«Principal Editor Professor Brian Fitzgerald Head of School of Law, Queensland University of Technology, Australia With the assistance of Jessica ...»
Writing is allowed in our culture where writing is understood to be the writing we engage in through texts. This is second nature to us, we do not even notice it. We forget that for hundreds of years people had to fight for the right to write and publish what they thought. They had to fight for that right against monopolist publishers, controlled by the Crown. They had to fight for the freedom which we take for granted to use words and express and change our culture.
It is second nature to us to compare texts as a way to find contradictions, to contrast texts as way to understand differences. It is at the core of what education is, to imagine literacy in the sense of teaching children to remix texts as a way to understand what they, the children, mean. We think creative writing is to go in and take the words of Hemingway and mix them with the words of Shakespeare as a way to express something, both about the child that does that mixing and about the cultures he or she is remixing, to understand and to know. Knowledge requires this freedom to engage in this practice of remixing and this practice of remixing we know so far is text. This is the world we have inherited. It is a world filled with a tradition of freedom that we must pass down to our children, because here is the critical point: this technology, by which we remix our culture, is changing.
The means by which we express ideas differently is changing. The ordinary ways in which we engage in this practice of re-expressing and understanding our culture is changing. There is a radical change in technology which will radically change what it means to remix our culture.
Again, those of us over the age of 35 cannot begin to recognise what this means. We need to see it to get a glimpse of some of what this might be so let me take some examples here. In the context of music, the Beatles created this amazing album The White Album, which of course inspired Jay-Z to create this album, The Black Album, which then in the expression of what remix is today, inspired this guy, DJ Danger Mouse, to create The Grey Album, which synthesises tracks from The White Album and The Black Album together to produce something different. Or in the context of film, in 2004 at Cannes Tarnation by Jonathan Caouette, an extraordinary film, was said to be one of the best in its category, a film made for US$218.
The most expensive item in this film was a set of wings that the kid had to buy for a particular scene. He made this film by taking video from his life and remixing it together at a level that could be qualified as one of the best films at Cannes. Most importantly for us in the future is going to be mixing in the context of politics. It is here where these techniques become the core of how a wider range of people communicate.
This is digital creativity; this is digital remix; this is what it can be.
Changing the ordinary ways in which we express our ideas and criticise and praise the ideas of others. Changing what it means to write. This is how writing will happen. It is how writing happens for our children right now.
This is what the technology of ordinary ways will be, changing the way we remix culture, changing the creative potential of that culture, changing the democratic potential of that culture, changing the freedom to speak, by transforming the power to speak – making it different. Not any more just broadcast democracy but increasingly a bottom-up democracy, not just The New York Times democracy but increasingly blog democracy, not just the few speaking to the many but increasingly peer to peer. This is what this architecture invites. It is in its nature to open up the opportunity to speak and criticise and transform to anybody connected to this digital network.
This is the potential of this network, the potential.
We have got to begin to imagine that potential in the same way we understand text today. We need to imagine what a world would be like where people could engage with these objects in as freely a way as we engage with text today. Imagine it spread; imagine it as second nature. See it in the way our kids experience technology today.
There is a wonderful program that is going on in Dog Kennel Hill School in Britain, a school for children, not for dogs. They have a project called The Living Image Project in which these artists are participating. Their objective is to understand how the youngest of our children understand the act of creativity, by giving them the tools of creativity – all the way from crayons to the most powerful computers – and watching what they do with these tools. Ellen, age 5, drew two pictures. She did not like the colours on her first picture, so she remixed the colours on the second picture, and then she took the two together and began to produce what she understood creativity to be – the remixing of these different media into one form of expression. Or in this example, Tom, age 7, took a photograph of his bedroom, then drew a picture of a ‘happy story’. He then added to the photo every child he knew and then changed the colours to make it a happy picture. Or Lewis, age 10, who comes from a kind of dark place where his picture of his neighbourhood is pretty dark. They were a little bit worried when he first produced this really dark expression of life, but then he finished it with a more positive final expression. The point is, for them, remixing images and sounds through technology is as natural as it is for us using words, where we take a clever spin on someone else’s phrasing;
that’s what creativity is for us. For them, it is taking the culture that is around them and re-expressing it through these technologies. This is the difference between us and them.
We have just ended 80 years of a kind of Soviet culture, where culture is broadcast to us and this is our experience of it. We consume it. Made somewhere else, and we passively consume it. For them, culture is something different. For us the good in culture is – more channels. For them it is an active process of remaking and remixing culture, that is what they do with technology. The potential here for them is enormous. The potential for them to be able to argue and understand using this technology is enormous.
The potential progress for our culture is enormous as this power is exploded and given to them and they learn to use it. We need to begin to extrapolate from what we have seen to what could be. Imagine a graph of progress where we start at the very bottom corner with the embarrassingly crude technologies of power point. That is the beginning of the cut and paste culture. Business people are so excited, they go to the net, they download pictures and they put them up with thousands of words on their screen and that is what creativity is for them. It is just the beginning.
We can then imagine the next stage, kind of the iMovie picture, where people take images of their kids and they make them into movies and synchronise them with Star Wars episodes. I have a wonderful friend doing a project where he is doing little home movies and he is putting Spiderman clips into them, or clips from major movie studios, and he is writing to the studios and asking permission for these clips and saying, “I am just going to show it in my own home, just to my family, that’s what I want to do and can I have permission to do this” and, of course, he is getting these brilliant letters back from the studios, “no, I am sorry we cannot give you permission to take 3 seconds of Spiderman and mix it in. It would be impossible for us, consistent with intellectual property law, to give you that permission”.
Imagine a wider range of people engaged in the ability to make what Read My Lips 34 does all the time. This is the point. We cannot begin to see what our world would look like if this literacy were to explode beyond the tiny, Read My Lips is a series of independent films lip-synced by Johan Söderberg and featuring some of the most hated and loved people in history to some of the most hated and loved songs of all times, including the Bush-Blair love duet. Available at http://www.atmo.se at 28 August 2006.
little ineffective corner of literacy that text is today. To the literate that is what we understand culture to be. We academics think text is the king, but it is irrelevant. Text is irrelevant. For 95 percent of the world, they cannot begin to understand what text is supposed to do. We engage in careful, elaborate arguments using text, however, it goes completely over some people’s heads, because people experience culture differently. It is not that they are inferior in the way they experience culture, it is that the culture they know is a culture through these other forms of expression. We speak Latin, they speak a language that is embedded in their culture and we ought to build a world where they are free to use it. Imagine this cut and paste culture, imagine this world where that power is spread broadly, where that is ordinary, where the ability to engage in this form of speech is widespread and our culture is facile with it – not in the sense that some of these examples are facile, but in the sense that people are really good at it.
Imagine that future.
Here is the problem with imagining that future. Right now, those activities, those forms of expression, those kinds of creativity, are all basically illegal.
It is illegal to engage in that kind of creativity. These new uses of technology are illegal under the laws as they exist right now. The Read My Lips remix is illegal because of an explosion in the scope of law and in the reach of law, which together entail a simple rule. To engage in this act of creativity you need permission first. Permission is not coming. For example, DJ Danger Mouse knew the Beatles never give permission to do anything with their music. Jonathan Caouette makes a film for $218;
Cannes says it is a brilliant film; he then wants to distribute it internationally; he calls the lawyers; the lawyers tell him it will cost $400,000 to clear the background music in the video clips that he made as a kid - $400,000!
A favourite example of mine is the Bush-Blair Love Duet remix from Read My Lips. I want you to understand just how weird lawyers can be. I do not care what you think of Tony Blair or George Bush. I do not care what you think about the war – I have a good idea but I do not care – the one thing you cannot say about that remix is what the lawyers said when they sought permission to synchronise that music of Lionel Ritchie with those images.
You need permission to do the synchronisation and distribute it. When they sought permission, the lawyers said “no, we will not give you permission”.
Why? “It is not funny”.
The question we have to ask is: why are we in this world where on the one hand technology is giving us all this amazing power and on the other hand, the law is taking it away. We need – we, meaning those of us on the free culture side of this debate – to be a little bit more honest about why we are here. We are here in this awful place because the very same technology that enables this powerful remix is a technology that enables something called piracy. The same technology does both. And, surprise, surprise, technology does good and it also does bad. This piracy has induced the only response that we in America seem to have to social or political problems – a war. A war which my friend Jack Valenti calls ‘his own terrorist war’ where apparently the terrorists are our children. This is the war that we are waging and we are developing. As we always do in the United States, amazing new weapons to fight this war – powerful law, which we then enforce in the United States and force other nations to adopt, not through international bodies alone but through bi-lateral trade negotiations. You want to get access to our country’s markets? You have to adopt our extraordinarily extreme intellectual property protections. In fact, we force developing nations, like China, to adopt intellectual property regimes that are more restrictive than the ones we live under today.
We have these amazing new laws and technology to fight this war. We aim to protect copyrighted work, but the consequence is that we kill this potential for remix; for with the very same weapons that will wipe out the pirates, we will wipe out the opportunity to engage in this cultural practice of speaking.
I want to be clear about something, intellectual property is good. I am in favour of it. Why are we pro-IP? Copyright is essential to the creative process. I am wildly on the side of pro-IP, and piracy is bad. Is that clear?
IP is good; piracy is bad. But here is that really innovative suggestion: so too is war bad. Right? War is awful because war has consequences both unintended and intended, and the consequences of this war are extraordinarily profound. They will destroy the potential for this type of literacy to spread through our culture. They are doing it today by rendering this activity illegal and by doing this we say to our kids, “you are criminals when you engage in this behaviour”. We raise a generation who thinks their activity is criminal. But what do kids do when they are told they are criminals? They think, “Oh cool. I’m a criminal”. This is a deeply corrosive consequence from this war. Of course, the industry thinks the way to solve this problem is just to wage an ever more effective war against our children. “We will pacify the enemy”, they say. We have heard this before, right? Literally those words we have heard before ‘pacify the enemy’. We take time (we in the United States), to learn that war is a prohibition and wars such as the wars we waged in SE Asia are not wars that will be won through pacifying the enemy. These children, these criminals, these quote ‘terrorists’, will learn something different about democracy if they think that activities that seem to them to be totally obvious and totally creative and totally productive, are called, by the great Soviet, ‘criminal’.