix from 2008, Harvard law professor Lawrence Lessig presents this as a desirable idea. He also created the Creative Commons Licenses which are compatible with a remix culture. The remix culture for cultural works is related and inspired by the earlier Free and open source software for software movement, which encourages the reuse and remixing of software works.

Read-Only Culture vs. Read/Write Culture[edit]

The Read Only culture (RO) is the culture consumed more or less passively. The information or product is provided by a 'professional' source, the content industry, that possesses an authority on that particular product/information. Analog technologies (pre-Digital revolution and internet) inherently supported RO culture's business model of production and distribution and limited the role of the consumer to consumption of media.

Digital technology does not have the 'natural' constraints of the analog that preceded it. RO culture had to be recoded in order to compete with the "free" distribution made possible by the Internet. This is primarily done in the form of Digital Rights Management (DRM), which imposes largely arbitrary restrictions on usage. Regardless, DRM has proven largely ineffective in enforcing the constraints of analog media.[3]

As opposed to RO culture, Read/Write culture (RW) has a reciprocal relationship between the producer and the consumer. Taking works, such as songs, and appropriating them in private circles is exemplary of RW culture, which was considered to be the 'popular' culture before the advent of reproduction technologies. The technologies and copyright laws that soon followed, however, changed the dynamics of popular culture. As it became professionalized, people were taught to defer production to the professionals.

Digital technologies provide the tools for reviving RW culture and democratizing production, sometimes referred to as Web 2.0. Blogs explain the three layers of this democratization. Blogs have redefined our relationship to the content industry as they allowed access to non-professional, user-generated content. The 'comments' feature that soon followed provided a space for readers to have a dialogue with the amateur contributors. 'Tagging' of the blogs by users based on the content provided the necessary layer for users to filter the sea of content according to their interest. The third layer added bots that analyzed the relationship between various websites by counting the clicks between them and, thus, organizing a database of preferences. The three layers working together established an ecosystem of reputation that served to guide users through the blogosphere. While there is no doubt many amateur online publications cannot compete with the validity of professional sources, the democratization of digital RW culture and the ecosystem of reputation provides a space for many talented voices to be heard that was not available in the pre-digital RO model.


  • Folklore existed long before any copyright law. All folk tales, folk songs, folk art, folk poetry, etc. was revised constantly through the folk process.
  • According to Ramsay Wood, fables in the Panchatantra are the oldest known example of remix culture.
  • Cooking recipes might be among the oldest knowledge of the mankind which was inherited further and shared unrestricted for adaption and improvement.
  • Graffiti is an example of read/write culture where the participants interact with their surroundings and environment. In much the same way that advertisements decorate walls, graffiti allows the public to choose the images to have displayed on their buildings. By using spray paint, or other mediums, the artists essentially remix and change the wall or other surface to display their twist or critique.
Graffiti in Tehran, Iran
Another example of graffiti in Colorado Springs
  • Public domain software, especially type-in programs of the 1960s and 1970s, was (and to some degree is) software which was shared, edited and improved constantly. As kind of successor the Free and open source software movement can be seen.
  • Sampling in music making is an example of reuse and remix to produce a new work. Sampling is widely popular within hip-hop culture. Grandmaster Flash and Afrika Bambaataa were some of the earliest hip-hop artists to employ the practice of sampling. This practice can also be traced to artists such as Led Zeppelin, who sampled many acts including Willie Dixon, Howlin' Wolf, Jake Holmes, and Spirit [4] By taking a small clip of an existing song, changing different parameters such as pitch, and incorporating it into a new piece, the artist can make it their own.
  • Wikipedia is a further example of remix, where the public is encouraged to add their knowledge. The website essentially allows a user to remix the information presented. called Wikipedia "the world's most exhaustive and up-to-date encyclopedia" because it is edited and produced by such a large pool of people.[5]
  • In film, remixing is often done. Most new movies are adaptations of comics, graphic novels, books, or other forms of media. The majority of other Hollywood cinema works are typically genre films that follow strict generic plots.[6] These forms of movies hardly appear original and creative, but rather rely on adapting material from previous works or genre formulas, which is a form of remix. A prime example is the film Kill Bill which takes many techniques and scene templates from other films (predating all this were The Magnificent Seven, an official remake of The Seven Samurai along with Sergio Leone' s A Fistful Of Dollars).[7] Another important example are Walt Disney works (like Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, Frozen) who are often remixes of older public domain works (although Disney films altered from their original sources).[8][9] Some journalist report that Disney tolerates remixes of fans (Fan art) easier than in former times.[10]

Remixing as Internet / digital age phenomena[edit]

While remixing was always a part of the human culture, the arrival of the Internet in all domains of art, technology and society created a highly effective way to implement "remix culture". This accelearted with the Web 2.0 and more user-generated content. Remixes of songs, videos, and photos are easily distributed. There is a constant revision to what is being created, which is done on both a professional and amateur scale. The availability of various end-user oriented software such as GarageBand and Adobe Photoshop make it easy to remix. The Internet allows distribution of remixes to the masses.


Under current copyright laws, anyone with the intent to remix an existing work is liable for lawsuit because copyright laws protect the intellectual property of the work. However, current copyright laws are proving to be ineffective at preventing sampling (as well as other forms of piracy) of intellectual property[11] Lessig argues that there needs to be a change in the current state of copyright laws to legalize remix culture. He states that "outdated copyright laws have turned our children into criminals."[12] One proposition is to adopt the system of citation used with book references. The artist would cite the intellectual property they sampled which would give the original creator the credit, as is common with literature references.

Other (copyright) scholars, such as Yochai Benkler and Erez Reuveni,[13] promulgate ideas that are closely related to remix culture already earlier in 2007. Some scholars argue that the academic and legal institutions must change with the culture towards remix based.[14]

Reception and impact[edit]

According to Kirby Ferguson in 2011 and his popular TED talk series,[15] everything is a remix, and that all original material builds off of and remixes previously existing material.[16] He argues if all intellectual property is influenced by other pieces of work, copyright laws would be unnecessary. Critics like UC Davis professor Thomas W. Joo criticized remix culture for romanticizing free culture.[17]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Remixing Culture And Why The Art Of The Mash-Up Matters on Crunch Network by Ben Murray (Mar 22, 2015)
  2. ^ Ferguson, Kirby. "Everything Is A Remix". Retrieved 2011-05-01. 
  3. ^ A New Deal for Copyright on Locus Magazine by Cory Doctorow (2015)
  4. ^ Ferguson, Kirby. "Everything's A Remix". Retrieved 2011-05-01. 
  5. ^ "Kindle 3G Wireless Reading Device". 
  6. ^ Ferguson, Kirby. "Everything's A Remix Part 2". Everything's A Remix. 
  7. ^ Ferguson, Kirby. "Kill Bill Extended Look". Everything's A Remix. 
  8. ^ 50 Disney Movies Based On The Public Domain on (2014)
  9. ^ How Mickey Mouse Evades the Public Domain on (Jan 7, 2016)
  10. ^ How Disney learned to stop worrying and love copyright infringement on by Andrew Leonard (2014)
  11. ^ Johnsen, Andres. "Good Copy, Bad Copy". Retrieved 2011-04-14. 
  12. ^ Colbert, Steven. "The Colbert Report- Lawrence Lessig". The Colbert Report. Retrieved 2011-04-25. 
  13. ^ Erez Reuveni, "Authorship in the Age of the Conducer", Social Science Research Network, January 2007
  14. ^ Selber, Stuart (December 2007). "Plagiarism, Originality, Assemblage". Computers & Composition 24 (4): 375–403. doi:10.1016/j.compcom.2007.08.003. 
  15. ^ THOUGHTS ON REMIX CULTURE, COPYRIGHT, AND CREATIVITY by Melanie Picard (August 6, 2013)
  16. ^ Ferguson, Kirby. "Everything's A Remix". Everything Is A Remix Part 1. Retrieved 2011-05-02. 
  17. ^

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