Can a Game Help Low-Income Youth Get into College?: An Interview with Colleagology Games (Part Two)

Mission: Admission represents an attempt to translate your earlier game into Facebook. What differs between the two versions? What has social media allowed you to do which you couldn’t do before?


TF: Mission: Admission is a Facebook adaptation of Application Crunch. Like the card game, it is about the application process. In the game, you take on a character that is applying to college. That character has a family financial background and an aspiration about what they want to be in life. The game takes place over a real world week, driven by a set of deadlines that are similar to those in the card game: applications for colleges, scholarships, FAFSA, etc.

Because it is a digital game, we can bring the game to life a bit more in this format. So, the game takes place in a school where activities that you can engage with are found in the various areas: the library, the counseling office, the fine arts studio, the gym, the tech lab, the writing lab, etc.

When you start out, your school only has a few activities available, so your character doesn’t have as much opportunity as you might like. We meant this to be representative of how many low income students might experience their schools.

As you help your character earn scholarships, get accepted to schools, and more, you earn “pride” for your school, which you can spend upgrading the various areas to include more options for your character. At the end of each week, your character goes off to school, if you were successful in getting them accepted and finding ways to pay for the college of your choice.

You get a new character to help, and your former characters will write you letters home telling you how they are doing in school. Overall, it is a much deeper system in many ways, than the card game, but I think they both have their strengths.


Some may wonder about your decisions regarding the duration of game play on Mission: Admission. Can you explain your rationale for having such a prolonged play experience?

TF: It’s an interesting question—especially when you think of how long people play games like Farmville. In truth, I think the real difference is that we have made a game with a fixed time cycle, rather than the kind of open-endedness that most Facebook games employee. This was dictated somewhat by our subject matter: the college application process has a fixed duration and then you go or you don’t go to college.

We could have chosen to make a shorter game, of course, like a casual game that took, like 10-20 minutes to play through the application process. If we had done this, however, we would have lost what we thought of as a key learning: that you need to keep these deadlines in mind while you’re going on with the rest of life.

When you play the Facebook game, you can only make so many moves per session before you use all your energy. Then, you need to wait and remember to come back to finish your applications.

You also need to plan ahead. For example, many applications require letters of recommendation. These take time so you need to request them at least 12 hours before an application is due—time in the game is abstracted, as is money. You might have everything you need to apply to a full ride scholarship that will let you go to the college of your dreams, but if you don’t get that last letter of recommendation in on time, all your plans will dissipate. That is a pretty important lesson to learn!

ZBC: It’s one thing to teach students information about college, it’s another thing to teach them strategies. The weeklong play session exposes first generation students to valuable “life” lessons.

Chances are that college-educated parents who are familiar with the complexity of college applications will nudge their child to ask for letters of recommendation early, participate in an extracurricular or volunteer activity, or make sure to stay on top of deadlines. Many low-income students do not have that kind of targeted support at home or in their schools. Mission: Admission’s weeklong play time cultivates in college-related cultural capital.

What can you tell us about the balance between competition and collaboration in terms of the ways high school students engage with your games?


TF: The games are really about competing with the system and not directly with each other. Of course, there is competition—sometimes fierce—to be accepted at the more selective colleges, or for scholarships, but we find there is a lot of collaboration between players as well.

Both Application Crunch and Mission: Admission have an “ask a question” feature which rewards both the person who asks the question and the person who answers it best. These questions tend to create an atmosphere of safe discussion around college topics, where students can share what they know, or what they’ve learned from playing.

Also, as I’ve already noted, students like to share their strategies for play. We see that those who’ve played before like to teach new players the ropes. This confidence in their own understanding of the process is a real win for us, and seeing them share this understanding with fellow students in a kind of peer mentoring is really exciting.


What aspects of the game do they seem to bring with them back to their real world educational experiences?


TF: The things we see them bringing to their second plays are vocabulary (FAFSA, letters of recommendation, etc.) and strategy (safety schools, time management, meeting deadlines, etc.). Also, they bring a heightened sense of efficacy back, as found by our research team.

The project is too early on to see how strongly this transfers to their real world application processes, but we would love to be able to follow our current test group to see how that plays out.


ZBC: Many times we meet with students who are invested in going to college but don’t know what questions to ask adults who could serve in an advisory capacity. The games often act as a catalyst for generating conversation among students and adults. While students are playing, they frequently ask questions with real-life applications to the teacher or advisor in the room.


You are now turning your attention to developing a game for middle school students. What different kinds of goals and expectations are informing this project? What do elementary school students need to know about college?


TF: The middle school game is a very different kind of game. First, it is not directly about college or the application process. Instead, it focuses on the “adventure” of middle school, a place filled with monsters created by fears and doubts. In this game, it is the development of your interests into passions and skills that give you the power to defeat those monsters and make your way through middle school.

As with the high school games, we worked with a “junior design team” of local middle school students to create the game. The designers spent a lot of time teasing out what kinds of understanding—or misunderstandings—the students had about college and careers. As it turned out, they had almost no idea about what college is, how you get there, and what it might have to do with your future career.

We didn’t want to make a game explaining all of that, but we did want kids to feel like the choices they make now, in middle school, will affect the opportunities they have as they move into high school, college and career. The best weapons they can have in their journey are their own passions and skills. So, we created a game where those passions and skills turn into powers that help them fight through the demons of middle school.

Along the way, they are scaffolded in other ways: making friends who have high ambitions, starting and participating in clubs about their interests, seeking out mentors and other “soft skills” that may help them along the way. In the end, it is really a game about exploring and keeping your options open.


What did you gain by developing these games in the context of a major research university as opposed to through a commercial game or ed-tech company?


TF: The partnership between the Game Innovation Lab and The Pullias Center for Higher Education is a critical part of how these games are being developed. The fact that we’ve had access to our target players from day one is invaluable, as is the insight into the concerns of teachers and counselors.

The research we’re doing to evaluate these games is something that would never have happened if we had developed them in a commercial setting. I also believe that the opportunity to develop the kind of deep systemic mapping between the real world “mechanics” of the application process and the game mechanics would not have happened in another setting.

These games are built to allow players to develop the kind of strategies they can transfer to the real world. A player who walks away thinking: “I really should take pre-algebra in middle school,” or “I should remember to turn in my FAFSA,” are taking away something real from playing these games.


ZBC: Besides working with students as an integral part of the design and playtesting process, we also work closely with teachers, counselors and practitioners to learn from them how to best implement the games and to gather and verify ideas for content.


As a researcher with the Pullias Center for Higher Education, Dr. Zoe Corwin has conducted research on college preparation programs and access to financial aid for underserved students, college pathways for foster youth, and the role of social media and games on postsecondary access and completion.  She is co-editor of Preparing for College: Nine elements of effective outreach with SUNY Press and in addition to academic articles, has published several monographs designed for practitioners outlining effective college preparation strategies.  Dr. Corwin is currently involved with the Collegeology Games project, collaborating with game designers to capitalize on game-based strategies and social media to engage students in college preparation, college application and financial aid processes.

Tracy Fullerton, M.F.A., is an experimental game designer, professor and director of the Game Innovation Lab at the USC School of Cinematic Arts where she holds the Electronic Arts Endowed Chair in Interactive Entertainment.  The USC Game Innovation Lab is a design research center that has produced several of the most influential projects to be released in the emerging field of independent games, including games like Cloud, flOw, Darfur is Dying, The Misadventures of P.B. Winterbottom, and The Night Journey — a collaboration with media artist Bill Viola.  Tracy is also the author of “Game Design Workshop: A Playcentric Approach to Creating Innovative Games,” a design textbook in use at game programs worldwide.  Prior to entering academia, she was a professional game designer and entrepreneur making games for companies including Microsoft, Sony, MTV, among many others.


Can a Game Help Low-Income Youth Get into College?: An Interview with Colleagology Games (Part One)

Today, the Collegeology Games project, a collaboration of the USC Rossier School of Education’s Pullias Center for Higher Education and the USC School of Cinematic Arts’ Game Innovation Lab, launched Mission: Admission, a Facebook game designed to help underserved students, often the first in their families to aspire to college, navigate the complicated process of applying for college and financial aid. (Full Disclosure: I am proud to be on the advisory board for the Colleageology Games Project.)  The game’s release comes as the application season opens for many American colleges and universities, including the University of Southern California.
As described in the project’s press release: “The game allows students to virtually experience the demands of the college application process and empowers them with the skills and knowledge they need to apply, get into and pay for college. Students guide their avatars through the process of meeting with college advisors, choosing the types of schools to apply to (including four-year, community and technical colleges), scheduling community service and sports activities, applying for scholarships and financial aid and requesting recommendation letters.”
The game is seen as a crisis intervention: cutbacks in budgets for education mean fewer and fewer high school students have access to college counselors — the average ratio nation-wide stands at 459 students per conselor, and California’s ration is 800 to 1. This shortage most dramatically effects low-income students who are more likely to be the first in their family to attend an institution of higher learning and thus lack the social capital in their immediate surroundings to help them make up for lack of help through their schools. By contrast, middle and upper-class parents are spending more and more money, helping their sons and daughters through SAT prep classes or getting special coaching to increase their chances of getting into the school of their choice.

Colleageology Games knows that games, in and of themselves, can not make up for these gross inequalities of access to information and mentorship, but the group does believe that spending time with the game can expose young players to core vocabulary and processes, help them think through issues of time management, and otherwise, get some of the foundations of the application process. They have found that those students who play the game more than once get a chance to improve on their performance and further rehearse these skills.


In honor of the game’s launch, I asked Tracy Fullerton from USC’s Game Innovation Lab and Zoe Corwin from the Pullias Center for Higher Education to talk about some of the research which went into this project.


Can you tell us something about the problems confronting low-income Americans as they think about preparing to apply for college? Have those issues grown better or worse in recent years? Why?


ZBC: Apart from an uneven playing field in the caliber of academic instruction afforded to students across schools, perhaps the most glaring problem in public high school education is access to high quality college guidance and support. The private college counseling industry – where parents pay top dollar for professionals to guide their children through the college application process – is a multi-million dollar industry. Students who can afford private college counseling services often attend schools with dedicated college counseling services and teachers who promote college readiness. Students from low-income communities are much more likely to attend schools with exorbitant guidance counselor ratios and limited college counseling resources.

This year, many of the low-income schools we work with in Los Angeles have had to cut college counseling positions due to budget cuts. As a consequence, low-income students with college aspirations are slipping through the cracks because they do not have anyone to assist them in filling out college and financial aid applications.

Bottom line: they don’t apply or they do apply but fail to fill out financial aid documents and housing applications and don’t enroll. College counselors serve as critical on-site champions for encouraging college aspirations and providing college-related support to students AND teacher advocates.


Why do you believe that games might provide an effect channel to help young people develop a deeper understand of the processes surrounding college application and financing?


TF: Games provide a safe space for exploring difficult to navigate systems – and the college application process is certainly a difficult to navigate system, especially the first time around, and given the importance of decisions made during this process it seems clear that giving students a way to gain experience with this system without having the weight of real world consequences on them can help them develop confidence and understanding of the strategies they’ll need to employ when they go through the process for real.


Tell us something about the process you use in developing these games. How have you sought feedback from the young people who will ultimately be most impacted by your project? What did you learn through this process about their understanding of college readiness? Do low income youth see college as a game they have any realistic chance of winning?


TF: In developing all of our games we reach out to players in our target group to help develop the game concepts and make sure they are addressing not only the needs of that group but also the sensibilities. For Application Crunch and Mission: Admission, this group consisted of high school students.

For both games, we created “junior design teams” – groups of about 15 students drawn from local high schools, who fit our target demographic. The students came to the Game Innovation Lab after school to learn about game design, and we learned about their hopes and concerns surrounding the college going process. We asked them to design games about the college application process and from those games, took away the kinds things that they want and need to understand about the process.

Some of the key things we learned from them is that they are concerned about time management – knowing where best to put their efforts in school. Also, they have fears about being able to afford college and a very limited understanding of their financial options.

Just making kids understand how important it is to fill out the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) is a key victory. It is one of the opportunities that is in both games, and we find that after playing once, the kids remind each other when they play again: “don’t forget to turn in your FAFSA!”


Your first game, Application Crunch, was a card game. Can you tell us something about the game’s mechanics and what it teaches its players?


TF: The first game was originally intended as a prototype for the digital game. We found that it played very well on its own, and that it served as an excellent intervention in places where computer access might be an issue. So, we developed the card game as a stand-alone product that is now available on Amazon and though our website.

The game is for 3-4 players who each take on the role of a college applicant. These roles are drawn randomly and range from the “Super Jock” to the “Misunderstood Artist.” Each character also has a family financial background that will affect their ability to pay for college.

The game centers on a set of deadlines that advance each round; these deadlines are for various colleges, scholarships and other opportunities. Players need to manage their time (in the form of actions) wisely to make sure their characters have “leveled up” in academics, extracurricular activities, and service to stand out when they apply to these deadlines.

The cards all have a kind of snarky tone to them that we picked up from the student design team. They know that this is serious information, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have fun with it.

One of the best features of this version of the game is the social play. Students tend to help each other with their strategies as they play, and even though there is a “winner” in the end, everyone who gets into school and can pay for it feels like they succeeded in the game. That kind of open discussion about how best to focus your time, to develop your character, it is a thinly veiled discussion about real world issues that the players are facing as they look to apply to college themselves.


You’ve found that students learn more when they play the game a second time. Why?


TF: If you think about your own experience in life, you probably look back and wish you’d done things a bit differently when you applied to college. Well, playing Application Crunch a second time is a lot like that. You take your learning from the first play through and apply it to the second.

In a sense, this is the entire point of developing a game like this: so that “playing” the admissions game the first time around in real life isn’t your first experience with it.

We find that the players come to their second game with confidence, a sense of what to expect in the deadlines they will face, the knowledge that things like FAFSA are out there, along with scholarships and other forms of financial aid. They know that they can set high aspirations for their characters—as long as they have safety schools. They understand the value of focusing deeply on one or two activities in school rather than spreading themselves thin, etc. In short, they feel a sense of ownership in their strategies about the application process. That knowledge and confidence raises their sense of efficacy around the real world process as well.


ZBC: When observing students play, I’ve been struck by their concentration when learning the rules the first time they play.  They tend to collaborate throughout the whole play session and remain engaged for the duration of game play.

The second time they play I’ve noticed a trend. Usually they haven’t seen the game for a few weeks and when they enter the room, they voice enthusiasm about getting to play again. Then they start with upbeat banter: “I’m going to get into a Liberal Arts college this time!” Almost immediately they deal the cards and set up the game table.

Second time play is faster, more animated and a bit more competitive. After playing, students can articulate how their strategy changed from the first time and what they plan to do differently the next time they play.


As a researcher with the Pullias Center for Higher Education, Dr. Zoe Corwin has conducted research on college preparation programs and access to financial aid for underserved students, college pathways for foster youth, and the role of social media and games on postsecondary access and completion.  She is co-editor of Preparing for College: Nine elements of effective outreach with SUNY Press and in addition to academic articles, has published several monographs designed for practitioners outlining effective college preparation strategies.  Dr. Corwin is currently involved with the Collegeology Games project, collaborating with game designers to capitalize on game-based strategies and social media to engage students in college preparation, college application and financial aid processes.

Tracy Fullerton, M.F.A., is an experimental game designer, professor and director of the Game Innovation Lab at the USC School of Cinematic Arts where she holds the Electronic Arts Endowed Chair in Interactive Entertainment.  The USC Game Innovation Lab is a design research center that has produced several of the most influential projects to be released in the emerging field of independent games, including games like Cloud, flOw, Darfur is Dying, The Misadventures of P.B. Winterbottom, and The Night Journey — a collaboration with media artist Bill Viola.  Tracy is also the author of “Game Design Workshop: A Playcentric Approach to Creating Innovative Games,” a design textbook in use at game programs worldwide.  Prior to entering academia, she was a professional game designer and entrepreneur making games for companies including Microsoft, Sony, MTV, among many others.

Derrais Carter and Nicholas Yanes Talk About “Iconic Obama” (Part Two)

Today, we continue our exploration of “Iconic Obama” and the current president’s unique relationship to popular culture. Inspired by this interview, I thought I would share a few more recent representations of Obama and the political process which have recently crossed my desk.
The first represents an effective pastiche of a number from the successful Broadway musical, Les Miserables, to convey the participant’s perceptions of the stakes in the current election. (It was shared with me by Virginia Nightingale from New South Wales).

The second, just released today by the Obama campaign, features Girls creator Lena Dunham and is specifically targeted at getting young women to vote (ideally for their candidate).

And the third is a really witty critique of the “town hall” debate created by Ze Frank, himself an icon of the video blog world.

Now, back to the regularly scheduled interview.


The 2012 campaign has been much more centered around traditional news coverage and political advertising than on references in popular culture or imaginative use of new media platforms. What factors do you think have contributed to this much more conservative approach to selling Obama during this election cycle?


            Yanes:  I think one reason why this news cycle is centered around traditional news coverage is that both President Obama and Gov. Romney have executive records.  In 2008, both presidential-nominees Obama and McCain were Senators with legislative records, but no real political leadership roles for media outlets to form a narrative about their leadership qualities.

For the 2012 Election, however, President Obama has over three years in the White House and presidential-nominee Romney not only has governing in his background, he also has his time with Bain Capital.  To me, this means that news outlets have actual leadership histories on both men that they can draw from to craft narratives about the current state of politics.

More importantly, I think a main reason why this campaign has been so anchored to traditional news coverage is that neither candidate is particularly interesting.  The excitement surrounding President Obama because of his “newness” has largely faded.  And when compared to the headline grabbing individuals that ran for the Republican presidential nomination, Romney not only seems like the one with the best chance of winning, he came off as rather unexciting.  In other words, neither Obama nor Romney in 2012 made for the compelling pop culture fodder that was generated in the 2008 election.


As your contributors note, Obama proved to be a particularly popular figure in contemporary comic books. Why do you think Obama was so persistently incorporated into comics and what impact, if any, did these comics play in helping to define our understanding of Obama?


Yanes:  I observed this about Obama when he was a presidential nominee.  When I asked comic book creator, Larry Hama, about this, he stated “It’s probably about who the majority of current comics creators are.  Rich old conservative white males don’t generally want to make comic books.  I’m not any of those things, except old—but I guess I still think of myself in my head as a kid….At the time of his election, Obama was generating the kind of excitement I had only ever witnessed before in regards to JFK.” (The Iconic Obama, 128 – 129)

Additionally, I also felt that he had three other characteristics that made it easy to insert him into a comic book. One, he was in shape.  Comic books typically feature heroic men with a low body fat percentage, and President Obama easily fits into narratives filled with action heroes.

Two, Obama is also a geek.  It was known that he collected Spider-Man and Conan the Barbarian comic books as a child, and given his love technology, he’d probably have been an avid gamer if he was raised in the 90s.  So it makes sense that fellow geeks (or nerds depending on which term you prefer) who create comic books, would think its cool to include him in their narratives.

Third, given that longtime comic book fans still feel as though they have been largely marginalized by what they consider to be “the mainstream” (i.e., anyone who doesn’t read comic books), having a popular political figure who was a fan of comic books was simply too good of an opportunity to make money for comic book publishers to pass up.  So while President Obama himself may have enjoyed reading some of these comics, and many comic book fans did enjoy seeing a candidate they supported in their favorite medium, the reality that publishers made a lot of money by simply including Obama in their books as a marketing stunt can’t be forgotten.  (Robert G Weiner and Shelley E. Barba Obama specifically engage in an aspect of this topic in their essay “Spider-Man: A Meta-Data Media Analysis of an Unlikely Pairing” which is also in this book collection.)


It might be interesting to think about two highly iconic representations of Obama: on the one hand, the Shepard Fairey Hope poster, and on the other, the Joker/Obama iconography associated with the Tea Party. What do these two examples tell us about the opportunities and risks that arise when a candidate or their agenda gets translated into popular iconography?


Yanes: The one thing I find interesting about the Joker-Obama image is that it wasn’t created out of malice.  The origin narrative that I have always known about this image was that college student named, Firas Alkhateeb, created this image to try out a technique he learned in a class and…out of boredom.  Alkhateeb then posted this image onto Flickr which was then downloaded and had the word “Socialism” added to it.  From then, its popularity skyrocketed in conservative circles.  (The National did an excellent article on the subject that can be found here.)

Overall, these images still highlight the power pictures can have when communicating political messages.  Both Fairey’s and Alkhateeb’s pictures are fairly simplistic.  They both contain about four colors and feature one word at the bottom.  And it’s because of their simplicity that they are so effective.

Reductionist imagery allows creators to communicate a message that is so effective because in the end, it is the audience that projects their meaning onto the image.  The Joker/Obama & the Fairey “Hope” image allows those who support or are against Obama to project their convoluted and simplistic definitions of “Socialism” and “Hope” onto the candidate.


The involvement of pop culture figures, such or for that matter, the “Obama Girl” were closely linked to Obama’s success in motivating young voters to participate in the political process for the first time. What links do you and your contributors draw between the two?


            Yanes: I think one reason why pop culture figures drew the attention of young voters to Obama is because they understood how young people interact with new media.  In my opinion, the main difference in behavior between those who rely on traditional media and those who rely on new media is that new media is constantly being thrown at consumers and is always available to be observed.


For example, if the “Obama Girl” video were to have been played on MTV at first, it would have never generated the attention it received.  That would have required people to sit still long enough to watch MTV and then waiting for the video to show.  Instead, people were able to see their friends post the video on their facebook page, and after seeing more and more friends discuss the video, they were then able to click on a link and watch the video for themselves.  Regardless of what time it was or where they were at, new media allowed these pro-Obama ads to be available to consumers.  This availability is something standard television networks can’t replicate yet.


Additionally, I believe “Obama Girl” and Will.I.Am’s efforts also came off as divorced from explicitly trying to generate money for a private company.  Though “ObamaGirl” clearly generated money for YouTube, and several other companies and people profited from taking advantage of Obama’s popularity, buying these products or watching these videos never seemed like a regular economic transaction.  Instead, buying these products felt like one was trying to build a political movement.  And I should note that I feel that this is true regardless of if someone was buying pro or anti-Obama material.


How might a focus on the study of popular iconography help us to understand the differences in the ways that the dominant media have framed Obama and Romney as candidates in this current election cycle? Why, for example, did the Clint Eastwood strategy fail, while Obama still seems to gain some aura from his ties to hip hop performers?


Carter: Popular iconography is excellent for unpacking the narratives that govern society and inform our political alignments. For this reason, it is hard to say if the Eastwood strategy failed. His Hollywood western, gun-brandishing, type of masculinity (see the background during his speech entrance) clearly represents America through the rose-colored lens of anti-intellectual and oddly nativist nostalgia. His exchange with a fictional Obama also imagines the POTUS as an angry black man. During his interrogation of the invisible Obama, Eastwood implies that Obama wants his to “Shut Up.” Eastwood also remarks “I can’t tell [Romney] to do that. He can’t do that to himself. You’re crazy.” His intimation that Obama wants Romney to “go f**k himself” is highly uncharacteristic of Obama or any president in recent memory for that matter. Eastwood, though is not invested in this reality. Instead relies on dated xenophobic tropes and a good-old-boy rhetoric to align the masses. If we are to say that Eastwood “failed” it is for these reasons. His so-called verbal joust with the POTUS says more about the a sense of entitlement associated with the Republican Party than it does about American social and political progress.

Whereas Eastwood fits within a narrative rooted in the grand old past, when racial and gender exclusion was the order of the day. Obama, conversely, relies on the narratives of progress and prosperity that characterize the youthful zest of his first campaign. One of our contributors, Travis Gosa, notes this in his essay “The Audacity of Dope: Rap Music, Race, and the Obama Presidency.” In many ways, Obama’s campaign plays on the idea that youth, technology, and post-racial narratives are the driving forces of contemporary American progress.This is part why we like to see Jay-Z and Beyonce host a fundraiser for Obama. They are two of the most talented performers of this generation (Jay-Z is linked to the past two generations). Additionally, their business savvy has made them international superstars. That they also make time to be politically involved with the Obama campaign suggests that Obama is worth their time and ours. These narratives  associated with Obama promise a better tomorrow and encourage political engagement facility this change. The reality, though, is that there are no guarantees.


As the closing contributions suggest, the American president exerts an influence on a global scale. How has Obama’s image been taken up outside of the American media sphere?


Yanes:  We were lucky to include three excellent pieces on Obama’s global popularity – Yuya Kiuchi’s essay “Obama for Obama: Barack Obama in Japanese Popular Culture,” Zafer Parlak’s and Tanfer Emin Tunc’s essay “Obama-Mania in Turkey: Popular Culture and the Forty-Fourth President of the United States in a Secular Muslim Nation,” and an interview with French journalist Sébastian Compagnon on France’s news media coverage of the 2008 election.

One of the things I learned from working on with these individuals was just how much other countries are invested in US policies and popular entertainment.  American media like movies, television shows, and music is often hugely popular in other countries.  So given the impact Obama had on US popular culture, it is unsurprising to me that popular entertainment of other nations’ media would become fixated on the multitude of interpretations that could be drawn from the President’s popularity.  What did surprise me were the number of examples I came across in which people used Obama’s election as a means to comment on what they saw as political problems in their own countries.

Though a significant portion of President Obama’s popularity was simply because he was not President George W. Bush, he represented, for lack of a better word, a ‘new-ness’ to American politics.  How much of this ‘new-ness’ was based on Obama’s actual policies and how much of it was based on what people across the globe projected on to him is unknown, but what is significant is that Obama did come off as a global citizen.

An essay for the collection that I co-wrote with Etse Sikanku (who is from Dzita, a village in the Volta region of Ghana), “The Modern E Pluribus Unum Man: How Obama Constructed His American Identity from His Global Background,” discusses how Obama’s international experiences growing up shaped him.  I bring this up because one significant reason why I believe people from across the globe wanted Obama to become the US President was because he came off as more than just an American who was only concerned about the American people, but as a person that could emotionally and intellectually understand how interconnected the world is in the 21st century.


For those interested in buying a copy of The Iconic Obama, they can purchase it from Amazon here or directly from the publisher here.


Derrais Carter is an American Studies doctoral candidate at the University of Iowa. His dissertation examines representations of the New Negro in Washington, D.C. His research interests include gender studies, performance studies, and black popular culture.


Nicholas Yanes is currently an American Studies PhD candidate (ABD) and Dean’s Graduate Research Fellow at the University of Iowa.  His professional and academic interests are Early US History, Contemporary Popular Culture, and the Industries of Popular Entertainment – specifically, comic books, movies & video games.  He freelance writes for, and the Casual Gaming Association’s gaming magazine, Casual Connect, and its industry resource, GameSauce.  He is the co-editor of and contributed to his first book project, The Iconic Obama.  His dissertation will analyze the corporate evolution of EC Comics & MAD Magazine, and he is set to defend it in March 2013.


If this interview has sparked your interest in the relationship between politics and popular culture, let me direct your attention to this panel at the upcoming Futures of Entertainment conference.


4:15 p.m.-6:15 p.m.: From Participatory Culture to Political Participation

Around the world, activists, educators, and nonprofit organizations are discovering new power through their capacity to appropriate, remix, and recirculate elements of popular culture. In some cases, these groups are forging formal partnerships with media producers. In other cases, they are deploying what some have called “cultural acupuncture,” making unauthorized extensions which tap into the public’s interest in entertainment properties to direct their attention  to other social problems. Some of these transmedia campaigns — Occupy, for example — are criticized for not having a unified message, yet it is their capacity to take many forms and to connect together diverse communities which have made these efforts so effective at provoking conversation and inspiring participation. And, as content spreads across cultural borders, these activists and producers are confronting new kinds of critiques —such as the heated debates surrounding the rapid spread of the KONY 2012 video. Are new means of creating and circulating content empowering citizens, creating new forms of engagement, or do they trivialize the political process, resulting in so-called “slactivism”? What are these producers and circulators learning from media companies and marketers, and vice versa? What new kinds of organizations and networks are deploying this tactics to gain the attention of young consumer-citizens? And, for all of us, what do we need to consider as we receive, engage with, and consider sharing content created by these individuals and groups?


Sasha Costanza-Chock, Assistant Professor of Civic Media, MIT

Dorian Electra, performing artist (“I’m in Love with Friedrich Hayek”; “Roll with the Flow”)

Lauren Bird, Creative Media Coordinator, Harry Potter Alliance

Aman Ali, co-creator, 30 Mosques in 30 Days

Bassam Tariq, co-creator, 30 Mosques in 30 Days

Moderator: Sangita Shresthova, Research Director of CivicPaths, University of Southern California

For more information, visit the Futures of Entertainment website.

Derrais Carter and Nicholas Yanes Talk About “Iconic Obama”

The U.S. Presidential Election is now less than two weeks away and counting. All of the major media events that pundits pay attention to — from the conventions through the debates — have already taken place. Ad buys have reached record numbers, thanks to the contributions of a few wealthy Americans. The producers of memes are working overtime to try to keep up with “Mansplaining Ryan,” “Binders of Women,” “Bayonets and Horses,” and “Romneysia” related Tumblr sites. And the race is still so close that few feel safe predicting the outcomes, with the oh so precise polling data spreading “all over the map.”
So what’s left to say? I recently was sent a new book, The Iconic Obama, 2007-2009, which invites us to consider our first impressions of this remarkable candidate, as he made his way from First Time Senator through to becoming the first black president of the United States. From the start, he was closely linked to developments in popular culture and someone whose campaign was aggressively testing the waters in terms of the innovative use of new and emerging technologies. It’s sometimes hard to recall how exciting that Obama campaign has been compared to the largely negative, largely joyless, and largely top-down model which the Obama campaign has adopted this time around. The book explores both how Obama drew on popular culture and new media to frame his campaign and the ways that popular media responded to the energy which surrounded Obama in 2008, especially as it relates to constructions of race in contemporary America.

So, I contacted the two editors of Iconic Obama — Derrais Carter and Nicholas Yanes — to reflect a bit on how the Obama legend was created and how it is being deployed/managed/shelved throughout the current campaign. Along the way, I am sharing some emblematic examples of Obama-related media, which may help inform our discussion. For example, we might compare the “snarky” tone of this 2012 campaign ad attacking Romney with the even more sarcastic advertisement which the McCain campaign released in 2008 attacking Obama:

Or perhaps we might discuss what’s being said about Obama and his constituencies through these two GOP spots, the first released in 2010, the second part of the current campaign:


Your book is called “The Iconic Obama.” How are you defining Iconic? Aren’t all presidents iconic? It’s hard to be more iconic than having your face carved on the side of a mountain or printed on a postage stamp. What makes Obama a particularly or distinctively iconic figure in our culture?


Derrais Carter: Yes. Presidents are iconic in that they represent the United States of America. This is evidence in monuments, postage stamps, libraries, etc. What captured us the most about Obama was the proliferation of representations stretching across mediums and communities throughout the globe.

For me, race was a contributing factor in defining Obama’s iconic status. Foregoing a rehearsal of debates about dominant representations of black people in American media, I will say that we should take seriously what it means to attach and/or detach race from our readings of the American presidency. In the context of the U.S. popular culture, we have seen this in the New Yorker cartoon of Barack and Michelle Obama adorned in “terrorist” garb. Similarly, the infamous “beer summit” following the arrest of Harvard University Professor Henry Louis Gates challenges the way that we think about race and the American presidency by situating us between discourses of race and political leadership.


Nicholas Yanes: While many presidents may have been popular enough to be voted into office, I wouldn’t state that every US president galvanized the public’s imagination in a manner that Obama has.  After all, not every president appears on Mount Rushmore or on US currency.  Yes, Obama and recent presidents did have electronic mass media to broadcast their faces and campaign logos across the country, something that presidents like Taylor, Fillmore, and Pierce didn’t have access to, but there seems to be timelessness quality already forming around Obama’s legacy.  While several of his policies build upon many of Bush’s policies, there is a desire by both his opponents and supporters to frame President Obama as though he has set the United States on a course completely counter to what has been done before.

In addition to being the nation’s first African American President, he also inspired a base in a manner few presidents have done before hand.  While many of his supporters may not be as enthusiastic in the 2012 election as they were in 2008, there is still a large swath of the population that not only supports his policies, but support a presidency that they passionately project on to him.

In many ways, one of the key things that defines Obama as uniquely “Iconic” is not just that he is fairly popular, but that he has created a brand about himself that allows people to see what they want in his work.  It’s a stroke of genius that allowed him to build the campaign juggernaut in 2008 that got him into the White House.


As some of your contributors note, there has been a long history of portrayals in both comedy and drama of what the first black president might look like. How have these popular representations helped to frame our understanding of Obama? To what degree has he had to struggle with popular representations of blackness?


Yanes:  I think the primary representation of blackness that Obama has had to struggle with is not that of portrayals of black presidents, but that of “The Angry Black Man.”  Still present in much of popular media, I’ve always felt that one reason why Obama’s opposition was so dedicated to ridiculing him, even going so far as for one person to call him a liar while he was giving a State of the Union Address, was because many knew that Obama showing anger in public would come back to haunt him.  With movies, television shows and other media frequently depicting black men as unreasonably and physically threatening, and this stereotype clearly cemented into popular imagination, I feel that Obama has been kept from passionately defending his record for fear that he would be seen as “too aggressive.”

In regards to the specific nature of your question, I’d like to turn to Dr. Justin S. Vaughn’s contribution to this collection, “Character-in Chief: Barack Obama and His Pop Culture Predecessors.”  In this essay, Vaughn writes, “Upon consideration of the actual substance of the few portrayals of black presidents in American film and television history, it becomes quite evident that the journalistic trope about how the David Palmers and Tom Becks of Hollywood paved the way for America’s first African American president are not only poorly supported; they are flawed and false.”  Vaughn goes on to conclude by writing “Indeed, a far more plausible statement to make is that Barack Obama became the nation’s forty-fourth president not because of Dennis Haysbert’s portrayal of his fictional predecessor, not to mention those by Chris Rock and Deebo (Tommy Lister), but rather in spite of it. Stated otherwise, the 2008 election was less an example of life imitating art than of it defying the expectations of popular entertainment.” (The Iconic Obama, pg. 60)

Overall, while it is understandably desirable to find evidence of popular culture setting the groundwork for President Obama’s election, there is just little evidence to support that fictional black presidents did much to accomplish this goal.


I would argue that the campaign spot which Samuel R. Jackson recently released in support of Obama might represent one of the most compelling spot to emerge so far from the 2012 campaign. How does this spot play with the “post-racial” framing of Obama in the 2008 election? What aspects of popular culture and blackness does Jackson bring to Obama’s Iconic status?


Yanes:  One thing that I have felt is missing from most discussions of the “Wake the F&*K Up” ad is that was created by the Jewish Council for Education and Research.  This is the same organization that produced the pro-Obama video, “The Great Schlep” featuring Sarah Silverman for the 2008 election; yet the “Wake the F&*K Up” ad is devoid of any specific references to issues specific to the Jewish-American community, and has no explicit references to any religious issues or imagery.  I bring this up because I believe that any discussion of a popular campaign ad should acknowledge those behind its creation.


As to Samuel L. Jackson and the issue of blackness, it’s important to note that since his role in Pulp Fiction, Jackson has crafted a persona of being a tough, direct, no nonsense man that always has an aura of authority.  While these characteristics are clearly in line with the black male protagonists of blaxploitation films, Jackson has not only made these elements his own, he has made them acceptable to mainstream American audiences.

With that said, “How does this spot play with the ‘post-racial’ framing of Obama in the 2008 election?”  I don’t know.  I feel that the notion of the United States being ‘post-racial’ overlooks clear disparities between peoples of different ethnic backgrounds and is often deployed as a means to argue that issues of race and racial prejudices are no longer relevant.  Though I’m light skinned, I am an Hispanic American and I don’t see evidence that the nation has truly moved past issues surrounding race.

As for the ads relationship to popular culture, it does seem more reminiscent of the popular entertainment materials produced in 2008.  Overall, I feel that one of this ad’s main goals is to inspire not just the support President Obama had in 2008, but the fandom his campaign created.


Carter: The ad sadly reinforces the idea that a post-racial America literally resides in a white suburban household and a quick examination of cultural texts referenced in the ads suggest as much. I find Jackson’s role particularly intriguing.


When Adam Mansbach’s book Go the F**k to Sleep came out last year, it became an instant hit. The book’s reputation picked up when Jackson recorded an humorous audio version of it. Nick is right to link Jackson’s success to the “no nonsense” demeanor, but I find it remarkably odd that during the presidential election, there’s an ad that features a black man “magically” appearing in a suburban white home and scaring three generations to get out and vote. The widespread post-racial lore leftover from the 2008 campaign is certainly the driving force.


Also, I get that the message to “Wake the F*ck Up!” is provocative and funny especially coming from Samuel L. Jackson and a child actor, but this isn’t the first time Jackson has told us to “wake up.” Does anybody remember Spike Lee’s film Do the Right Thing (1989)? In it, Jackson plays a radio dj who tells us to “wake up” . Though  This gesture is a recurring practice in Lee’s films.We also see in School Daze (1988).


Lee wants his audience to awaken from the racial slumber that has so greatly affected the nation and communities of color in particular. The ad is intended to wake voters up and propel them to the polls. This can’t be done if there’s too much “race talk.” Even after 4 years of critical commentary on race during the Obama administration, there’s still a need to reach back to 2008 galvanize the same supporters with the same strategies. It’s definitely a step back.




Derrais Carter is an American Studies doctoral candidate at the University of Iowa. His dissertation examines representations of the New Negro in Washington, D.C. His research interests include gender studies, performance studies, and black popular culture.


Nicholas Yanes is currently an American Studies PhD candidate (ABD) and Dean’s Graduate Research Fellow at the University of Iowa.  His professional and academic interests are Early US History, Contemporary Popular Culture, and the Industries of Popular Entertainment – specifically, comic books, movies & video games.  He freelance writes for, and the Casual Gaming Association’s gaming magazine, Casual Connect, and its industry resource, GameSauce.  He is the co-editor of and contributed to his first book project, The Iconic Obama.  His dissertation will analyze the corporate evolution of EC Comics & MAD Magazine, and he is set to defend it in March 2013.


Concerning Intellectual Property: A Conversation Between Pat Aufderheide and Ellen Seiter (Part Five)

The current situation of fan fiction represents an interesting point for thinking about how change may be occurring. The fan community has deployed the concept of “transformative works” to justify their practice through advocacy groups such as the Organization for Transformative Works, where-as the industry seems internally to have decided that they cause more damage to their consumer relations by aggressively shutting down fan fiction so the number of cease-and-desists have slowed down. What do you see as the risks and benefits of these two ways of dealing with the conflicts we are discussing?

Pat: I love the Organization for Transformative Works. These people are heroes/heroines, and they are among the folks who have gone to the Copyright Tribunal to demand (and win!) DMCA exemptions. They made it possible for all makers of noncommercial videos for any reason to break encryption for fair use without penalty. They showcase great work, explore important issues in a scholarly way, and pave the way for others.


OK, where were we? So they are great examples and exemplars in the fan community. The industry response to me also seems very healthy, and an appropriate recognition of the simple fact that fair use exists (and works for the industry, hello Viacom and Colbert Report).

I think asserting rights is good, and recognizing rights is good.

Ellen: The problem with fan production on the internet is that they have encouraged everyone to offer up lots of free labor– whether it’s fan fiction, or Facebook reporting on the last music video you liked, YouTube fan vids or new worlds (just heard about an entire one recreating Game of Thrones) on MindCraft. It’s all very fun and creative, but I am more worried about getting paying work for the next generation, and I don’t see that happening without speaking up for unions and guilds. And authors still need to be able to get a decent payment for published works. In the long term, I think we have to look at how even fan fiction is free publicity, and even if it’s a labor of love, we still want to consider the possibility of getting paid for fan work.

Certainly things are very much in flux on how the big studios and publishers handle these relationships to get the most out of fan word-of-mouth without alienating fans for shutting them down.

Many feel that the category of the “public domain” has been endangered as the terms covered by Copyright have expanded dramatically, yet as a consequence of this expansion, we are dealing with more and more “orphan works,” where there is no one any longer asserting ownership over these materials, yet artists and the public are not legally protected if they wish to reproduce, recirculate, or remix them? See for example some of the issues which Nina Paley has encountered in her use of classic jazz recordings in her film, Sita Sings the Blues. The archive plays an ever more central role in contemporary culture, which critic Simon Reynolds has argued, is entering a moment of “retromania.” What mechanisms might best allow us to address the contradictions between current legal efforts to extend copyright and current cultural trends which encourage artists and audiences alike to build on past works?

Pat: You’re right that archives are central to new creation, always have been, and will increasingly be important to people who never thought about them before, because of the growing capacity for DIY media creation. There’s the orphan works problem; there’s the “greedy generation” problem (private archives run by the descendants of the creators, requiring clearance and even approval of the final product for access); there’s the pricing problem (some archives and media holders don’t have prices acceptable to smaller-scale productions and certainly don’t have any way to deal with noncommercial work; people who want to pay, but can’t pay a lot, often find nobody will get back to them, even to refuse); and there’s the problem of just trying to find out where stuff is and who owns or controls it. And then of course there’s the fact that many social-media materials and digital-only works such as music that only appears on iTunes are disappearing without being archived anywhere.

Of these problems, orphan works was probably the most tractable. Win-win legislation was proposed and had a life before contention among the stakeholders (including photographers who became intransigent for fear someone would make an unlicensed use of a photograph for any purpose) made the deal fall apart. That’s a benchmark. If you can’t fix orphan works in Congress, you probably can’t get any more ambitious than that with that remedy, at this point in time.

Rick Prelinger showed us all a beautiful model in his Prelinger Archive, which is housed within the Internet Archive. He took his entire collection of audio-visual materials, a substantial portion of which is public domain but which he makes available easily, which had been his living for decades, and digitized it all at lower resolution. It’s all available for any noncommercial use you may make of it. (Film students use it every semester.) He sold the actual collection to Getty, which will sell you the material you want to use at market rates and at a high resolution (they return a portion of proceeds to Rick). Rick’s deal is generating more money for him than the previous form of his business did, and now customers do their own shopping and selection of materials without his help.

That’s an example of how you can be a good actor in archival space, while also monetizing your assets. It also depends on the (sometimes quixotic) kindness of strangers, since ‘90s dot-com rich guy and Internet philanthropist Brewster Kahle hosts the material online.

Other archives are struggling to find out how to accommodate the emergent environment’s opportunities without losing their current advantages, and they have not yet come up with something.

So users need to think about what they can do themselves, with material that may not be being offered conveniently to them. If they have independent access to the materials (say, a DVD of a movie or a download of a song), then they can explore fair use. You can see why fair use rises to the top of my list, given the paucity of options. If their uses would not be fair, or if there’s no independent access, they don’t have great remedies at the moment.

While I could imagine a lot of better ways to do things, they all have a “if pigs had wings they would fly” character, in this environment.

For the most part, you have both focused on the nature of intellectual property within the U.S. context, yet America has increasingly imposed its copyright regimes on the rest of the world, whether or not the core premises of those laws are consistent with their own cultural traditions or needs. What do you see as the transnational implications of the struggles we have been describing?

Ellen: I think the most worrying development on the horizon is the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a trade agreement that is supposed to reflect American priorities, i.e. copyright holders. The TPP is being developed with great secrecy, and it has not attracted the notice it should because the name sounds like it is about container shipments when in fact it is a radical change to copyright in signatory countries. The results as it is currently outlined would block access to open materials, permit “digital locks” on content like songs and TV shows, and put all kinds of restrictions to open access in place. It is more dangerous than SOPA and PIPA because it is being written by stakeholders, handled like an international trade agreement, and only large stakeholders are in on the drafting and revision process. See this recent post in Slate

Pat: I think that the international environment is very complex, and as Ellen points out the U.S. federal government has tied international trade issues to copyright policy and its enforcement in a way that has privileged monopoly rights holders against users’ interests, European interests have also been important in unbalancing copyright further.

“Harmonization,” as it’s called–getting more conformity across national copyright regimes–has so far been pretty much a story of expanding monopoly rights. It’s possible to imagine harmonization on the exceptions/limitations side. Certainly that’s what many activists called for around the ACTA (Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement) treaty, which is about counterfeiting (including digital “piracy”). Large media interests had insisted on sweeping IP issues into a treaty that was supposed to be about hard goods, pushing for ever greater imbalance. The activists were very nearly excluded, but their protests contributed ultimately to rejection of ACTA. The rejection demonstrated, one hopes, some interest in Europe in the value of its exceptions and limitations.

At the same time, you see great interest internationally in changing copyright policy to expand user access to copyrighted material with clauses that look and sound a lot like fair use. In 2008, Israel actually imported US fair use lock, stock and barrel. The Australians introduced “flexible dealing,” which in some situations can be used in ways somewhat like fair use. In early July, 2012, the Canadian Supreme Court ruled on clutch of copyright cases, setting precedents that make Canadian fair dealing–a version of exemptions in which kinds of uses are itemized more precisely–look much more like U.S. fair use. David Cameron in the UK has suggested that the UK should import fair use, since it is so conducive to innovation and the UK economy needs innovation.

Meanwhile, all copyright regimes do have some exceptions and limitations on monopoly rights. Often, they have gone unchallenged and undefined. For instance, “right of quotation” is a rather vague and widely included exception, rarely litigated.

A highly significant feature of the international landscape, in practice, is that outside the US, copyright penalties do not include statutory damages. This is very important, because it damps down litigation. There is little to be gained by taking a copyright dispute through the courts, if the outcome is getting the user to pay the license fee–which would only be a tiny portion of the costs of litigation. In fact, copyright litigation in Europe is very sparse. So that makes it much easier for Europeans to use their exceptions and limitations, because the risk, in practice, is lower.

At the same time, it’s frustrating in Europe for creators, because they hope to cross national borders with their work, and each country has different copyright policy. No one has ever done a survey of where there is overlap in exceptions and limitations; that would be an extremely valuable service.

Since the U.S. is the largest market currently for creative works, many makers of work that is pitched internationally conform to U.S. copyright policy. This certainly is common among documentary filmmakers. In general, it seems to work pretty well


Editor’s Note: I hope you have enjoyed this conversation between two extraordinary media scholars discussing the current state of intellectual property law. If you would like to see further discussion around this topic, let me put in a plug here for the upcoming Futures of Entertainment conference, to be held at MIT, on November 8-10. I will be participating there in a conversation about IP issues with Jonathon Taplin, the director of the Annenberg Innovation Lab, and with composer/musician T Bone Burnett. You can learn more and registered for the event here.


Pat Aufderheide is the Co-Director of the Center for Social Media and University Professor in the School of Communication at American University in Washington, D.C. She is the co-author with Peter Jaszi of Reclaiming Fair Use: How to Put Balance Back in Copyright (University of Chicago Press, July 2011), and author of, among others, Documentary: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford, 2007), The Daily Planet (University of Minnesota Press, 2000), and of Communications Policy in the Public Interest (Guilford Press, 1999). She heads the Fair Use and Free Speech research project at the Center, in conjunction with Prof. Peter Jaszi in American University’s Washington College of Law.

Ellen Seiter holds the Nenno Endowed Chair in Television Studies at the USC School of Cinematic Arts where she teaches courses on television and new media history, theory and criticism in the Critical Studies Division. She is the author of The Internet Playground: Children’s Access, Entertainment and Mis-Education (Peter Lang, 2005), Television and New Media Audiences (Oxford, 1999), Sold Separately: Children and Parents in Consumer Culture (Rutgers, 1993) and Remote Control; Television, Audiences and Cultural Power (Routledge, 1989). Her latest book, The Creative Artist’s Legal Guide:Copyright, Trademark and Contracts in Film and Digital Media Production was published in 2012 by Yale University Press.

Concerning Intellectual Property: A Conversation with Pat Aufderheide and Ellen Seiter (Part Four)

In some ways, independent media-makers seem caught in the middle of this struggle, seeking ways to protect their own creative products, but also often at the mercy of bigger corporate interests. What do we gain by looking at the issues from their perspective?

Ellen: It is crucial to preserve the civic participation element of digital media, the social consciousness of so many independent media makers, and the necessity of keeping content free to use by teachers. This is why Pat and Peter’s “Best Practices book is so incredibly helpful” as well as the whole Reclaiming Fair Use book (which includes an amazing set of best practices materials at the end.)

Pat: I think the interests of people like journalists and documentary filmmakers look a lot like the interests of many noncommercial creators. Many noncommercial creators are actually invested in some control over their work. One of the things you can learn from the professional communities that have created codes of best practices is that balance is possible; it’s possible to have some control, and also for other people to use your work without your permission. Context is everything.

One thing that’s interesting to watch in this process is the role of attribution or credit. It seems that no matter where you go–and my colleague Peter Jaszi has been to the backest of the beyond in Indonesia to look at folk art practices–people really want attribution. They may or may not care about payment. But recognition is huge. Look at the concern that kids on the Scratch remixing site have. The computer automatically credits their work when another child uses it, but that’s not enough for many of the kids; they want the new creator to recognize them and even say why their work was useful in the new work. (I’m cribbing on this last one from the work of Andres Monroy-Hernandez, btw.)

Even though attribution is so important to people–it often wards off copyright claims–it’s not required or even mentioned under fair use in the law. It happens to sway judges, but not because it’s in the law but because it shows good faith so they have a reason to think of you as well intentioned.

So again, practice matters. I think in our emergent DIY universe, attribution will be extremely important.

Many of these issues came to a head earlier this year around SOPA. What is your analysis of the debate around this law? What do you see as the fallout from what happened when citizens weighed in more heavily in response to this proposed legislation?

Pat: The SOPA/PIPA debate suffered from some of the Copyright Wars problems. Many creators were enlisted by large media companies, which informed them that piracy was going to take the bread out of their children’s mouths. Many Wikimedians and Wikipedia users saw the struggle–and let others construe it as such–as being about why information wants to be free. Meanwhile, the threats to the very communication infrastructure, as Google folk were painfully aware, were very real. The largest Internet companies and think tanks/NGOs did a good job of making that clear.

The polarization between copyright maximalists and copyright minimalists around SOPA/PIPA will, I think, make it harder to have a rational discussion when, as it inevitably will, the bill returns in some form. Some legislators were outraged at the blackouts, which occurred at a time when serious negotiations taking into consideration the concerns of critics, were going on, and derailed them.

One lesson of the conflict was that it’s important to develop a discourse in which balanced copyright is featured, rather than a moral-panic atmosphere. It is important to address the challenge of making copyright workable rather than construing the problem as either embracing or rejecting copyright’s monopoly rights as property. It is also clear, by the way, that people don’t have enough information about the basics of Internet infrastructure. The reason why fooling around with the Domain Name System was a terrible idea just wasn’t clear to most people.

What do we see as the most effective mechanisms for changing current policies around intellectual property? Which mechanisms do you think give the most hope to copyright holders? to grassroots participants? To independent artists?

Pat: I hope I’ve given some idea in this discussion of the importance of education, and an investment in understanding creativity as a social act. I think more constructive political actions will follow a shift in habitus, to invoke Bourdieu, around creativity in culture. Some of that change is happening around the spread of DIY culture, but it needs to be accompanied by a claiming of Constitutional rights in copyright to avoid a construction of DIY culture as the consumer end of commercial culture.

Ellen: I do not feel optimistic. The size of Google and its moves to enter the realm of mainstream TV, film and publishing as a distributor does not bode well. Politicians are, of course, very dependent on media distribution companies for their own election campaigns and this will always hamper what can be achieved in terms of legislative action.

What do you see as the value of attempts such as Creative Commons or Copy Left to imagine alternative copyright regimes as opposed to shifting interpretations of existing laws and practices?

Ellen: Creative Commons, for anyone new to this debate, is a non profit corporation founded by legal schlars Lawrence Lessig and James Boyle and their collaborators. It has helped thousands of artists and scholars to share their work in a way that protects their rights while also letting others freely use, distribute, remix, tweak and build upon your work, as long as they give you credit. It has been a powerful force in keeping the Internet and publishing more open. The “Share Alike” license offered by Creative Commons means that you can find work (photos, music, etc.) to use in your own project but then your project must also comply with the “Share Alike” model. It has been a lifesaver for academics and amateur video makers. I still have the feeling that CC licenses primarily work for content creators who have another means of making a living– a day job, if you will– like academics. Or a trust fund. Some other revenue stream. With the increasing globalization of Big Media– there are going to be increased challenges.

Pat: To the extent Creative Commons is seen as one of the tools people have to rebalance copyright, a tool that resides on the monopoly rights holder side of the equation, I think it’s great. If it’s seen as either a guerrilla attack on copyright or the dawn of copyright-free culture, well, that kind of thinking stops people from getting to any kind of a solution.

Copyleft work generally has done a great job of putting copyright issues on the map. If people get so frustrated that they despair of rebalancing copyright, they will, I’m afraid, move from idealism to cynicism. So it’s important to avoid alarmism, moralizing, and utopianism, if we want to find ways to foster culture-creating for a digital, DIY environment. Dreams are great, ideals are great, but solutions for waking-world problems always deal with the highly imperfect environment we live in. Ellen’s book is full of great practical advice for just that.

Part of what has given some moral and ethical complexity to the debates about copyright is that the industry often seeks to defend the “rights of artists” but in practice, artists are often forced to sign their rights away to corporate ownership and may be as badly exploited by studios and labels as they are threatened by infringement by unauthorized consumers. Where do the artists themselves stand in current debates around intellectual property?

Ellen: Yes, the entire history of the film/TV/music industry is full of exploitation of artists. If young people today were better educated about the bloody struggles to get unions, they would understand more about their value. Artists’ have a fighting chance when a contract is involved, and an even better chance if they are members of a guild, a union, or some kind of professional association that can educate them about their rights– and this takes some time. Just because artists’ are ripped off by studios and music companies, however, does not mean we want to do away with employment contracts, because that is what the entire structure of labor protections are based on. There is a lot of lawyer-bashing in the DIY community, which I think is extremely short-sighted. Of course there are corrupt lawyers out there. But we need to get past some of the early utopianism of this movement and also take a long, hard look at what is happening in terms of shrinking employment and the myriad ways young people are enticed to work for free. I am hoping some of the pushback on unpaid internships by educational institutions will begin to make for some policy changes. We need lawyers like Peter Jaszi and Michael Donaldson, and it takes about one second for a talented kid to figure out why he might want to be represented by a professional agent or attorney once the prospect of real financial remuneration comes through.

Pat: Yes, I agree with Ellen that people need to know the history that won them the rights they have. I also think doing this work has allowed me to meet many creative and supportive lawyers, whose work has helped to change the environment for artists. It is altogether true that large media corporations have all too easily enlisted artists into the company’s private-interest battles using Romantic notions of artistry and alarmism.

Another recent controversy concerned the role of parody in our current understanding of intellectual property law as playwright David Adjmi received a cease-and-desist notice for his play, 3C, which appropriated and responded to the classic sitcom Three’s Company. More and more of our current creative practices involve acts of sampling and remixing, some of which meet legal standards of parody and others do not. How effective and appropriate do you see current law at policing the boundaries between appropriate and inappropriate forms of remix?


Ellen: David Adjmi’s 3C is an interesting example because this case involved a clear example of fair use under the satire or parody ”safe harbor.” It also sheds light on the differences between theatrical and television understandings and professional practice of copyright. The play is set in the 70s and centers on roommates in an apartment in Santa Monica. It deliberately evoked the popular 70s sitcom where two women and a man are roommates, and the man has to pretend he is gay to satisfy the uptight landlord that no co-habitation is going on– and for half the show’s gags. Three’s Company” ran on ABC from 1977-1984– and is notorious for Suzanne Sommers as a classic dumb blonde type. Adjmi’s version is a black comedy in which the male roommate really is gay and the satire and pathos revolve around him “playing” gay When the cease and desist letter came out, Adjimi, even though he is a published playwright, did not have the funds for a legal defense. Reviewers of the production, which ran for five weeks off-Broadway, called 3C a black comedy– Adjmi said he tried to imagine what Chekhov would do with “Three’s Company.” The production went on as planned, and the show closed. What I would want to point out about the case, though, is that Adjmi, as a member of the Dramatist’s Guild, was able to rely on some important friends– Stephen Sondheim and Tony Kushner were among the signatories on a letter in support of Adjmi, and Jon Robin Baitz (“Other Desert Cities”, and the TV series Brothers and Sisters”) rallied the theatre community and offered to pay his legal fees. This is a case where a community of professional artists in one of the last bastions of unionism– NY theatre—- may have kept the lawyers at bay. Adjmi did not respond to the letter, which said it could not be performed again or published. It’s worth noting, however, that nothing can invite the wrath of studio lawyers quicker than tampering with a television show that has syndication earnings.

Pat: I appreciate this background. I haven’t seen the play, and so can’t have an opinion on its employment of fair use (in which parody is an instance), since context is everything in fair use, so I have no opinion on the case. David Adjimi appeared, according to the New York Times, to be stalled out at first no because he hadn’t sought out legal counsel and didn’t want to incur any costs.

I’m glad he has influential friends. But I also think that if he does have a fair use argument, he also has friendly organizations to turn to. I believe there is substantial pro bono legal counsel on viable fair use cases. If I were him, I would turn to the ACLU or to the Stanford Fair Use Project, or to the IP legal clinics at University of Southern California, University of California at Berkeley, or Fordham University. They all, along with Electronic Frontier Foundation, have lawyers who litigate pro bono on fair use issues. (EFF typically deals with digital issues.) I hear from lawyers from all of them, calling me looking for promising cases.

Adjimi’s fair use argument does not have to be that he has a parody. He merely has to have a transformative purpose, and use the appropriate amount to meet that purpose. He has to not be using the elements of the sitcom in order to give the same kind of pleasure to the audience in the same way that the original does. I gather from the scanty description of the play that I can access online and from Ellen’s description that the play depends on the audience’s familiarity with “Three’s Company” to make a statement about the cultural values invoked and expressed by the sitcom. Well, that’s a transformative purpose. I probably would have to see the play to decide for myself if the amount taken was appropriate. But certainly if you’re going to invoke “Three’s Company” you want to have a certain amount of the package of the elements to play with.

How effective is the law at policing the boundaries? Well, that depends on what you mean, I guess. The law isn’t an abstract element. We carry our sense of the law with us. David Adjimi appears to have a fairly shaky idea of his rights under fair use, and his advisors do too. He doesn’t have a great way to do a risk analysis, since his community of practice, playwrights, haven’t acted as a community to decide what they need from the law and asserted it within a code of best practices in fair use. He hasn’t chosen to find out how related communities of practice think about it, by consulting their codes of best practices in fair use. Or at least he hadn’t as of the reports I read.

It’s easy for the “Three’s Company” folk to issue a cease-and-desist letter. It’s routine, as Ellen notes, when you have a valuable property. It costs nothing more than the price of a lawyer’s time to dictate the letter, and under the law no matter what they say in that letter, there’s no penalty. So they can claim, bluster, threaten, as they like. David would have to know his rights or find a pro bono lawyer who does, in order to resist.

But the law is pretty good, actually, on the fair use side. And not just for David, but for remixers in many media. It’s flexible, accessible, adaptable. Judge’s interpretations have been pretty stable in stressing transformative purpose combined with appropriate amount for 25 years. But in practice it means what it means to the people who most use it. So if the cease-and-desist letter writers use it and the receivers of the letters don’t, then the cease-and-desist letter writers win.

If the law weren’t otherwise so pathologically unbalanced, we wouldn’t have to care about fair use. But since copyright is effectively eternal (at least for our creative lifetimes), default, and extending so far through derivative works, we have to care. Sigh.

Good news? The more we understand our rights, the quicker we can get on with DIY remixing and sampling.

And let me take this moment to say it’s a dang shame that musicians haven’t been able to organize themselves to decide what they need from existing music in order to make new music. The law would in theory permit a wide range of borrowing. Several cases have come close to engaging fair use and music, including the first two Bridgeport cases (discussed in the book). But people settle out of court after a first-level judgment that doesn’t address fair use, and a precedent is set. This leaves judges and music producers down the line with the general impression that in music, people always get licenses. Practice. Practice is really really a big thing. If musicians practice a clearance culture, they create precedents that lead to more clearance culture.

Pat Aufderheide is the Co-Director of the Center for Social Media and University Professor in the School of Communication at American University in Washington, D.C. She is the co-author with Peter Jaszi of Reclaiming Fair Use: How to Put Balance Back in Copyright (University of Chicago Press, July 2011), and author of, among others, Documentary: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford, 2007), The Daily Planet (University of Minnesota Press, 2000), and of Communications Policy in the Public Interest (Guilford Press, 1999). She heads the Fair Use and Free Speech research project at the Center, in conjunction with Prof. Peter Jaszi in American University’s Washington College of Law.

Ellen Seiter holds the Nenno Endowed Chair in Television Studies at the USC School of Cinematic Arts where she teaches courses on television and new media history, theory and criticism in the Critical Studies Division. She is the author of The Internet Playground: Children’s Access, Entertainment and Mis-Education (Peter Lang, 2005), Television and New Media Audiences (Oxford, 1999), Sold Separately: Children and Parents in Consumer Culture (Rutgers, 1993) and Remote Control; Television, Audiences and Cultural Power (Routledge, 1989). Her latest book, The Creative Artist’s Legal Guide:Copyright, Trademark and Contracts in Film and Digital Media Production was published in 2012 by Yale University Press.

Concerning Intellectual Property: A Conversation Between Pat Aufderheide and Ellen Seiter (Part Three)

Copyright was historically constructed as a “balancing act” between the interests in authors in gaining compensation for their ideas and the public in being able to meaningfully deploy those ideas towards the common benefit. Yet, copyright is now increasingly understood through a conflictual lens, where one group must benefit at the cost of the other, or as Ellen characterizes it at one point, “an arms race between content creators and content users.” Is there any way to move this back from a conflict-based frame in ways that might create a win-win scenario for all participants? Why or why not?

Ellen: This is capitalism we are dealing with, so I don’t expect there to be a happy ending. In fact, I think it would be better to look as harshly as possible about the competing interests and recognize the class war embedded in it. If anything, I think copyright can help us to understand how much labor is being devalued and how much has already been given away. So I am less interested in protecting the freedom of fans, for example, and more interested in protecting those professionals (and in this I include the below-the-line workers in the media industries) to be able to sustain a living wage and even a steady income for those who are successful. It is precisely on the battleground of Internet streaming (where so much can be captured for free and repurposed) that the WGA and SAG suffered serious losses, since the studios deemed it merely promotional and therefore not a use that bore on residuals.

Digital Content Creation shook the media industries by providing new distribution outlets for creative work and a demand for new skill sets among creative workers, something that has exacerbated the tendency to favor the young for employment and discard the older, more experienced, and more labor-savvy workers. When we look at dramatic/ fictional media creation the picture shifts considerably from the issues in documentary work. The expansion of dreams of “making it” as a director, an actor, a musician or a writer has produced a new and quite unrealistic model of training in which young people are encouraged to invest enormous resources in training, self-promotion, technology, and unpaid content creation—in the hopes of being discovered, or securing an unpaid internship. My main concern is that digital content creation has been exploited by studios, talent agencies and television networks to undermine the creative and craft guilds in Hollywood. In these historic labor struggles, talent gave away their rights through work-for-hire contracts, but the consolation prize was decent wages, benefits and residual payments to make up for the long periods of unemployment and the long periods of unremunerated preparation for these jobs. Now that Google is moving in the direction of big media, distributing expensive, professionally produced content, there is a lot of room for further exploitation, where creative talent is paid merely in ad revenues, not by salary or residuals.

Pat: I couldn’t agree more that the rhetorical positioning is now conflictual. Bill Patry, in his smart book Copyright Wars, calls this a moral panic. A moral panic is when people are arguing about the wrong problem in a highly emotional way. Or to quote Wikipedia, without employing fair use, since all the stuff on Wikipedia is made freely available under a Creative Commons license, “Moral panics are in essence controversies that involve arguments and social tension and in which disagreement is difficult because the matter at its center is taboo.”

I’ve talked about the photographers. They’re emblematic of one side of the debate, where all unauthorized use is immoral. I recently saw the other side in action, when I attended Wikimania 2012. I went to the debate on whether fair use should always or never be used in Wikipedia. This is quite a hot discussion topic, actually, on the Talk pages of Wikipedia. It was interesting to see the heated emotion displayed, primarily by users (the pro-fair use side was staffed by lawyers, who tended not to get passionate), on the side of the argument that said it should never be used. There are some practical difficulties (will downstream users really understand that they can’t remix that stuff without doing an assessment of their own? will laws in other countries match up with U.S. fair use?) but the biggest obstacle, it seemed, was a profound disgust with copyright as an unfree regime. Even though copyright permits unlicensed use, that right was not seen as a right so much as a begrudging permission by an ungenerous uncle. They saw it as besmirching a beautiful product, beautiful because it was free.

The problem is, though, that the mission of Wikipedia is to be a free encyclopedia of human knowledge, not–as Brandon Butler on the panel put it–an encyclopedia of free human knowledge. He argued that including copyrighted material when it was necessary to make mission was sensible, even if it had to be employed under fair use. Respondents argued that leaving blank spaces clearly labelled to show unavailability because of copyright reasons was consistent with the mission to be free and also a lesson in the costs of having copyright.

Is there a way to get out of this mess? One way is to recognize the truths that Ellen is pointing to–that the business model issue is separate from the copyright issue. The business model issue is very real. Traditional media business models are eroding, which affects vast swaths of middle managers. At the same time, the industry’s business model crisis interacts with a trend that has been accumulating particular strength since 1980 and the conservative resurgence, to disempower workers. The business model crisis creates an incentive to further exploit working people in media, especially the newest entrants. It is heartening, however, to note that even as incumbent businesses flounder, the total revenues for entertainment fields are growing, according to the impressive and extensively documented report, “The Sky Is Rising” (

Those who are frustrated by copyright sometimes turn to a copyleft alternative model. I don’t think constructing some alternate world, for instance, getting everybody to agree to give their stuff away with Creative Commons licenses, will work.. I think too much stuff will never go into the commons; you’ll never persuade the photographers, much less HBO, to give it away. Too much significant work in our culture–including the stuff that makes up some of the most memorable remixes and fan fiction–is made on commercial terms. Moreover, many, many people are actually really invested in having their copyright monopoly rights. I also agree with Ellen that it’s important to think about how to reward the actual makers of work. I use Creative Commons licensed work in my own, and I have Creative Commons licenses on some of my work, but I see it as a limited, if important, tool in the kit of resources to rebalance copyright.

I do see a big change in the communities of practice that have created codes of best practices in fair use. I’ve seen a big change in how creators think about what they want to do. I’ve seen changes in industry practice, e.g. how insurers for errors and omissions now treat fair use claims. Perhaps most exciting to me has been to see people who reclaim their own fair use rights come to see those rights as rights worthy of political defense. I’ve seen people who in previous years didn’t even know they had fair use rights go to the Copyright Office, ask for an exemption for their group of people (professors, documentary filmmakers, vidders) from the DMCA’s criminal penalties for breaking encryption for fair use, and…! Admittedly that’s not a game changer for the copyright regime, but an accommodation within a terrible law. But it is evident that people can see themselves as part of a political constituency.

We wrote the book precisely to contribute to reframing the discussion, away from an emotionally laden moral discussion toward a discussion of how we can get to the job of creating more culture better. I think when people move from a “permissions culture” to a position of agency, that is a political move, and it enables them to think about these and other issues from a more collective viewpoint, which should also encourage association and union participation.

I have seen that when you show people the consequences of their actions, they understand much better what risks they are taking. Suddenly the risk of not creating culture, not getting to create, to express, to use their freedom of speech, becomes significant and real to them. The risk of getting sued for copyright infringement becomes a risk you can calculate instead of, as one filmmaker called it, “the monster in the closet.” They can see the risks the same way they see risks in other employment of their First Amendment rights. After all, libel, treason, obscenity laws all have ugly penalties, and they all are triggered by inappropriate First Amendment acts. That doesn’t stop people from criticizing fat cats or crooked cops or using terms for female body parts while discussing reproductive health. And when people see copyright within that First Amendment lens, the discussion is very different.

I wish I had stronger faith in legislative or judicial options at the moment, but without having a mobilized and sizeable constituency, I’m afraid I don’t. At the moment. I am impressed at what a difference practice makes, and I think practice can shape the building of constituency. I think we saw what a difference the blacking out of Wikipedia made to SOPA/PIPA. There had been a lot of crucial inside-the-Beltway work done on those shockingly poorly crafted bills before that moment, so I don’t want to act like Wikipedia brought them down. But Wikipedia and other blacked-out sites did make a difference. And the action taught a lot of people in that ambit the power of numbers of outraged citizens. Wikipedia’s leaders are mildly alarmed by the precedent set, though. SOPA/PIPA would directly and negatively have affected Internet culture, and so it was squarely within Wikipedia’s wheelhouse. Wikipedia’s leaders (both Jimmy Wales and the head counsel of Wikipedia spoke about this) are worried that Wikimedians may decide to use this tactic on issues that are not specifically a life threat to Wikipedia itself, which would jeopardize the foundation’s tax status, could weaken the organization by creating factions, and be ineffective to boot. So I don’t think that one act has a natural next one within Wikipedia. But it clearly educated a lot of Wikimedians and Wikipedia users about political action.

As we look at the current struggles over intellectual property, it seems that commercial producers and grassroots participants (for lack of better terms as these relationships are somewhat shifting) look at these debates through different lens. So, first, what do we see as the primary concerns, fears, anxieties, hopes of copyright holders in these struggles to define what constitutes appropriate policy?

Ellen: Copyright holders are attentive to their specific markets. Take the case of a viral sensation of the summer of 2012: The Snuggie version of Beyonce’s song “Countdown.”

Here is an amateur video, performed and directed by a teenager (who is a shining example of how much people can learn and achieve in DIY media) using a major pop song. But he is also a member of the target market for pop divas: and this market segment is more likely than others to go ahead and purchase the music download, buy the CD and go to the concert. So there is a motivation to be lenient and even to use amateur videos to publicize the songs, both because they don’t want to alienate this market– which has been performing pop hits in bedrooms before mirrors for decades–and because they are not at risk in the same way of losing all sales.

There are varying levels of policing and it is important to look at the cases where DIY media is welcomed (this was formerly the case with anime distribution, as Mimi Ito’s work has so effectively demonstrated) and there is a kind of tacit agreement that you do your part as a consumer.

So Beyonce posts the Snuggie video on her website and calls it brilliant and better than the original. No word from Snuggie yet, although they must be delighted.

Pat: It’s great to remember, as Ellen reminds us, that there are endless accommodations by businesses to their best interests in practice. In terms of creating new policy formally, I think that incumbent corporations with significant revenues from media have a deer-in-the-headlights approach at the moment. Copyright policy is one tool they have to resist the future. On the other hand, everybody saw what happened to the music industry, and nobody wants to be Kodak, so that may shift the vigor of their approach to shoring up their assets with even more extended copyright terms and stiffer penalties for perceived infringement and technical overrides of fair use. Maybe. But actually in DC there is strong expectation that we will see a bill introduced fairly soon extending copyright terms….again. And SOPA/PIPA haven’t really gone away.

I think makers and users of all kinds have a different set of concerns, which I’ve discussed above in part. Many people have a Romantic notion of creativity, in which originality is prized, copying is regarded as cheating, and creativity is produced at a high personal psychic cost. That infuses how they then think about copyright.

This is true both for the copyrightists and the copyleft, actually. Artists often construe themselves as fearless appropriators and then are outraged at unauthorized reuse of their work, even when it’s clearly fair use. The copyleft community is, I think, an early adopter phenomenon rather than the beginning of a dominant “commoner” culture. As more and more people create digitally, I don’t see new waves of copyleft people; rather, I see sudden interest in figuring out how to claim and exercise monopoly rights, concern about unfair commercialization of one’s work, etc. Even within the copyleft, there is great anxiety about inappropriate (e.g. commercial) use of their work.

This Romantic construction of creativity (about which my co-author Peter Jaszi has written quite a bit, and very interestingly) is often exploited by corporate actors in lobbying.

At the same time, people are definitely enjoying, in greater and greater numbers, the kind of remixing (machinima, video remixes, all kinds of photographic memes) that used to be much harder to do. This group of people is now much much bigger than the geeky early adopters. So they’re getting a greater stake in accessing the copyrighted world around them. I can see corporate efforts to meet that appetite with new forms of licensing and apps, but these efforts aren’t moving quickly enough. Copyright law really makes more streamlined licensing rather difficult. But I do wonder if the perceived needs of many people who are not ideologically motivated when they remix and do DIY culture will be met with some kind of inferior (to me, certainly) licensed service. That certainly is true now with a lot of machinima, which is often done within the terms the game company set.

So I think this is an exciting moment in which people might be able to move beyond their (often new-found) frustration with their access to copyrighted culture, productively, if they understand the basis of copyright better. And they would become part of a political constituency for a more balanced copyright, not just for easier access to licensed databases provided on company terms.

Pat Aufderheide is the Co-Director of the Center for Social Media and University Professor in the School of Communication at American University in Washington, D.C. She is the co-author with Peter Jaszi of Reclaiming Fair Use: How to Put Balance Back in Copyright (University of Chicago Press, July 2011), and author of, among others, Documentary: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford, 2007), The Daily Planet (University of Minnesota Press, 2000), and of Communications Policy in the Public Interest (Guilford Press, 1999). She heads the Fair Use and Free Speech research project at the Center, in conjunction with Prof. Peter Jaszi in American University’s Washington College of Law.

Ellen Seiter holds the Nenno Endowed Chair in Television Studies at the USC School of Cinematic Arts where she teaches courses on television and new media history, theory and criticism in the Critical Studies Division. She is the author of The Internet Playground: Children’s Access, Entertainment and Mis-Education (Peter Lang, 2005), Television and New Media Audiences (Oxford, 1999), Sold Separately: Children and Parents in Consumer Culture (Rutgers, 1993) and Remote Control; Television, Audiences and Cultural Power (Routledge, 1989). Her latest book, The Creative Artist’s Legal Guide:Copyright, Trademark and Contracts in Film and Digital Media Production was published in 2012 by Yale University Press.

Concerning Intellectual Property: A Conversation Between Pat Aufderheide and Ellen Seiter (Part Two)

Mitt Romney’s campaign recently faced a takedown notice from BMG on YouTube for incorporating a news clip of Obama singing a song owned by BMG. What does this case say about the current state of the debate? As these struggles reach those in power, will they develop a better understanding of what’s at stake for ordinary people in their dealings with major media companies?

Ellen: Important to note that all kinds of “legal” issues are tightly linked to the politics of race and class. Was BMG taking Obama’s side? Was YouTube? Meanwhile the Romney campaign just went to Vimeo and re-posted it, but without a link to their campaign website.

Now the counterpoint to this political ad, Romney’s rather weak vocal performance of “America the Beautiful” reminds us of a tried and true techniques for young media makers: use something in the public domain. But it ALSO refers back to an era where sheet music was a big money maker and many copyright statutes focused on protecting the rights of composers, music publishers, even player piano manufacturers. The laws derive from interest groups and from technologies of distribution—those on their way up and those on their way out. America the Beautiful was first published in 1910. Good to remember that we are always dealing with media industries under assault by new technologies — for the sheet music business that meant player pianos, records, and later xeroxing.

Interesting to compare to the Jackson Browne controversy during the last campaign, where Jackson Brown won damages for McCain using his song “Running on Empty.” Again it is a legal case inextricable from social and political contexts. But I also think that Jackson Browne still has the right to protect his intellectual property rights and control their use.

Pat:This kerfuffle demonstrates a number of things about the current state of fair use. First, it caused a huge media uproar; so copyright issues definitely are in the public eye, and they are generating conversations about how we can both circulate and grow culture.

Second, it shows how people come to exaggerate the issues. YouTube is required by law (the Digital Millenium Copyright Act) to take down any video that a content holder flags as infringing. As Ellen noted earlier, many copyright holders do issue takedown notices, typically the result of automatic programs matching content, which means a lot of fair uses get swept up into the net.

Then it’s up to the person who uploaded it to challenge the take down by employing their fair use rights, and explaining to YouTube why they believe it’s fair use. (Under law, you don’t have to be exactly precisely on-the-nose right with your fair use choices; you have to demonstrate reasonable judgment, and the law permits some squish.) Then if YouTube finds that credible, the video goes back up, and if the content holder wants to pursue legal action directly with the uploader, they can. In this case, it’s very likely that BMG issued the takedown request as a result of bot detection, not person detection. Romney’s campaign people explained it was fair use, and YouTube put it back up. No more has been heard from BMG and I’ll be shocked if there is.

Ellen: According to Politico it was at the request of BMG– but I guess that could have been bot-generated. Here’s some more discussion of it all.

Pat: So, my point on this one is that the system, such as it is, worked. Now, you could definitely say, and we definitely have, that pre-emptive takedowns are a hindrance to the employment of fair use, and disrespectful of that important First Amendment right. I haven’t noticed any policymakers listening to me or Public Knowledge or Electronic Frontier Foundation or any of the other geeky media policy folk more than they’re listening to Hollywood, music companies, and software companies; but it would be great to see a more organized constituency pushing on the DMCA. I wonder personally if the arrival in Washington, D.C. of Google and Facebook (aren’t you surprised it took them this long to set up DC offices??) will change the discussion. Ellen’s concern about Google’s media-ization are widely shared; but at the same time, Google and Facebook were opposed to media interests on SOPA/PIPA. Right now, though, copyright policy reform (e.g. DMCA reform) has a third-rail quality.

Third, the incident shows the ubiquity of fair use in our landscape. We see it in every daily newspaper (oh look, they quoted from a think tank report!), in the television news and in those invaluable and Viacom-owned shows The Daily Show and The Colbert Report; in every student paper (that footnoted quotation), in every scholarly work. And political campaigns routinely incorporate existing material, often edited in a way to denigrate the opponent.

There’s a common use of copyrighted material in political campaigns that is much dicier–the part where campaigns use popular songs without permission to attract and energize the crowd and as intros to the candidate jogging up to the platform. It’s just not clear how that use is transformative; it’s one of the uses the market serves directly. It usually comes to light because performers don’t agree with a politician’s perspective. And the politicians always claim fair use. Often the cases are just settled, either with payment or the candidate agreeing not to use the music any more.

You both are writing about legal issues from the perspective of media scholars. What do you think media scholars bring to these debates which are missing from previous work on intellectual property law? What do you think media scholars have to learn from legal authorities working in this space?

Pat: I am profoundly grateful to have had the opportunity to work with Peter Jaszi since 2004 on the various projects that inform our book. I have learned an enormous amount, not just about the law but about how people regard, use and shape the law through their conceptualization, discussion and actions. Peter Jaszi is a legal scholar whose work is informed by some reading that media scholars do as well, especially in the areas of cultural studies and post-structuralism. I have brought a perspective shaped by the perspective of John Dewey on political participation and by Pierre Bourdieu, Stuart Hall, Raymond Williams and other cultural theorists on the process of cultural production.

As a media scholar, one of the assets I also brought to the project was my networks of contacts in practitioner communities. Our work with documentary filmmakers, journalists, film scholars, communication scholars, and remixers has all been informed by earlier work on and with these communities.

Another asset I brought to the project was a long history of working on communication and media policy issues, in which access, public participation, and democratic process were major themes. Copyright policy is another realm of knowledge, but it is shaped by the same political process, economic and political stakeholders, and institutional structures that other policies are. And as with other communication policy issues, the infrastructural elements shaping expression often go unnoticed by most people, often until it’s too late to undo bad decisions.

Our work focuses on copyright policy, but copyright policy as it intersects with creative action. So we have been able to see inside people’s heads, in a way, to see not only what they think and think about but what they are avoiding thinking about. This has been absolutely fascinating. It has been a privilege.

Ellen: The work that Pat and Peter Jaszi have done for over a decade through American University’s Center for Social Media has made a tremendous contribution to the understanding of media scholars, while offering vital assistance to media practitioners, teachers and lawyers. Their work has really brought fair use to the attention of media studies scholars– who are not always rushing into legal topics– as well as media makers. We owe them a great deal.

I think media scholars bring an important HISTORICAL knowledge about audiences and about distribution technologies that is invaluable to these debates. All that stuff about the patent wars over film technology that you learn in film history class in college is still extremely relevant to the shifting power dynamics among those who invent and sell the technology and those who want to use it for creative purposes, as well as the middle managers in the distribution business.

My interest in this entire topic has been repeatedly revitalized by the work of two legal scholars who write the kind of painstakingly researched, thrillingly written, and deeply creative stories about our legal past that are a model of humanities work. I am thinking here of Adrien Johns and Catherine Fiske. Johns is important for his book Piracy in which he takes a very long perspective on history and how often the winners and losers can change in copyright and patent battles. Fiske is important for introducing a keenly focused attention to labor and how people control or lose the rights to their own work in her book Working Knowledge. Both scholars help us to remember that what happened in book publishing in the 18th and 19th centuries must be kept in mind as we deal with audio visual media.

How did you each become involved in work on intellectual property law? What motivates your recent books on this topic? How does it relate to your previous work?

Ellen: Way back in the 70s when I was a senior at UCLA, my family wanted me to go to law school. So I applied to film schools and law schools at the same time. I am eternally grateful to my sister Rose who advocated on my behalf that I could always go to law school later, but if I went to law school then I would never get back to film school. My co-author, Bill Seiter, is my brother and an IP attorney, so this stuff has been dinner conversation for twenty-five years. It was a fascinating part of the process of writing this book to recognize the differences in our disciplinary perspectives and which parts of the puzzle each of us were missing, given our academic training and professional experience.

Now I actually want to go to law school. JK.

But my initial interest in these matters came from my own experiences as a filmmaker, and from teaching film and video production for twenty years.. I finished my MFA in 1978 making experimental shorts and documentaries. We used optical printers then, no computers, and it was painstaking, but we did amazing things with found footage, and we freely used all kinds of materials. Even then, however, we knew not to mess with the music, but try to commission musicians for soundtracks. It always breaks my heart when students pour hours of work into a film and haven’t thought out what they can and cannot use from the onset if they want to be able to submit to festivals, etc.

By 2005, when I made my most recent documentary, Projecting Cultures: Perceptions of Arab and American Film, at USC, I was getting quotes of 20K for one minute of a 1950s feature film that was exclusively for educational use. (You can see the video and the clips from Hollywood and Egyptian films here:

I had to conform to the requirements of my funding agency (The Sunnylands Trust/ Annenberg Center for Public Policy) and of USC School of Cinematic Arts. Like all big institutions they are wary of fair use and have undoubtedly made the situation much worse. Like many publishers, colleges and universities, and festivals, the bottom line is that they do not want to offend the donors, and in the case of my school that involved a big movie star who had appeared in the film and the studio that distributed it. We eventually got all three film distributors whose films we used to agree to give the clips for free, but only after we had used a lot of the budget for a rights clearance specialist, because studios don’t return calls from your average filmmaker. They want to know that everything about transferring the quality version of the dub, etc., will be done exactly as they specified. Pat has done so much important work (along with Peter Jaszi, and with extraordinary support from LA lawyer Michael Donaldson) on advocating for documentary filmmakers and their fair use rights, but to “win” still often involves a hefty price tag either in legal fees or clearance specialists.

Pat: Of all film schools, USC is the most rigid to my knowledge, and I agree with Ellen that it’s entirely related to the special relationship with major studio figures. It’s not just frustrating to USC filmmakers but to many others including staff who want to support teachers and researchers and who know the law is available to them. It’s also a reminder of the importance of practice in determining access to the law.

Peter Jaszi and I plunged into the lived experience of filmmakers’ creative struggles with copyright together. I knew Peter Jaszi from previous conferences on communication policy and copyright issues, when he invited me to a conference on copyright and culture. Like other non-lawyers there (he had made sure to get cultural actors there!), I found the concerns of scholars about “tight copyright” very compelling, but I was puzzled by why the media makers I knew weren’t complaining about it themselves.

That is still a fascinating issue for me. Many professional creators focus only on the threats in the digital landscape to traditional business models. Photographers in particular believe their profession is imperiled. Photographers never seem to worry, though, about the fact that most photographs capture copyrighted material in the picture taken. The reality that all cultural expression is in some way recombinant–that it all uses existing culture as a platform, that every one of us “stands on the shoulders of giants” (and no, Isaac Newton did not think up that phrase)–has been buried under a deluge of Romantic sensibility (the artist in the garret, creating a work of tortured genius in complete originality), bad teaching practices in K-12 (you can only use pictures from these licensed databases, and don’t copy!), and alarming FBI notices on our movies.

People confuse business models with creative process, and they moralize one part of the copyright regime. They believe they have simple property rights in stuff they’ve created, and that even if other people have a legal right to use it, that’s an immoral act. Many remixers, of course, just flip that problem around. They say it’s an immoral act to hoard your stuff, and you should give it away. Meanwhile, the law both incentivizes creative acts by granting a monopoly right that is limited, and by encouraging use of copyrighted material if you are making new culture in some way.

Anyway, I loved the idea of exploring that problem of how creative actors think about copyright in their creative process, and so did Peter Jaszi. We were lucky enough to get interest from Joan Shigekawa at the Rockefeller Foundation (she’s now doing great things at the NEA), and that one grant plunged us into an odyssey that hasn’t stopped.

Oh and by the way the answer to my question–we focused on documentary filmmakers, since I knew so many of them–was that documentary filmmakers simply were not aware of the depth of their self-censorship. When they learned how profoundly their creative process was crippled by their confusion on copyright and fair use, they created a code of best practices in fair use that changed their industry.

Pat Aufderheide is the Co-Director of the Center for Social Media and University Professor in the School of Communication at American University in Washington, D.C. She is the co-author with Peter Jaszi of Reclaiming Fair Use: How to Put Balance Back in Copyright (University of Chicago Press, July 2011), and author of, among others, Documentary: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford, 2007), The Daily Planet (University of Minnesota Press, 2000), and of Communications Policy in the Public Interest (Guilford Press, 1999). She heads the Fair Use and Free Speech research project at the Center, in conjunction with Prof. Peter Jaszi in American University’s Washington College of Law.

Ellen Seiter holds the Nenno Endowed Chair in Television Studies at the USC School of Cinematic Arts where she teaches courses on television and new media history, theory and criticism in the Critical Studies Division. She is the author of The Internet Playground: Children’s Access, Entertainment and Mis-Education (Peter Lang, 2005), Television and New Media Audiences (Oxford, 1999), Sold Separately: Children and Parents in Consumer Culture (Rutgers, 1993) and Remote Control; Television, Audiences and Cultural Power (Routledge, 1989). Her latest book, The Creative Artist’s Legal Guide:Copyright, Trademark and Contracts in Film and Digital Media Production was published in 2012 by Yale University Press.

Concerning Intellectual Property: A Conversation Between Ellen Seiter and Pat Aufderheide (Part One)

The grassroots efforts to block the passage of the Stop Online Piracy Act (or SOPA) represented simply the most recent and most highly publicized skirmish in ongoing struggles over the nature of intellectual property law and how it impacts the new media landscape. If intellectual property law might once have seemed to be a narrow and somewhat obscure focus for legal scholarship, it has become more and more central to the field of media and communication studies, as it has become part of the everyday reality of fans, artists, and teachers, struggling to figure out the extent of their Fair Use rights. As more and more of us are producing and circulating media, sometimes within, sometimes outside, current legal frameworks, intellectual property constitutes both an enabling mechanism and a constraint of our expressive possibilities.

Seiter’s book, The Creative Artist’s Legal Guide:Copyright, Trademark and Contracts in Film and Digital Media Production, co-authored with Bill Seiter, was published in 2012 by Yale University Press.   Pat Aufderheide’s  Reclaiming Fair Use: How to Put Balance Back in Copyright, co-authored with Peter Jaszi was published by the University of Chicago Press in 2011. Both represent indispensable guides to the current legal landscape  by veteran communication scholars (working in each case with a lawyer) which address how IP law impacts the production, circulation, and consumption of media. Both combine pragmatic understanding of the often contested status of current law as well as a theoretical understanding of how these decisions impact the future of communications.

My goal here was to spark a conversation between Aufderheide and Seiter, which explored some of the key themes in their books, and addressed some of the central controversies around intellectual property. I could not have imagined the commitment they would both show to this exchange and the depth of insights they brought to their interactions with each other. My job now is to get out of the way and let this exchange unfold over the next five blog posts.

Ellen’s section on copyright opens with the sentence, “One of these days you are going to receive a Cease and Desist letter.” This would not have been true at earlier moments in history where the communications and creative practices of most people would not have been exposed to this kind of legal scrutiny. So, what do you think are the consequences of this wide-spread engagement with legal struggles over intellectual property? How might larger public concerns inform our current understanding of this area of the law?

Pat: In fact, most people today are not going to get a Cease and Desist letter (though many more are likely to get a Content ID match or a takedown on YouTube, of which more later.) Ellen’s book is of course written for professional artists, who are more likely than the general public but still not very likely to get one. But one cease and desist letter sent to one person echoes through the culture, and then mythologizes into a full-blown lawsuit before you can stamp out a rumor. (We document some of this mythmaking in our book.) So it’s an excellent way to begin, to get people’s attention, demystify them, and also help them put themselves in a position where they are even more unlikely to get one.

Ellen: Google reports receiving over a million copyright notices per week, and these are passed on to users through takedown notices, usually within 24 hours. We wrote our book to speak to young, technologically savvy and admittedly ambitious media artists, who do post aggressively and frequently on line and, especially when they are enrolled at a college or university with a lot at stake as ISP providers do tend to police the students very stringently– cease and desist or we will take down your email account. Pat is right that there can be a panic around these things– many of my students in my anime course (who are avid amateur media makers) for example, worried that the campus police would be knocking on their door the minute they downloaded a bittorrent file, while others were very creative. So it is fairly common for intense young filmmakers eager to be discovered to get such a letter and we wanted to defuse the fear and use the specter of the letter as a teachable moment. According to Google’s transparency report, Comcast’s NBCUniversal rank near the top of senders of copyright notices. Now that YouTube and NBCUniversal are partners on projects like streaming the Olympics, we can expect that Google will become more and more friendly with the major media conglomerates. In fact, they have begun penalizing recipients of takedown notices by moving their content down the search engine algorithm.

Pat:Yes, it’s wise to know what to do with bullies, and many cease and desist letters are acts of bullying, as are many takedown notices on YouTube. And that’s why these days people in general need to know what their rights as users are under copyright.

You’re so right, Henry, that this didn’t use to be the case. Before 1978 (and Ellen’s book is great at many specifics of this story), when a 1976 overhauling of copyright went into effect, many works were not copyrighted at all. Many copyrighted works had not had their copyright renewed. Copyright was relatively short. All that is changed. These days, copyright is default–everything I just typed is now copyrighted to me. And copyright is looooooong–this paragraph is copyrighted to me until 70 years after my death. The monopoly right I hold on this paragraph extends to derivative products–so don’t try to make a poem, a song, or a play out of this paragraph. If I send you a cease and desist letter (I’ll see if my lawyer buddy will send it on his letterhead), I’ll talk about the “statutory damages,” or extra fines, you might get slapped with if you’re found to be infringing my monopoly right. They can be as high as $150,000 per infringement, although they never actually are.

Ellen: I have watched the growth of copyright intimidation since I got an MFA in filmmaking in 1976 at Northwestern. In those days we borrowed found footage and music for soundtracks freely, shot on 16mm, and screened our work in lecture halls and art galleries like Chicago Filmmakers and even festivals did not look very closely at any kinds of rights clearances. Through thirty years of teaching, much of it in production classes, I have seen the rights culture grow but also the scale of students’ ambitions. We just wanted a hundred or so other cool experimental filmmakers to know our work– now students angle for overnight stardom and a contract from CAA, and this does lead to trouble. This type of individual– who we wrote the book for — has a lot of nerve, frankly, and does not intimidate so easily.

Pat: Artists face particular challenges in the remix era, in which everything is both copyable and copyrighted, and it’s wonderful that they they are so assertive. Our dream, and I think Ellen’s as well, is to make sure they know their (and others’!) rights, they don’t accept copyright bullying, and they don’t unnecessarily self-criminalize. It’s always sad to me to see someone fiercely declare their courageous act of piracy when it might be a perfectly legal fair use. For every courageous person, there have to be ten who didn’t take the “risk,” and self-censored.

This issue matters to everybody, actually, because copyright law intersects with ordinary creative practice–not just making the great American painting or writing the great American novel or making the great American movie, but everyday tasks such as composing a birthday slide show, or making a poster for the meeting, or writing a comment on somebody’s blog, or posting a clip from your trip to the club last night on your Facebook page.

When people are intimidated by what they understand–or misunderstand–to be copyright-driven limitations on their ability to create, they stifle their own thinking, much less their creative actions. This is what Prof. Peter Jaszi and I learned from in-depth studies of creative practice in ten different creative communities, as we discuss in our book.

When they understand that copyright protects both new users and copyright holders, in the service of creating more culture, they are able to exercise their First Amendment rights with greater confidence, and this has deep ramifications in creative practice. It changes how they think about their creative choices, long before they shape a creative act.

So copyright, as one branch of what has come (in my mind, unfortunately) to be called intellectual “property,” is part of the apparatus that shapes our individual contributions to the culture. Like trademark and patent law (also part of that sphere of law that lawyers just call IP), it both constrains and rewards cultural expression. As participants in this culture, we are stuck caring about IP policy, if we care about the future of our culture.

Ellen: I differ from Pat in two ways in my focus. First, I think the bad guys will ultimately be companies like Google (owner of YouTube) and Apple. They are the next giants of media monopolization and increasingly participate in takedown notices. Google is so big by now (Apple, too) and we are so intertwined with it, that there is little way out of their terms of service. Their financial and political alliances will make them argue for free posting when it suits their interests, litigate the hell out of competitors over patent infringements when THAT suits their interests, and send out takedown notices when it is to their political and business advantage to placate copyright holders. Meanwhile they will be implacable about their own terms of use or adhesion contracts, and make up a lot of their own rules about how people access content, what is taken down, what is hate speech (as we have seen in recent weeks), and when they cooperate with governments and when they don’t.

Pat: Thank you, Ellen, for pointing out that Google isn’t necessarily not evil in this story. I don’t want to be sanguine about the future of Google or any other companies that have created path dependence or effectively offer utility services. Terms of service have a grisly ability to override rights, and vertically integrated companies have special opportunities to take advantage of customer goodwill.

People often put up with outrageous terms of service because they’re not fully aware of what they’re giving up. This is why we think it’s so important to understand what’s at risk. At the moment, copyright policy is dangerously unbalanced, tilted in favor of monopoly rights holders (I can’t in conscience call them owners, since I don’t think they own their copyright, I think they’ve been given a limited monopoly over that stuff by the government). At the same time, large media companies strongly assert their political influence over the policy process. So it’s a very unpredictable and hazardous process to try to rebalance copyright directly via legislation. It’s also very chancy to try to get more balance in the law through lawsuits, since they typically occur around outlier cases, and you can never count on a judge thinking the way you do. So practice becomes extremely important as a way to shift balance. That’s why we wrote the book–to help people take that action to rebalance via practice.

Without the empowering knowledge that they have First Amendment rights within copyright, many frustrated people who create using other people’s materials–such as remix artists–imagine falsely that they are committing a criminal act. They call themselves “pirates,” and believe they’re standing up courageously to repression. But copyright law actually permits, under fair use, people to employ other people’s copyrighted material for the creation of new culture. Our book goes into the basic logic to make a fair use decision, but basically you need to ask two questions: 1) am I using this material for its original purpose or am I repurposing in order to do something different with it? and 2) am I using the appropriate amount to accomplish my goal? And this doesn’t even have to be creating new work. Archivists and librarians routinely repurpose copyrighted material without paying for it, employing fair use successfully and without being challenged.

Pat Aufderheide is the Co-Director of the Center for Social Media and University Professor in the School of Communication at American University in Washington, D.C. She is the co-author with Peter Jaszi of Reclaiming Fair Use: How to Put Balance Back in Copyright (University of Chicago Press, July 2011), and author of, among others, Documentary: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford, 2007), The Daily Planet (University of Minnesota Press, 2000), and of Communications Policy in the Public Interest (Guilford Press, 1999). She heads the Fair Use and Free Speech research project at the Center, in conjunction with Prof. Peter Jaszi in American University’s Washington College of Law.

Ellen Seiter holds the Nenno Endowed Chair in Television Studies at the USC School of Cinematic Arts where she teaches courses on television and new media history, theory and criticism in the Critical Studies Division. She is the author of The Internet Playground: Children’s Access, Entertainment and Mis-Education (Peter Lang, 2005), Television and New Media Audiences (Oxford, 1999), Sold Separately: Children and Parents in Consumer Culture (Rutgers, 1993) and Remote Control; Television, Audiences and Cultural Power (Routledge, 1989). Her latest book, The Creative Artist’s Legal Guide:Copyright, Trademark and Contracts in Film and Digital Media Production was published in 2012 by Yale University Press.


Announcing Futures of Entertainment 6 Line-Up

We are pleased to announce that the Futures of Entertainment 6 conference will be held on Friday, Nov. 9, and Saturday, Nov. 10, at the Wong Auditorium on MIT’s campus in Cambridge, MA. Registration is available here. Also, note there is a pre-conference MIT Communications Forum free and open to the public on Thursday, Nov. 8. Some details below.

At the two-day conference, each morning will be spent discussing key issues faced by media producers, marketers, and audiences alike, at the heart of “the futures of entertainment.” Each afternoon, we will look into how some of those issues are manifesting themselves in specific media industries.

Here is the schedule outline, as well as some of the confirmed panelists who will be joining us at the event. More information will be released regularly from @futuresof on Twitter.

Thursday, Nov. 8

7:00 p.m.-9:00 p.m.: MIT Communications Forum Pre-FoE6 Event at Bartos Theater New Media in West Africa
Fadzi Makanda, Business Development Manager, iROKO Partners
Derrick “DNA” Ashong, leader, Soulflége
Colin Maclay, Managing Director, Berkman Center for Internet & Society, Harvard University
Moderator: Ralph Simon, head of the Mobilium Advisory Group and a founder of the mobile entertainment industry

Friday, Nov. 9 
7:30 a.m. Registration Opens

8:30 a.m.-9:00 a.m.: Opening Remarks from FoE Fellows Laurie Baird and Ana Domb

9:00 a.m.-11:00 a.m.: Listening and Empathy: Making Companies More Human
Lara Lee, Chief Innovation and Operating Officer, Continuum
Grant McCracken, author, CulturematicChief Culture Officer
Carol Sanford, author, The Responsible Business
Emily Yellin, author, Your Call Is (Not That) Important to Us
Moderator: Sam Ford, Director of Digital Strategy, Peppercomm

11:00 a.m.-11:30 a.m.: Coffee Break

11:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m.: The Ethics and Politics of Curation in a Spreadable Media World–A One-on-One Conversation with Brain Pickings’ Maria Popova and Undercurrent’s Joshua Green

12:30 p.m.-1:45 p.m.: Lunch

1:45 p.m.-3:45 p.m.: The Futures of Public Media
Juan Devis, Director of Production and Program Development, KCET Public Media
Andrew Golis, Director of Digital Media and Senior Editor, FRONTLINE
Rekha Murthy, Director of Projects and Partnerships, Public Radio Exchange
Annika Nyberg Frankenhaeuser, Media Director, European Broadcasting Union
Moderator: Jessica Clark, media strategist, Association of Independents in Radio

3:45 p.m.-4:15 p.m.: Coffee Break

4:15 p.m.-6:15 p.m.: From Participatory Culture to Political Participation
Sasha Costanza-Chock, Assistant Professor of Civic Media, MIT
Dorian Electra, performing artist (“I’m in Love Friedrich Hayek”; “Roll with the Flow”)
Lauren Bird, Creative Media Coordinator, Harry Potter Alliance
Aman Ali, co-creator, 30 Mosques in 30 Days
Bassam Tariq, co-creator, 30 Mosques in 30 Days
Moderator: Sangita Shresthova, Research Director of CivicPaths, University of Southern California

6:15 p.m.-6:45 p.m.: Closing Remarks from Maurício Mota and Louisa Stein

Saturday, Nov. 10
7:30 a.m. Registration Opens

8:30 a.m.-9:00 a.m.: Opening Remarks from Xiaochang Li and Mike Monello

9:00 a.m.-11:00 a.m.: Curing the Shiny New Object Syndrome: Strategy Vs. Hype When Using New Technologies
Todd Cunningham, Futures of Entertainment Fellow and television audience research leader
Jason Falls, CEO, Social Media Explorer
Eden Medina, Associate Professor of Informatics and Computing, Indiana University
Mansi Poddar, co-founder, Brown Paper Bag
David Polinchock, Director, AT&T AdWorks Lab
Moderator: Ben Malbon, Managing Director, Google Creative Lab

11:00 a.m.-11:30 a.m.: Coffee Break

11:30 a.m.-1:00 p.m.: Rethinking Copyright: A discussion with musician, songwriter, and producer T Bone BurnettHenry Jenkins, Provost’s Professor of Communication, Journalism, Cinematic Arts, and Education at the University of Southern California; and Jonathan Taplin, Director of the Annenberg Innovation Lab at the University of Southern California

1:00 p.m.-2:15 p.m.: Coffee Break

2:15 p.m.-4:15 p.m.: The Futures of Video Gaming
Ed Fries, architect of Microsoft’s video game business and co-founder of the Xbox project
T.L. Taylor, Associate Professor of Comparative Media Studies, MIT
Yanis Varoufakis, Economist-in-Residence, Valve Software
Christopher Weaver, founder of Bethesda Softworks and industry liaison, MIT GameLab
Moderator: Futures of Entertainment Fellow and games producer Alec Austin

4:15 p.m.-4:45 p.m.: Coffee Break

4:45 p.m.-6:45 p.m.: The Futures of Storytelling and Sports
Abe Stein, researcher at Singapore-MIT GAMBIT Game Lab; graduate student, Comparative Media Studies, MIT; columnist, Kill Screen
Peter Stringer, Senior Director of Interactive Media, Boston Celtics
Moderator: Mark Warshaw, President, The Alchemists Transmedia Storytelling Company
Other Panelists To Be Announced Shortly

6:45 p.m.-7:15 p.m.: Closing Remarks from Heather Hendershot and Sheila Seles

7:15 p.m.: Post-Conference Workshop–The Futures of Transmedia Studies: Collaborations in and beyond Higher Education

For more information or to register to attend the conference, check out its home page.