The Other Media Revolution

This is another in the series of posts from students in my PhD level seminar on the Public Intellectual, which I am teaching this term through the USC Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism.   

The Other Media Revolution

by Mark Hannah


I’ve long blogged about the so-called “digital media revolution.”  Yet, deploying digital media to praise digital media has always struck me as a bit self-congratulatory.  Socrates, in the Gorgias dialogues, accuses orators of flattering their audiences in order to persuade them.  This may be the effect, even if it’s not the intention, of blogging enthusiastically about blogging.

To be sure, a meaningful and consequential revolution of our media universe is underway.  This revolution’s technological front has been well chronicled and analyzed (and is represented) by this blog and others like it.  The revolution’s economic front – specifically, the global transformation of media systems from statist to capitalist models – has, I think, been critically underappreciated.


What Sprung the Arab Spring?

How attributable is the Arab Spring to Twitter and Facebook, really?  After a wave of news commentary and academic research that have back-patted western social media companies, some observers now question how much credit digital media truly deserve for engendering social movements.  It’s undeniable that the Internet does, in fact, provide a relatively autonomous space for interaction and mobilization, and that revolutionary ideas have a new vehicle for diffusing throughout a population.  But the salience of these revolutionary ideas may have its origin in other media that are more prevalent in the daily life of ordinary Arab citizens.

With limited Internet access but high satellite TV penetration throughout much of the Arab world, the proliferation of privately owned television networks may, in fact, have been more responsible for creating the kind of cosmopolitan attitudes and democratic mindset that were foundational for popular uprisings in that region.

Authoritarian regimes are sensitive to this phenomenon and, as my colleague Philip Seib points out, Hosni Mubarak responded to protests early on in the Egyptian revolution by pulling the plug on private broadcasters like ON-TV and Dream-TV, preventing them from airing their regular broadcasts.  Of the more than 500 satellite TV channels in the region (more than two-thirds of which are now privately owned!), Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiya are two news networks that have redefined Middle Eastern journalim and enjoy broad, pan-Arab influence.

The Internet, which represents technological progress and individual interaction, may have emerged as a powerful symbol of democratic protests in the Arab world even while “old media,” with their new (relative) independence from government coercion may be more responsible for planting the seeds of those protests.


America Online? Cultural Exchange On and Off the Web

Is YouTube really exporting American culture abroad?  The prevailing wisdom, fueled by a mix of empirical research and a culture of enthusiasm for digital media, is that the global nature of the Web has opened up creative content for sharing with new international audiences.  Yet, in light of restrictive censorship laws and media consumers’ homophilic tendencies, we may be overstating the broad multicultural exchange that has resulted.

What has signficantly increased the influence of American cultural products, however, is the liberalization of entertainment markets internationally.  As international trade barriers loosen, Hollywood films are pouring into foreign countries.  Just last year, China relaxed its restrictions on imported films, now allowing twenty imported films per year (most of which come from the United States).  This freer trade model, combined with the dramatic expansion of the movie theater market in China (American film studios can expect to generate $20 - $40 million per film these days, as opposed to $1 million per film ten years ago) is a boon for America’s cross-cultural influence in China.

It’s true that rampant piracy, enabled by digital technologies, further increases the reach and influence of American movies and music.  To the extent that the demand for pirated cultural products may be driven by the promotional activity of film studios or record labels, this practice may be seen more as an (illegal) extension of new international trade activity than as a natural extension of any multicultural exchange occuring online.

The cultural influence of trade doesn’t just move in one direction though.  As Michael Lynton, CEO of Sony Pictures Entertainment, insisted in a Wall Street Journal op-ed, economic globalization is as much responsible for bringing other cultures to Hollywood as it is for bringing Hollywood to other cultures.

Put otherwise, media systems are both the cause and the effect of culture.


The Cycle of Cultural Production & Consumption

To use a concept from sociology, media are performative. They enable new social solidarities, create new constituencies and, in some cases, even redefine political participation.  Nothing sows the idea of political dissent like the spectacle of an opposition leader publicly criticizing the a country’s leader on an independent television channel.  And, on some level, nothing creates a sense of individual economic agency like widespread television advertisements for Adidas and Nike sneakers, competing for the viewer’s preference.

Sociologists also discuss the “embeddedness” of markets within social and political contexts. From this angle, the proliferation of commercial broadcasters and media liberalization are enabled by the kind of social and political progress that they, in turn, spur.

Despite the above examples of how the media universe’s new economic models are transforming public opinion and cultural identity, we remain transfixed on the new technological models, the digital media revolution.  It’s perhaps understandable that reports of deregulation and trade agreements often take a back seat to the more trendy tales of the Internet’s global impact. The Internet is, after all, a uniform and universal medium and the causes and consequences of its introduction to different parts of the world are easily imagined.

In contrast, the increased privatization of media, while a global phenomenon, is constituted differently in different national contexts.  The private ownership of newspapers in the formerly Communist countries of Eastern Europe looks different than the multinational conglomerates that own television channels in Latin America.  Like globalization itself, this global phenomenon is being expressed in variegated and culturally situated ways.

Finally, the story of this “other” media revolution is also a bit counterintuitive to an American audience, which readily identifies the Internet as an empowering and democratizing medium, but has a different experience domestically with the commercialization of news journalism.  We haven’t confronted an autocratic state-run media environment and our commercial media don’t always live up to the high ideals of American journalism.  To a country like ours, which has grown accustomed to an independent press, it’s not always easy to see, as our founders once did, the potential of a free market of ideas (and creative content) as a foundation for independent thought, democratic participation, and cultural identity.


Mark Hannah is a doctoral student at USC's Annenberg School for Communication, where he studies the political and cultural consequences of the transformation of media systems internationally. A former political correspondent for PBS's MediaShift blog, Mark has been a staffer on two presidential campaigns and a digital media strategist at Edelman PR.

A Whale Of A Tale!: Ricardo Pitts-Wiley Brings Mixed Magic to LA

Last February, I announced here the release of Reading in a Participatory Culture, a print book, and Flows of Reading, a d-book extension, both focused around work my teams (first at MIT and then at USC) have done exploring how we might help educators and students learn about literary works through actively remixing them. Our central case study has been the work of playwright-actor-educator Ricardo Pitts-Wiley from the Mixed Magic Theater, who was successful at getting incarcerated youth to read and engage with Herman Melville's Moby-Dick by having them re-imagine and re-write it for the 21st century. You can read more about this project here. And you can check out the Flows of Reading d-book for free here. 
If you live in Los Angeles, you have a chance to learn more about Pitts-Wiley and his work first hand. I've been able to bring Ricardo for a residency at USC this fall, which will start with a public event at the Los Angeles Public Library on September 26. Ricardo is going to be recruiting a mixed race cast of high school and college aged actors from across the Los Angeles area and producing a staged reading of his play, Moby-Dick: Then and Now, which will be performed as part of a USC Visions and Voices event on Oct. 11th. You can get full details of both events below. I hope to see some of you there. We are already hearing from all kinds of artists here in Southern California who have sought creative inspiration from Melville's novel and used it as a springboard for their own work. But you don't have to love the great white whale to benefit from our approach to teaching traditional literary works in a digital culture, and we encourage teachers and educators of all kinds to explore how they might apply our model to thinking about many other cultural texts.
For those who live on the East Coast, our team will also be speaking and doing workshops at the National Writing Project's national conference in Boston on Nov. 21.
Thursday, September 26, 2013 7:15 PM
Mark Taper Auditorium-Central Library
Thu, Sep 26, 7:15 PM [ALOUD]
Remixing Moby Dick: Media Studies Meets the Great White Whale 
Henry Jenkins, Wyn Kelley, and Ricardo Pitts-Wiley

Over a multi-year collaboration, playwright and director Ricardo Pitts-Wiley, Melville scholar Wyn Kelley, and media expert Henry Jenkins have developed a new approach for teaching Moby-Dick in the age of YouTube and hip-hop. They will explore how "learning through remixing" can speak to contemporary youth, why Melville might be understood as the master mash-up artist of the 19th century, and what might have happened if Captain Ahab had been a 21st century gang leader.

* Part of the Library Foundation of Los Angeles and Los Angeles Public Library’s month-long citywide initiative "What Ever Happened to Moby Dick?"


Henry Jenkins is Provost's Professor of Communication, Journalism, and Cinematic Arts at the University of Southern California. He has written and edited more than fifteen books on media and popular culture, including Spreadable Media: Creating Meaning and Value in a Networked Culture with Sam Ford and Joshua Green. His other published works reflect the wide range of his research interests, touching on democracy and new media, the “wow factor” of popular culture, science-fiction fan communities, and the early history of film comedy. His most recent book, Reading in a Participatory Culture: Remixing Moby-Dick for the Literature Classroom was written with Wyn Kelley, Katie Clinton, Jenna McWilliams, Erin Reilly, and Ricardo Pitts-Wiley.

Wyn Kelley teaches in the Literature Section at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and is author of Melville's City: Literary and Urban Form in Nineteenth-Century New York and of Herman Melville: An Introduction. She also co-author Reading in a Participatory Culture: Re-Mixing Moby-Dick in the English Classroom with Henry Jenkins and Ricardo Pitts-Wiley. She is former Associate Editor of the Melville Society journal Leviathan, and editor of the Blackwell Companion to Herman Melville. A founding member of the Melville Society Cultural Project, she has collaborated with the New Bedford Whaling Museum on lecture series, conferences, exhibits, and a scholarly archive. She serves as Associate Director ofMEL (Melville Electronic Library), an NEH-supported interactive digital archive for reading, editing, and visualizing Melville’s texts.

Ricardo Pitts-Wiley is the co-founder of the Mixed Magic Theatre, a non-profit arts organization dedicated to presenting a diversity of cultural and ethnic images and ideas on the stage. While serving as Mixed Magic Theatre’s director, Pitts-Wiley gained national and international acclaim for his page-to-stage adaptation of Moby Dick, titled Moby Dick: Then and Now. This production, which was presented at the Kennedy Center for the Arts in Washington, DC, is the centerpiece of a national teachers study guide and is featured in the book, Reading in A Participatory Culture. In addition to his work as an adapter of classic literature Pitts-Wiley is also the composer of over 150 songs and the author of 12 plays with music including:Waiting for Bessie SmithCelebrations: An African Odyssey, andThe Spirit Warrior’s Dream.

Bastard Culture!: An Interview with Mirko Tobias Schäfer (Part One)

It says something about the compartmentalization of academic culture that I only belatedly discovered Mirko Tobias Schäfer's Bastard Culture!: How User Participation Transforms Cultural Production (published by Amsterdam University Press in 2011) -- a work which poses some important critiques of the concept of participatory culture, especially as it relates to recent developments around Web 2.0 and social media. Schäfer, based in the Netherlands, represents an important tradition of critical theory about new media which has emerged most emphatically from Europe and which should be better known among those of us working within the United States. As we discuss here, he is especially interested in the ways that technological designs constrain or limit our participation, rendering it less meaningful, commodifying it, in ways that run directly counter to the explicit rhetoric about expanding participation and empowering users. Read closely, Schäfer's work still embraces the value of democratic participation, yet he wants to hold companies, and scholars, to a high standard in terms of what constitutes meaningful forms of participation, and he is eager to push us beyond the first wave of enthusiastic response to these new affordances in order to look more closely and critically about how they are actually used. As my interview here suggests, there are points of disagreement between us, but there is also much common ground to be explored, and there is an urgent need for researchers from different critical and disciplinary perspectives to be working together to refine our understanding of the current media landscape. I had the pleasure of sitting down with Mirko at the recent Media in Transition conference at MIT and look forward to many future exchanges.

Having last week featured an interview with the editors of The Participatory Culture Handbook, I want to continue this focus on new theories of  participation by sharing this recent exchange I had with Schäfer.  I have come away with an even deeper respect and admiration for Schäfer's nuanced critique of digital participation. The first installments of this interview involve looking backward to his Bastard Culture book, exploring the convergences and divergences in our thinking, and reflecting on how the debates around digital media have shifted since 2011. The closing segment shares more recent work Schäfer and his colleagues at Utrecht University have been doing using "big data" processes (in combination with more qualitative approaches) to better understand the kinds of social relations that are taking shape on Twitter.

The title of your book, “Bastard Culture,” is meant to suggest the ways that the worlds of users and producers, consumers and corporations, are “intertwined” or “blended” in the era of Web 2.0. I suspect we would agree that understanding the relations between these terms remains a central challenge in contemporary cultural theory. The goal is, as you suggest, to “provide an analysis that is not blurred by either utopian or cultural pessimistic assumptions.” Are we any closer to developing such an analysis today than we were when you first published Bastard Culture? If so, which contemporary accounts do you think help us to achieve this more balanced perspective?

It was indeed my goal to point out the general heterogeneity of online culture as well as to deconstruct the overly enthusiastic connotation of participation. Especially in academic discourse the unconditional enthusiasm for the so-called social media has cooled down by now. We can see important contributions criticizing social media platforms for their lack of cultural freedom (e.g. strict content monitoring), breach of privacy and their commercial use of user activities and user data.

I like to distinguish this critique in three general approaches, which separately focus on a) free labour, b) privacy issues and c) the public sphere quality of social media.

Drawing from Marxist theory these authors -among others Trebor Scholz, Mark Andrejewich, Christian Fuchs and partially Geert Lovink- criticize social media platforms for generating an unacknowledged surplus value from user activities and for determining effectively the scope of user activities in order to maximize commercial results. Scholz's programmatic publication The Internet as Playground and as Factory is a strong example of this approach.

The strict regulations imposed by platform providers in combination with excessive data aggregation on users and their online activities sparked criticism concerning the lack of privacy by Michael Zimmer, Christian Fuchs and others. The general threat of surveillance -exerted by state authorities- has been convincingly addressed and criticized by Ronald Deibert, Evgeny Morozov, Wendy Chun, Jonathan Zittrain and others.

The public quality of interaction and communication on social media platforms has been described by Stefan Münker as “emerging digital publics”. Framing social media as a public sphere is not highly developed, but it provides in my opinion the most intriguing approach to understanding social media platforms and their impact on society.

Yes, I think we have made some progress in describing media practices more accurately and to give up on media myths that constituted the legend of new media as emancipating users. And this plays even out in the realm of the more general public. In Germany, the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung -a conservative/market-liberal newspaper- calls for a society-wide debate on technology and provides a platform for members of Computer Chaos Club to criticize technocratic policies and short-sighted understanding of technology and media. Evgeny Morozov is also doing an excellent job with his crusade against techno-populism; or think of Jaron Laniers superb critique of imprudent media use and hasty enthusiasm. It is absolutely crucial to have these debates within the popular discourse, as it is the popular discourse that shapes the general understanding of technology. That is why I have tremendous respect for scholars who are able to reach out to general audiences and to translate complex issues in accessible language.

As you note, participation has become an increasingly problematic word that is used by many different people in support of many different and often contradictory claims about the relationship between new media technologies and consumer empowerment. What steps can we make to reclaim participatory culture as a productive category for cultural analysis?

My objective was to deconstruct the ideological connotation as well as the emotional charge of 'participation'. Recently, we can see a similar problem with the metaphor 'social media'. It fuels a misunderstanding of media and media practices and it structurally obscure the agency of technology (the back-end as well as the user interface), power structures and economic factors.

In my opinion, it would be already helpful to pay close attention to the language we use to describe media and media practices. Many scholars can easily identify with emancipation, anti-hegemonic attitude and political activism. However, in our enthusiasm we tend to overestimate certain practices and misrepresent media use. We have therefore to take off our blinkers. I often tell my students, that if you really like your object of research, the chance is high for making mistakes and for neglecting important facts that would distort your picture.

That's funny. I tell my students that when you start from too critical perspective, it will be easy to flatten or simplify the phenomenon you are studying, to not look very deeply for redeeming or contradictory features, and to not take seriously what the activity might mean for those who embrace it.

Of course I agree. Being too critical is just as distorting as being too enthusiastic. What is needed is curious interest and willingness to get to the bottom of things, even if it will change your previous view of them. And research methods provide useful ways to do so.

'Participatory culture' can serve as productive category for cultural analysis if scholars distance themselves from their personal appreciation of media practices that might be close to their hearts but not necessarily representative for online culture. This would help to recognize the heterogeneity of the phenomenon we call participation as well as the ambiguity of technology. Taking technological aspects thoroughly into account, using 'digital methods' and putting case examples into perspective of the broader picture will help to do so.

The forms of participation which interest me the most are explicit participation -- that is, places where people are making conscious decisions to create media or otherwise communicate with each other about issues of mutual concern. Can you explain what you mean by implicit participation and how it relates to the claims being made by Web 2.0 companies to support participation? In what sense is it meaningful to describe “implicit participation” as participation? What are we participating within?

With implicit participation I describe how platform providers have integrated user activities into easy to use interface design and eventually implemented into business models. Implicit participation describes how user activities are channeled through the platform provider's design decisions. This ranges from interface elements as the like-button, the incentive of views on Flickr or YouTube to strategies where user unknowingly participate in additional functions of the feature they are using on a platform. The reCAPTCHA is an example of implicit participation where information provided by users for accessing a web feature is re-used in a completely different context. Many so-called gamification practices are examples of implicit participation.

I would argue that the popular 'social media' platforms thrive on implicit participation. It reduces consequently their dependence on intrinsic motivation, which is so crucial in explicit participation. Explicit participation becomes merely optional. The key is to lower the threshold and encourage the generic production of content, through creating data by simply using the platform's features or by spreading or multiplying content through the easy-to-use features of reproduction: retweet, repin, share etc. or to interact through ephemeral features as the like button. We will see many more and far better forms of implicit participation integrated into web platforms in future.

A key difference between our perspectives is that you place a much greater focus on the ways that technologies enable or constrain participation, where-as I primarily discuss the social and cultural motives which shape how people use technologies. Let’s assume we both believe that both technology and culture have played a role in defining the present moment as one where issues of participation are increasingly central to our understanding of the world. I would argue that there is a difference in understanding technology in terms of affordances and in terms of determinents, given the degree to which technologies are, as you note, subject to various forms of appropriation and redefinition once they have been designed and given that digital media can be re-coded and reprogrammed, even at the grassroots level, by those committed to alternative visions of social change. I worry, though, that ascribing too much power to technology results in models of technological determinism, which make certain outcomes seem inevitable. There has been such a strong tendency in this direction over the past several decades, whether critics worrying that Google has made us stupid, or advocates talking about the democratizing effects of the internet. Thoughts?

I am also worried about a simplified view of 'technological effects'. Especially in the popular discourse. there is a plethora of short sighted publications on the potential benefits or downsides of technological development. However, I would not argue that those perspectives inquire the technology but abuse it as a black box that facilitates whatever effect they wish to see unfold. In opposite to scholars, those writers are in the business of selling books, not in the business of conducting research.

I do not think that I am supporting a techno-determinist perspective by investigating technological qualities and by paying attention to the way design affects user activities. The popular 'social media' applications teach us, that we have so far underestimated the role of interface design, back-end politics and API regulation in the cultural production and social interaction playing out on these platforms. I can't possibly neglect that power also comes in shape of technology or as Andrew Feenberg put it: “technology is the key to cultural power”. I am not focused on technology as determining on its own account, but on its agency in close interrelation with designers, users, ownership structures, and media discourses, and others actors.

While my primary emphasis in talking about participatory culture might be described as symbolic appropriation (i.e. the manipulation of narratives, characters, symbols, icons, or brands), the central focus of your analysis is on “hacking” the material dimensions of technology, including, for example, game modifications or free software efforts. We might extend this focus to include a broader array of other material practices -- including Makers and Crafters -- who are central to current discussions of digital culture. What do you see as the consequences of this shift in focus in terms of our understanding of how participation works or what a more participatory culture looks like?

What I really liked about Textual Poachers was that you compellingly showed how open media texts are, not only to interpretation as Fiske had pointed out, but directly to 'material' appropriation and how it contributed to an entire field of cultural production. The world wide web then made the textual poachers explicitly visible, for marketeers and the general public. The second aspect I find important, and unfortunately this aspect is frequently overlooked, is that you outlined the history and the predecessors of today's read-write culture. With the maker culture similar debates concerning 'poaching' will unfold. We will see a new debate on copyrights and corporations will go out of their way to protect their designs from being 'printed'. There will be attempts by providers of 3D printers to control the device and its use. I would assume that the dynamics which I have dubbed confrontation, implementation and integration will play out in relation to the makers culture as well. The recent debates on MakerBot's decision to deviate from the open-source model indicate an attempt of implementation.

As you note, the initial wave of excitement about participatory culture has been met with strong critiques focused on issues of free labor and data mining as forms of exploiting the popular desire for more meaningful participation. Can you describe some of the ways that users have sought to assert their own claims on the technology in the face of their ownership and exploitation by the creative industries?

It's remarkable that dissent with a corporate platform plays out in quite traditional forms of protest and petition. On Facebook users 'like' petitions that represent their claim for better privacy regulations, or they formulate a Social Media Bill of Rights, call for a QuitFacebookDay etc.

There are other examples such as the Social Media Suicide Machine which allows users to delete their profiles. Then there are alternatives to the commercial web platforms and services. Diaspora was heralded as the Facebook killer and is now depict as a barrel burst. The UnlikeUs conference has been established as a platform for critics of 'social media monopolies' to connect and to discuss alternatives. But we can also see that civil right groups and privacy advocates lobby on behalf of users. However, I am afraid that the majority of the users can't be bothered with these issues.

You conclude the book with this important statement: “We must not sit on our hands while cultural resources are exploited and chances for enhancing education and civil liberties are at stake.” This seems like a powerful statement of what’s at stake in debates about participatory culture. So, what forms of action do you think we can or should take as scholars and as public intellectuals to respond to this situation?

The easy to use interfaces of the social web stimulated a new large group of users to use the world wide web. It also put the web again on the agenda of policy makers to regulate, to control and to monitor user activities. Designed as advertiser-friendly platforms, social media inherently provide the possibility for user assessment and control through API's which are already routinely used by law enforcement. We can also see how the powerful companies as among others Apple, Facebook, Google and Amazon affect cultural freedom on the web. Facebook's prudery appears (especially to us Europeans) as astonishingly weird and hostile to culture and freedom of expression. However, since social media platforms have emerged as an expanded public sphere, the censorship of items that might distort the rosy world-view of advertisers and the naivete of uninformed users is appalling. I would not mind if those platforms were a shopping mall somewhere in the margins of the world wide web, but they increasingly become a center part of the web and therefore an important role in our public sphere.

Unsurprisingly, Facebook is the poster boy for policy makers when thinking about eGovernance or other fancily dubbed forms of harmless civic participation. Facebook promises a dangerously safe way of dealing with citizens as their implicit participation features render participation into an easy-to-handle commodity that provides participation as a mere lip-service. Something, that even in democratic societies is still very appealing to policy makers.

What we need, is a society-wide debate on technology and its role in society. We need to discuss to what extent we accept platforms to distort the view upon reality by creating an controversy-free and advertiser-friendly filter bubble.

Mirko Tobias Schäfer is assistant professor of new media and digital culture at the University of Utrecht (Netherlands) and research fellow at Vienna University of Applied Arts. He blogs at

What Do We Know About Participatory Cultures: An Interview with Aaron Delwiche and Jennifer Jacobs Henderson (Part Three)

As your book illustrates, participatory culture is a global phenomenon, but so far, most of the research has focused on participatory culture in the English speaking world, and mostly, in the United States. What might we learn about participatory culture if we expanded our investigation to consider, for example, the Global South?

At one time, we had an excuse for such oversights.  We researched where we lived because it was physically and financially prohibitive to do otherwise.  This is no longer the case. There is no doubt that some of the most interesting participatory cultures are situated far beyond North America and it is time we all start looking closely at those cultures.

We are also optimistic that this imbalance will begin to be righted during the coming decade as youth across the globe synthesize social awareness, fluency in multiple languages, and expertise in communication technologies.  We predict (or at least hope for) a flood of research efforts on participatory cultures in the next ten years.

Addressing the geographical research gap is essential if we are to better understand and act upon the potential power of participatory cultures.  Since the emergence of fan studies in the 1980s, we (academic researchers) have built a robust body of literature on participatory fan cultures.  The same can be said for research on participatory democracy and budgeting as well as online gaming cultures.  There are enormous gaps in the literature, though, as far as other participatory cultures are concerned.

This is one reason that we chose to expand the boundaries of our book beyond the field of communication and invited authors who could speak to fields and cultures with lengthy and diverse research agendas – for example, poetry and literature, science, social action.  If we are lucky enough to publish a second collection, currently under-researched geographic locations and topical areas will be a primary focus.

What do you see as some of the major hurdles before we are going to be able to achieve a more participatory culture? What are the most important battles right now in terms of defining the terms of our participation?

As with other institutionalized problems, we must change the perceived value of participation.  This shift must occur in everything from education to economic structures.  For example, students are told they have violated the Honor Code if they work with others to find solutions to a homework assignment.  Team members are rarely rewarded equally for workplace outcomes (team "leaders" always get paid more).  Diplomacy is seen as less valuable than conquering.  We don't expect participation to gain value overnight.  Power is diminished or at least transformed when it is divided, and we all know there are many people who would like to hold on to their power.

Altering the perception of participation is particularly challenging in cultures that value individualism over collectivism.  We do believe this perception is shifting, if only slightly.  In recent years have we begun to hear public figures talk about the possibility of making money and doing good, of elected officials articulating a basic standard of health and opportunity, and of parents questioning the value of memorization rather than participation in their children's education.

How might we increase the value given to diversity and dissent within participatory cultures? Is there a danger that such communities tend to be consensus-based and thus are more apt to exclude people who persistently disagree with shared goals and values?

We do not value diversity and dissent as much as we can and should in participatory cultures. Many people do not see online spaces as open and inviting.  In fact, "incivility" and "nastiness" are the concerns most often voiced in opposition to participatory engagement.  Honestly, it's hard to convince people otherwise when the "comments" sections of spaces such as YouTube and CNN are filled with illogical, unsupportive, and hateful commentary.

Consensus is hard to come by these days; in fact, it is much harder than in years past. This is both a good thing and bad thing. Our touch points of shared experience (mediated and otherwise) are far less than even one generation ago.  Reading and relying only on opinions with which we agree has become commonplace.   Combine this echo-chamber reality with online anonymity and you face an impressive foe.

So, on one side we have an age of disagreement mingling with anonymity and on the other we have cultures that derive success from consensus.  Diversity and dissent can get lost on either side.  Only a culture that can instill the value of listening survives this war.  And we all know that listening is tough, especially when people feel they have something important (or more insightful) to say.

This delicate balance of agreement is what sustains hope in some participatory cultures and destroys others. The strongest participatory cultures are ones in which all voices carry the same weight, all opinions are heard, and all ideas are deliberated.  The weakest participatory cultures are those that allow the crush of consensus or the minority voice to dominate.  Participatory cultures are difficult to build and maintain but, when they work, they are extremely powerful forces in the lives of their participants and across society at large.


The book closes with an ethical framework for thinking about participatory culture. What do you see as the core values which might govern an ethics of participation? What mechanisms might exist for inspiring greater ethical reflection within existing and emerging participatory cultures?


Almost all ethical frameworks are grounded in the concept of selflessness.  Almost all activities in online participatory cultures are inherently self-centered.  We read. We search. We post. We share.  Most often we do these things for us, not for any greater good.  It might not be easy to flip the switch from selfishness to selflessness in these spaces, but we do see stronger communities where the balance has tipped.

We could begin a movement toward selflessness by gently nudging participants in online communities to consider others in their visual and rhetorical choices.  The ethics chapter of the Handbook calls on people to start standing up for each other in online communities – to take on flamers and to support those who are ridiculed.  Encouraging constructive responses would also help with this move from selfishness to selflessness.  We see this work well on fan fiction sites where member read, help edit, and provide encouragement to fellow writers.

Quite honestly, ethical reflection occurs infrequently.  Most ethicists would claim you need at least five steps to make a good decision: identification of the ethical problem, acknowledgment of the parties involved and your loyalties to each, conscious deliberation, purposeful action, and reflection.  The current ethical decision-making process is most often reduced to just two steps: act and justify those actions. We could make participatory cultures more ethical if we could convince people to engage in even the briefest contemplation prior to posting, uploading, or commenting.  This is something few people do and more should.

Critical studies writers, including the Janissary Collective, featured in the collection, express concern that participation is illusionary and coercive, that we only participate on the terms which powerful groups allow us. What might those of us advocating for a more participatory culture learn from those critiques? 

If one believes that human history provides examples of ever-greater participation, and if one accepts that there are more opportunities for political, economic, and cultural participation than ever before, it is easy to get caught up in idealistic fervor. If we drink too deeply of our own theoretical Kool-Aid, we become irrelevant at best and tyrannical at worst. Critiques such as those authored by Janissary Collective and the British cultural critic Paul Taylor are invaluable because they remind us that things are never that simple.

There are many version of pessimistic critique in cultural studies and critical theory. One variant argues that that democracy is hopeless. According to this view, attempts to foster greater participation and inclusion are the enemy of individual freedom. As expressed by the Janissary Collective, this position holds that "participatory culture can never provide the basis for the good life – in fact, it can be its worst enemy" (p. 264).

A second form of pessimism presents itself as even more negative about participatory culture, but there is a glimmering ember of optimism lurking beneath the surface. This view does not argue that democracy is intrinsically flawed. Rather, it unleashes withering criticism of those thinkers and activists who gloss over the many ways that participatory culture and participatory technologies are abused, exploited, and farcically celebrated by political and economic elites. When Paul Taylor observes "whether interacting in a self-consciously local fashion as consumers of lattes or technologically as hackers of computer systems… we are all perhaps still ultimately passive" (p.255), he implicitly mourns the loss of authentic participatory culture.

Both critiques are essential. The "democracy is hopeless" position reminds us that we must respect the individual right to resist participation. The "participatory culture is a web of false promises" position helps us diagnose where the dream risks becoming a nightmare. Embedded in the passionate prose of Taylor's piece, participatory culture activists can tease out guideposts that will help us determine our next steps.

Aaron Alan Delwiche (Ph.D., University of Washington) is an associate professor in the Department of Communication at Trinity University. His research interests include participatory culture, intergenerational gaming, and wearable computing. In 2009, with support from the Lennox Foundation, he organized the lecture series Reality Hackers: The Next Wave of Media Revolutionaries. In 2010, he delivered a talk titled "We are all programmers now" at TEDx San Antonio. He is also co-editor of the The Participatory Cultures Handbook (2012).

Dr. Jennifer Jacobs Henderson (Ph.D., University of Washington) is an associate professor and chair of the Department of Communication at Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas.  Her research addresses the boundaries of speech in media and participatory cultures as well as the ethics of this speech.  Jennifer is the author of the 2010 book Defending the Good News: The Jehovah’s Witnesses and Their Plan to Expand the First Amendment and co-editor of the The Participatory Cultures Handbook (2012).


What Do We Now Know About Participatory Cultures: An Interview with Aaron Delwiche and Jennifer Jacobs Henderson (Part One)

I am happy today to be introducing Aaron Delwiche and Jennifer Jacobs Henderson, the editors of an important new anthology, The Participatory Cultures Handbook. Anyone who has followed this blog over the years will recognize the names of many of the contributors to this collection, which includes Christopher M Kelty, Jason Mittell, Suzanne Scott, Mia Consalvo, Benjamin Stokes, Owen Gallagher, Pierre Levy, Daren Brabham, Howard Rheingold, Barry Joseph, and Paul Taylor, among many others, each represented by an original essay which expands their earlier writings on this topic and seeks to contribute to a larger conversation about the nature of participation (cultural, political, educational) in the early 21st century. The core topics include collective intelligence, new media literacies, crowd-sourcing, participatory democracy, fandom, serious games, blogging, and the digital arts, among much much more. In short, there's something in this book which will speak to pretty much anyone who regularly checks out this blog. I have been raiding this book for my teaching and my writing ever since I first got my hands on it, and my students have found it a valuable resource for a broad range of projects. (Full disclosure: I have a short essay in this collection written in conversation with Suzanne Scott about her work on contemporary "fan boy auteurs." Both essays add some more specificity to oft-made claims about the blurring boundary between fan and author.) Over the next few posts, I am going to be grilling Delwiche and Henderson about some of the core themes that cut across the collection. I have to admit that I had a lot of fun framing these questions, since many of them are questions I am often asked in other interviews or that I am currently struggling with in my own work, and the two editors do a great job of putting forth some original reflections about these core and recurring concerns that we all confront as we seek to better understanding the participatory turn in contemporary culture. From my perspective, their responses, like the book itself, strikes an appropriate balance, embracing the collective push towards greater and more meaningful participation while also expressing skepticism about the ways that the term has been taken up and deployed rhetorically by a range of powerful and entrenched institutions. They welcome both writers who are excited about contemporary developments and those who offer strong critiques of some of the underlying assumptions driving this work. In the end, their work brings much greater rigor to our understanding of participatory culture, both by expanding the range of case studies we have to work with and pushing for more precise distinctions between different models of participatory practice.

The book includes a range of different practices, from those associated with fandom to those associated with crowd sourcing or community organizing or citizen science or digital poetry. How are you defining the core concept of participatory culture?


In The Participatory Cultures Handbook, we use the definition of participatory culture from the 2006 white paper Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education for the 21st Century that you and your co-authors wrote for the MacArthur Foundation. As a starting point, we rely on your explanation that participatory cultures are characterized by "relatively low barriers to artistic expression and civic engagement, strong support for creating and sharing one's creations, and some type of information mentorship whereby what is known by the most experienced is passed along to novices" (p. 7). A participatory culture "is also one in which members believe that their contributions matter, and feel some degree of social connectedness with one another (at least they care what other people think about what they have created" (p. 7).

After completing the book, we would now suggest there are three primary kinds of participatory cultures: consensus cultures, creative cultures, and discussion cultures.  While we acknowledge these are fuzzy categories, they do offer a structure for thinking about what it means to participate. We believe the nature of participatory cultures shifts just as it does in real world settings where cultures are shaped by venue, topic, participants, and interest level.

The most traditionally "productive" participatory cultures are often consensus cultures, or agreement-based.  They frequently reside in the realm of "work" where there is a goal or outcome to be met.  Something must be completed or solved or fixed.  These could easily be subdivided into expert cultures where people with specialized knowledge join together to leverage the power of collective intelligence and democratic cultures where "average citizens" do the same thing.  In the book, chapters about CERN and crisis mapping tend to the former while those about participatory budgeting tend to the latter.

Creative cultures are those in which participants are encouraged to create, share, and comment all within a safe and supportive environment.  Remix cultures live in this space, as do art and writing cultures.  The creative portion of fan cultures reside here – the fan fiction and fan-art sub-sites, for example.  In these spaces, participants are passionate about their creativity and the topics that spur those passions.  They are often lifers, who join a culture and stick with it.

Discussion cultures are ones where a topic rather than an outcome is at the heart of participation.  Sports fandoms, news sites, and food blogs all fall within the realm of discussion cultures.  Here, we often see more disagreement than support with participants engaging in sometimes heated, often real-time, exchanges on topics of personal and professional interest.  Participants in discussion cultures are not always long-time residents; they often roam from site to site as they chase the topic.


­­I have been seeing increased skepticism about the concept of participatory culture as a rhetoric of participation gets applied to many different sets of relationships between consumers and commercial interests. What qualities need to be in place before meaningful participation may occur?

This skepticism is well founded. One can think of many instances in which organizations use the rhetoric of participation to legitimize non-participatory relationships. This often happens when commercial interests leverage participatory culture practices to promote marketing goals (e.g., crowdsourcing slogans for a new flavor of tortilla chips), but corporations are not the only entities that attempt to pass off faux-participation as something more meaningful. The rhetoric of participation is regularly applied (and misapplied) to relationships between governments and citizens, as well as to relationships between activist groups and their members. This happens in groups of all sizes -- from smaller community groups to national political associations.

In some ways, the pretense of participation is more troubling than the absence of participation. When authentic participatory energy turns out to be little more than democratic window dressing for top-down decision-making, those who devoted time and energy to the process might walk away feeling cynical, hopeless, and discouraged. This is why it is so important for us to ask questions about participatory procedures.

To what extent can the objectives of a participatory project be defined and refined by all participants? If the power to articulate project goals is concentrated in a handful of individuals, the process does not deliver meaningful participation.

To what extent are participants' contributions filtered and edited before they are shared with the broader community? Often, organizations include "talk back" sections on institutional web sites; these components give the appearance of engaged member feedback. However, when one takes a closer look, it becomes clear that user comments are carefully filtered before they are posted. Meaningful participation is inversely proportional to the extent of censorship and editorial control.

It is true that there might be some situations in which community moderation is necessary – for example, in participatory communities that include minors. In these instances, participants have every right to scrutinize the transparency of moderation practices.

Some would argue that meaningful participation is a binary concept: it exists or it does not. However, it might be more useful -- and more realistic -- to think of participatory culture in analog terms. Some processes offer more authentic participation than others, and we should agitate for arrangements that are as close to the participatory ideal as possible.  There are times when we can only nudge. There are times when we push harder. And, every once in a while, as Mario Savio reminds us, "you've got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels… upon all the levers, upon all the apparatus… and you've got to indicate to the people who run it, to the people that own it, that unless you're free, the machine will be prevented from working at all."


Some argue that opportunities for meaningful participation still rest almost exclusively within groups which have enjoyed various forms of privilege in the past -- especially those within elite or dominant segments of the population. What do we know about inequalities in opportunities to participate? Are there compelling cases of participation "from the bottom" and what lessons might we learn from these examples that would help us broaden opportunities for participation?

Privileged elites have always had greater access to participatory technologies and political structures. In Athens, direct democracy was erected on the backs of women and slaves who were excluded from the polis. In America, representative democracy was erected on the backs of women and slaves who were excluded from the voting booth. Thankfully, the history of democratic institutions is progressive, and more people have access to participatory culture than ever before.

This progress stems directly from the fact that disenfranchised human beings have agitated for full and equal participation, often risking their lives in the process. The most crucial battles for civil rights have been waged "from the bottom" by networks of individuals who have wrestled communication tools (literacy, the printing press, radio, music, film, video, computers) from the hands of elites. In turn, activists have used these tools to penetrate and transform political and economic systems in which they are located.

How can we broaden the opportunities for meaningful participation? First, we should nurture media literacy projects at all levels of society, making sure to address what you termed "the participation gap" in the report (Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture) that you co-authored for the MacArthur Foundation. In practical terms, this means fostering the competencies and social skills identified in the report: play, performance, simulation, appropriation, multitasking, distributed cognition, collective intelligence, judgment, transmedia navigation, networking, and negotiation.

However, redefining media literacy to include an emphasis on skills required for participation is only the first step. If we want to preserve and extend opportunities for participation, we must broaden our thinking about the term "digital literacy." It is no longer sufficient for citizens to understand how to use computers; we must also learn how to program the machines that rule our lives.

If we continue to accept technological gadgets and protocols as neutral gifts from benevolent technical elites, we pave the way for our future subjugation. As Douglas Rushkoff observes in Program or Be Programmed, digital technologies are always embedded with external purposes. "They act with intention," he warns. "If we don't know how they work, we won't even know what they want. The less involved and aware we are of the way our technologies are programmed and program themselves, the more narrow our choices will become; the less we will be able to envision alternatives to the pathways described by our programs; and the more our lives and experiences will be dictated by their biases" (p. 148-149).

Scholars and activists often mystify digital technologies even as they celebrate them. We convince ourselves that computer programming is conceptually difficult or ideologically suspect. But nothing could be further from the truth. It is not difficult to learn basic programming, and it is easy to master the fundamental concepts that empower us to "speak back" to technology. Yet, even as progressive iterations of computer programming languages become more and more accessible, our fellow citizens seem increasingly willing to think of themselves as users rather than programmers – as consumers rather than coders.

It is only possible to sustain and broaden participatory culture for all citizens if we take up this challenge. If we dodge this responsibility – if we fail to teach our neighbors and ourselves how to program, and thus control, the ubiquitous machines that regulate our lives – we squander the accomplishments of those who have fought to expand the boundaries of participatory culture throughout human history.

We are all programmers now. Or, at least we can be, if we are willing to try.


Aaron Alan Delwiche (Ph.D., University of Washington) is an associate professor in the Department of Communication at Trinity University. His research interests include participatory culture, intergenerational gaming, and wearable computing. In 2009, with support from the Lennox Foundation, he organized the lecture series Reality Hackers: The Next Wave of Media Revolutionaries. In 2010, he delivered a talk titled "We are all programmers now" at TEDx San Antonio. He is also co-editor of the The Participatory Cultures Handbook (2012).


Dr. Jennifer Jacobs Henderson (Ph.D., University of Washington) is an associate professor and chair of the Department of Communication at Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas.  Her research addresses the boundaries of speech in media and participatory cultures as well as the ethics of this speech.  Jennifer is the author of the 2010 book Defending the Good News: The Jehovah’s Witnesses and Their Plan to Expand the First Amendment and co-editor of the The Participatory Cultures Handbook (2012).


Artist's Rights and Internet Freedom: A Public Conversation Between T Bone Burnett and Henry Jenkins

Late last year, I was lucky enough to be able to engage the great musician T Bone Burnett in a series of conversations concerning the proper balance between Copyright and Fair Use. The first of these events was held at the Futures of Entertainment Conference at MIT and also featured Jonathan Taplin, the Director of the Annenberg Innovation Lab, and was featured on this blog a while back. Today, I am able to share with you the video of a follow-up event, held in Los Angeles, at the Hammer Museum. Here's how the event was billed:


Award-winning producer T-Bone Burnett and communications scholar Henry Jenkins illuminate the debate over intellectual property rights versus Internet freedom. Burnett is a 12-time Grammy-winning composer and producer and a vocal advocate of artists’ rights. Jenkins is the Provost’s Professor of Communication, Journalism and Cinematic Arts at USC and an advocate of Fair Use and Internet freedom. His recent book is Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide.

Hammer Forum is moderated by Ian Masters, journalist, author, screenwriter, documentary filmmaker, and host of the radio programs Background Briefing, Sundays at 11AM, and The Daily Briefing, Monday through Thursday at 5PM, on KPFK 90.7 FM.

The video speaks for itself. Enjoy.

HOT.SPOT 2: Introduction: Election Season Revisited

A while back, I shared the first of a series of "Hot.Spot" blog posts created by my students and colleagues within the USC Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism's Civic Paths research group. The team's back with another round, this one timed to respond to the Presidential Election and inauguration. I am happy to crosspost their efforts with you. I now hand this over to Liana Gamber Thompson, our post-doc and MC Extraordinare. Hotspot Philosophy

These collections of mini-blog posts -- "hot spots" -- are organized around themes that cut across the diverse interests of participants in our research group. They’re about the things we love to talk about. And, like our in-person conversations, they play with ideas at the intersection of participatory culture, civic engagement, and new media. Our rules for the hotspot are these: No one gets to spend a million hours wordsmithing — these are idea starters, not finishers — and posts shouldn’t be a whole lot longer than five hundred words.

Election Season Revisited (Inauguration Edition!)

Live-Tweeting Laffs During the 2012 Debates On the Separation of Cable and State Obama's Back Problems Where Voting Fits In for the “Self-Expressive Citizen” #firsttimevoters Nobody 2012 Crowns and Badges

I spent the bulk of Monday tuning in to President Obama’s inauguration and the coverage around it. I admit, no matter who is being sworn in, I’m a sucker for the pageantry, the tradition, and the ceremony of the inauguration. I love seeing the National Mall brimming with enthusiastic, if freezing, faces and studying the interactions of the political rivals, celebrities, and past presidents assembled on the stage. On that day, the campaign season that got President Obama here seemed but a distant memory, the blood, sweat and tears of staffers and volunteers receding into footnotes as the President took his oath over not one, but two historic bibles.

But as President Obama gets back to work, Michelle Obama ships her ruby red inaugural gown off to the National Archives, and the blogosphere descends into a tedious debate over Beyonce’s lip-syncing, the excitement of the inauguration fades. The significance of President Obama’s achievement, however, does not. That’s why, for our second Civic Paths hotspot*, we’ve decided to return our focus to election season and to the range of people and stories that made it such an interesting one.

Kevin [1] and Sam [2] consider the relationship between politics and entertainment during election season, while Raffi [3] dissects some of President Obama’s more perplexing campaign slogans. Neta [4] seeks to understand how the traditional civic act of voting is tied to more self-expressive acts of engagement. Kjerstin [5] also looks at voters, documenting the infectious joy behind many of the tweets of #firsttimevoters, while I [6] examine a group of young non-voters and some of their favorite memes. Lastly, Ben [7] brings us back to where we started—the inauguration—with his account of the symbols and spectacle surrounding it.

We hope these posts will bring some of the more compelling stories from election season back into relief. We also hope this hotspot inspires others to bring their own stories into the conversation because so much has yet to be explored from the 2012 Presidential election and the sometimes wild and woolly days that preceded it.

-- Liana Gamber Thompson

*For more on the hotspot philosophy, see our first hotspot on DIY culture.

[1] -- Kevin Driscoll, Live-Tweeting Laffs During the 2012 Debates [2] -- Sam Close, On the Separation of Cable and State [3] -- Raffi Sarkissian, Obama's Back Problems [4] -- Neta Kligler-Vilenchik, Where Voting Fits In for the “Self-Expressive Citizen” [5] -- Kjerstin Thorson, #firsttimevoters [6] -- Liana Gamber Thompson, Nobody 2012 [7] -- Ben Stokes, Crowns and Badges

What's All the Fuss About Connected Learning?

Last week, the MacArthur Foundation released a significant new report, Connected Learning: An Agenda for Research and Design, which should warrant the close attention of my regular readers, especially those of you who are strongly invested in thinking about the nature of education within a networked era. The report comes more than six years after the launch of the Digital Media and Learning initiative and represents an important re-assessment of what's working and what's not as institutions at all levels have responded to the changes which are impacting our information environment. The authors of the report include some of the most important American and British thinkers about youth, new media, and education:

Mizuko Ito...Kris Gutiérrez...Sonia Livingstone... Bill Penuel...Jean Rhodes...Katie Salen..Juliet Schor...Julian Sefton-Green....S. Craig Watkins 

The report is sobering in its acknowledgment of some of the real challenges confronting us, especially in its focus on the growing inequalities in terms of access not simply to the technological infrastructure but to the skills and opportunities required to meaningfully participate in the new media environment:

Despite its power to advance learning, many parents, educators, and policymakers perceive new media as a distraction from academic learning, civic engagement,and future opportunity. Digital media also threaten to exacerbate growing inequities in education. Progressive digital media users ... are a privileged minority. There is also a growing gap between the progressive use of digital media outside of the classroom, and the no-frills offerings of most public schools that educate our most vulnerable populations. This gap contributes to widespread alienation from educa- tional institutions, particularly among non-dominant youth. Without a proactive educational reform agenda that begins with questions of equity, leverages both in-school and out-of-school learning, and embraces the opportunities new media offer for learning, we risk a growth in educational alienation by our most vulnerable populations....

This report is skeptical and hard-nosed, challenging some of the optimism which has fueled previous work in the Digital Media and Literacy tradition, raising concerns about what is happening to those who are being excluded from meaningful participation. The authors raise alarms about how all young people are impacted by an educational process which gives them few chances to pursue their own passions and interests within a regime of standardized testing and a fragmented media environment where children have much greater access to highly commercial sites than to those which speak to them as citizens and learners.

The report raises these issues while also recognizing the very real educational opportunities DML scholars have identified when we look at those communities which have proven rewarding for a growing number of young participants, communities which have a shared ethical commitment to encouraging and scaffolding their participation. The authors believe something valuable is taking place in many corners of the web (and in the context of young people's everyday engagements with media.):

Young people can have diverse pathways into connected learning. Schools, homes, afterschool clubs, religious institutions, and community centers and the parents, teachers, friends, mentors and coaches that young people find at these diverse locales, all potentially have a role to play in guiding young people to connected learning. Connected learning takes root when young people find peers who share interests, when academic institutions recognize and make interest-driven learning relevant to school, and when community institutions provide resources and safe spaces for more peer- driven forms of learning.

Examples of learning environments that are currently integrating the spheres of peers, interests, and academic pursuits include athletics programs that are tied to in-school recognition, certain arts and civic learning programs, and interest-driven academic programs such as math, chess, or robotics competitions. These connected learning environments ideally embody values of equity, social belonging, and participation. Further, connected learning environments are generally characterized by a sense of shared purpose, a focus on production, and openly networked infrastructures.

The report is skeptical, not cynical. It asks hard questions precisely so we can empower meaningful change. The authors do not fall prey to the paralysis which consumes so much academic writing, but rather they offer a number of concrete recommendations about what new kinds of educational structures and practices need to emerge. What I admire most about this report is this movement between critique and advocacy, between analysis of existing problems and the willingness to find concrete solutions. I have admired these pragmatic qualities in many of these authors individually in the past. See, for example, my previous interviews with Mimi Ito, Craig Watkins, and Sonia Livingstone, about their research.  

The report includes rich case studies, demonstrating the kinds of experiences some youth have enjoyed through joining the Harry Potter Alliance, enrolling in New York City's Quest to Learn School, or participating in the after school offerings of the Chicago Public Library's YouMedia Center. Such projects illustrate what happens when everything comes together. Here, for example, is a bit from a sidebar written by Sangita Shresthova and Neta  Kliger-Vilenchik, two researchers from my Civic Paths team at USC's Annenberg School, dealing with the learning culture which has grown up around the Harry Potter Alliance:

Although fun and social in nature, involvement in HPA pushes young people to connect their recre- ational interests to social and political issues that they might not otherwise be familiar with. Because HPA turns its attention to many issues, ranging from net neutrality to fair trade and voter registra- tion, this forces participants to study up in a range of new areas. Almost every campaign is accompa- nied by a period of learning about the new issue and making sense of it. Chapter leaders will often educate the group on a new issue. Participants also talk about how involvement in HPA helped them see the political messages within Harry Potter. One chapter has gone as far as opening a 6-week study group on “Harry Potter as a tool for social change,” discussing links between the narratives and real-world issues. In other words, HPA is a site of hybridization and translation between political and fantasy-centered frames of reference.

Coincidentally, Andrew Slack, HPA's Founder and Leader, also released a new TED talks video last week, which is a wonderful illustration of the HPA approach at work.

Here, Slack is very much in his element, speaking to a room of youth, giving himself over to his inner fan boy, and at the same time, encouraging critical media literacies and informed engagement with social issues. You also get a sense here of how Slack and others in his organization are moving beyond a focus on Harry Potter fandom and seeking to demonstrate how we might learn from a range of popular media and literary texts.

Such educational opportunities are exciting -- they have sustained my own enthusiasm over the better part of a decade now -- but they are not in and of themselves enough, not as long as many young people lack the kind of adult mentorship which might help them to identify meaningful online experiences or make connections between what they are learning in these communities and the demands of more formalized education.

The heart of the report seeks to identify design principles which might address these concerns:

Our hypothesis is that in order to develop these cross-cutting repertoires of practice, young people need concrete and sustained social networks, relationships, institutional linkages, shared activities and communication infrastructures that connect their social, academic, and interest-driven learning. It is not enough for young people to have knowledge “in their head” and expect that they can apply it appropriately and effectively in varied settings on their own. They need caring adults, supportive peers, shared cultural references, and authentic ways of contributing to shared practices in order to mobilize their skills and knowledge. In contrast to the voluminous literature and research on cognitive and individual models of transfer, there has been very little work that looks more ecologically at the relational, infrastructural, and institutional settings that undergird effective translation and transfer between formal instruction and varied practices.

I can't begin to do justice to this report. You need to read it yourself, and then, we need to launch some serious conversations about its implications for our own practices.


The More We Know: Academic Games Research and Industry Collaboration (Part Two)

The last time I reported about iCue on this blog, it was part of an overview of the work of The Education Arcade. In what ways were the choices made on iCue informed by the Education Arcade's previous experiences developing prototypes for "serious games"? What are some of the factors which have made it hard to get university-based games research beyond the prototype stage and into the world where it might have greater impact?

There is a lot of pushback in the system where change is required.  If there is a change required in the way teaching and learning are perceived, then it is much harder to get adoption.  As such, the teachers never really came for the games, but rather the other parts that they could adopt or adapt and plug into existing structures. In turn, NBC didn’t take the games as seriously; they didn’t grow the more innovative or risky ideas, and, due to the financial crisis in 2008, they couldn’t really even update them.

Thinking about how we moved from previous work into this project, we were working in a much more constrained space then we were used to.  Rather than having the flexibility to build something rich and multi-faceted as we had with Revolution, we were working in the narrower starting space of media archives and integration with the AP curricula.  That restricted the game space, but provided perhaps more realistic constraints than we were used to working within.

What do you see as some of the major hurdles which academic researchers face in terms of working with industry partners?

There are certainly competing interests.  In academia, we can take a longer view, learning and refining over time.  These learnings are valued in and if themselves.  Of course, we also need a successful product, but we can take the time to get there carefully and be thorough. We can be risk prone in the short term.  In industry, pressure to return revenue quickly creates risk aversion.  Even though NBC News’ then-CFO, Adam Jones, protected iCue against those pressures more than the average project, it still had to make compromises that we had to stomach. For instance, there was early hope that the site would feature remix tools for young people to author their own content, but NBC Standards and Practices department shut down that talk almost immediately.

What factors make the education marketplace a particularly challenging one to navigate?

There are big issues around who pays for products, and who makes the decision to buy.  Are schools paying? Can a teacher make the decision, or must they appeal up the food chain to their principal or district? Are parents going to pay? Would any of these stakeholders accept a free-to-play model with sponsored advertising?  Then, depending on these factors, how do you design and market the product? There are also issues of metrics and measurement—how do you show that your product is working?  Does it leverage existing metrics (which may be poor), or new metrics (which aren’t yet implemented or validated)?

Further, are the schools and teachers even ready for the product, both pedagogically and technologically?  Do they have the preparation they need to use the tool effectively?

Finally, if you can settle all of those questions but have a new product approaching learning in a new way, how do you communicate that to your audience?  It can be difficult to transmit that kind of messaging through the standard, narrow channels to schools and teachers.


If you could go back and time and leave a message for yourself at the beginning of the process, describing what you now know, what would it say?

Instead of moving our research team to an evaluation position on the project, stay on the design side.  Convince NBC News that the need to sell something quickly shouldn’t obscure the original vision of what this product might do in the hands of students (where it never really got).

We would also push back on timelines and growth models.  We might have seen more success if we had started in a more targeted area and grown from there. That would have almost certainly been a more effective model instead of jumping all in right away, diluting much of the opportunity for participatory learning and deeper learning experiences.

What challenges did you face working with the educational establishment? Were teachers ready for what iCue sought to do? Were students?

Teachers might have been ready, but ultimately the site lacked the depth and frequency of updates it needed to really achieve its goals.

Students might also have been ready, but iCue was a space populated with teachers when they arrived, perhaps sending the signal that it wasn’t a space for them.

The jury is still out on whether students can and will come to an academic social space like iCue was envisioned to be.  That is an interesting question that we continue to explore in our work.


Eric Klopfer is Professor and Director of the Scheller Teacher Education Program and The Education Arcade at MIT.  Klopfer's research focuses on the development and use of computer games and simulations for building understanding of science and complex systems. He is the co-author of the book, Adventures in Modeling: Exploring Complex, Dynamic Systems with StarLogo, and author of Augmented Learning: Research and Design of Mobile Educational Games from MIT Press.  Klopfer is also the co-founder and President of the non-profit Learning Games Network.

Jason Haas is Graduate Research Assistant in the Media Lab and in The Education Arcade at MIT. His research focuses on the design and efficacy of learning games. Recent research and design has been for The Radix Endeavor, a Gates Foundation-funded MMORPG for science and math learning. Previous research has involved the role of narrative in learning in the casual physics games Woosh, Waker, and Poikilia and in large-scale collective intelligence gaming  in Vanished.

Alex Chisholm is Co-Founder and Executive Director of Learning Games Network, a non-profit organization bridging the gap between research and practice in game-based learning.  He has collaborated on product and program development with Microsoft, LeapFrog, NBC Universal, BrainPOP, Federal Reserve Bank-New York, and the Hewlett and Gates Foundations, among others.


The Cost of Engagement: Politics and Participatory Practices in the U.S. Liberty Movement

From time to time, I am sharing through this blog some of the research being generated by the MacArthur Foundation-support Youth and Participatory Politics Research Network. This team, headed by Joseph Kahne from Mills College, is seeking to map the ways that the practices associated with participatory culture and the technologies of networked computing are impacting the political lives of  youth, primarily in the United States but also in other parts of the world. See for example earlier posts about the YPP survey and about our case study of DREAM activists. Today, I am proud to share a new report, a case study of the political and cultural experiences of young Liberatarians, as they seek to find their own voice, forge their own community, in a space defined both by participatory dimensions of their own informal networks and by the influence of powerful conservative think tanks and funding organizations. This report was prepared by Liana Gamber Thompson, a Post-Doc who has been working as part of my USC-based research team, Media Activism and Participatory Politics (MAPP), as we develop ethnographic case studies of innovative organizations and networks that have been successful at increasing civic engagement and political participation amongst youth.  




PLAY (Participatory Learning and YOU!)

Last time, I shared Shall We Play?, a report funded by the Gates Foundation and distributed by the Annenberg Innovation Lab. Today, we are releasing its companion report, PLAY (Participatory Learning and YOU!), which is authored by Erin Reilly, Vanessa Vartabedian, Laurel Felt, and Henry Jenkins. It continues our exploration of insights gained from our year-long work with elementary and secondary teachers from the Los Angeles Unified School District as they sought to develop a more participatory environment in their classroom. Through this research, our teams has identified five core principles for participatory learning:

1.     Participants have many chances to exercise creativity through diverse media, tools, and practices;

2.     Participants adopt an ethos of co-learning, respecting each person’s skills and knowledge;

3.     Participants experience heightened motivation and engagement through meaningful play;

4.     Activities feel relevant to the learners’ identities and interests;

5.     An integrated learning system - or learning ecosystem - honors rich connections between home, school, community and world.

In this report, we will discuss each of these principles, describing specific examples of how they were applied through the workshop process, what impact they had on the teachers and students involved, and what some of the challenges we face in bringing about this kind of change within the current public schools system.




HOT.SPOT: The Dark Side(s) of DIY

From time to time, I have written here about the work of the Civic Paths research team in the Annenberg School of Communications and Journalism at the University of Southern California. I helped to start this research group when I arrived in Los Angeles three and a half years ago; it has been the seedbed for our Media Activism and Participatory Politics project which has generated a series of case studies of innovative activist groups (and will be the basis of an upcoming book). But, the group has become something more than that -- a space where students and faculty gather to discuss the participatory turn in contemporary culture and politics. Such discussions thrive on our internal discussion list, and we've been experimenting with various ways to get these ideas out to the world both formally through op ed pieces and informally through blogging. The team recently launched a new project -- HOT.SPOT to encourage as many of the members as possible to write short blog posts around a related theme -- think of it as a mini-anthology. Lead by my journalism colleague Kjerstin Thorson and our post-doc Liana Thompson, the first of our "HOT.SPOT" blogs deals with the "Dark Side(s) of DIY."  Our work has been so focused on the values and practices of participatory politics, it seems inevitable that reservations and concerns would rise to the surface. If only Nixon could go to China, perhaps our group has an obligation to also call out the abuses, misuses, and failures of DIY culture and politics.

So, let me pass the microphone over to Kjerstin Thorson who will set up this special issue, and you can follow the links out to the individual posts.


Hotspot Philosophy

Welcome to the first of what we hope will be a series of Civic Paths “hotspots.” These collections of mini-blog posts are organized around themes that cut across the diverse interests of participants in our research group. They’re about the things we love to talk about. And, like our in-person conversations, they play with ideas at the intersection of participatory culture, civic engagement, and new media. Our rules for the hotspot are these: No one gets to spend a million hours wordsmithing -- these are idea starters, not finishers -- and posts shouldn’t be a whole lot longer than five hundred words.

Kicking it off: The Dark Side(s) of DIY

Don’t get me wrong: I love DIY. I muddled through the acquisition of basic sewing skills (thanks, Internet) to make a much-loved, crooked crib skirt for my daughter. My now-husband and I navigated the complexities of his immigration to the U.S. without hiring a lawyer, relying entirely on a discussion board about fiancée visas. Last year, we even put a fountain in our backyard (it was crooked, too).

In fact, I venture to say we all love DIY—and are genuinely excited about the role of new media technologies for amplifying the possibilities to make stuff, share stuff, spread stuff and generally participate in public life in a million different ways. But we also believe that DIY (or at least the mythology of DIY) has some dark sides.

Liana [1] and Sam [2] remind us that just because you do it yourself doesn’t mean that what you make will find an audience, or even that what you make will be any good. Kevin [3] considers the often-fraught relationship some DIY practitioners have to potentially dubious funding streams, and Lana [4] points out that the business of DIY can often be the selling of awful. Andrew [5] looks at what happens when crowdfunding goes awry and DIY communities try to mete out justice online. Rhea [6] also examines online communities taking matters into their own hands, highlighting the misunderstandings and mishaps that get created in the process.

Neta [7] and I [8] share an interest in the ways that beliefs about DIY political knowledge—everyone should be a fact checker! Figure out everything for yourself!—may shut down possibilities for political engagement. Mike [9] takes on the contradictions behind the idea of DIY news, and Raffi [10] wonders whether the race to make and spread the pithiest, funniest political nuggets is taking away from other forms of online political talk.

With these posts, we hope to collectively shed light on some of the difficulties that arise from an otherwise celebrated mode of creation and engagement. And while we all love DIY and its range of possibilities for civic life, we think pulling back the curtain to show when it goes wrong is an important step in figuring out how DIY can take us even further in the future.

-- Kjerstin Thorson (Assistant Professor of Journalism)

[1] On Finding an Audience, or Why I'm Not a Rock Star, by Liana Gamber Thompson

[2] Producing Poop, by Sam Close

[3] Makerspaces and the Long, Weird History of DIY Hobbyists & Military Funding, by Kevin Driscoll

[4] Blogging and Boycotting in the "Schadenfreude Economy", by Lana Swartz

[5] Gatekeepers of DIY?, by Andrew Schrock

[6] The Role of Japanese & English-language Online Communities in the Mitsuhiro Ichiki Incident, by Rhea Vichot

[7] DIY Citizenship & Kony 2012 Memes, by Neta Kligler-Vilenchik

[8] Figure It Out for Yourself, by Kjerstin Thorson

[9] Why “DIY News” Could Be a Contradiction in Terms, by Mike Ananny

[10] Memed, Tumbled, & Tweeted, by Raffi Sarkissian

Futures of Entertainment 6 Videos (Part Two)

Saturday, Nov. 10 Opening Remarks from FoE Fellows Xiaochang Li and Mike Monello

Curing the Shiny New Object Syndrome: Strategy Vs. Hype When Using New Technologies With the constant barrage of new technologies, platforms, and services vying for attention, media producers and marketers are frequently lost among the potential places–and ways–of engaging with their audiences. Before they have ever truly figured out one technology, they’ve already moved to another, because of an intense desire to be “first.” As such, companies and media properties have launched–and then abandoned–their virtual world presence, their mobile app, their social game, and their QR code and are now exploring “social TV,” “Twitter parties,” Pinterest pages, augmented reality, and location-based initiatives. This leaves the web littered with old blogs, microsites, and profiles and companies blaming technologies when, too often, it’s been the lack of strategy that led to no traction. How do storytellers and communicators build a framework to more intelligently choose technologies based on how a platform aids their story and their audience, rather than a “gee whiz…get me one of those” approach? How does–or should–listening to the audience factor into this process? And what role, or responsibility, do technology creators have to help with this integration process? Drawing on examples contemporary and historical, this panel looks at how and when to take risks with new platforms, the difference between “innovative failure” and “failure to innovate,” and the deeper patterns of engagement that help us make sense of how new platforms and behaviors connect to longstanding means of engagement. Panelists: 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 David Polinchock, Director, AT&T AdWorks Lab Mansi Poddar, co-founder, Brown Paper Bag Moderator: Ben Malbon, Managing Director, Google Creative Lab

Rethinking Copyright: A discussion with musician, songwriter, and producer T Bone Burnett; Henry 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. As the recent legislative battles have demonstrated, it’s becoming painfully clear that our conception of copyright is ill-prepared for regulating and making sense of a world where media content is fluidly circulated by most of a society. However, in an effort make content free to spread in the ways audiences find them relevant, what is the appropriate balance to ensure that the rights of content creators are preserved and that the incentive to develop intellectual property remains? Rather than continue a debate in which audiences and critics attack copyright while media companies cling to them, how might we cut through current tensions to collaboratively imagine what a new sense of copyright, appropriate for an era of “spreadable media,” might look like?

The Futures of Video Gaming Many innovations in the creative industries owe their roots and inspiration to the gaming world, from audience engagement and storytelling techniques to distribution methods and cross-platform integration. This session examines some of the critical questions facing those working in the gaming industry as large companies and indie developers grapple with the challenging evolution of the market brought on by new networked technologies, audience practices, and business models. How are game developers embracing or rejecting the unauthorized play of games online, and how has piracy evolved as a discourse in the gaming sector? How do creators strategize around the widespread circulation of games through automated propagation (using friend invitations for social and “free to play” games) — or grassroots spreading (for unexpectedly popular titles like Minecraft) — of information through social network sites? How badly are new architectures (Steam, Xbox Live Arcade, PSN Network) clashing with old traditions (game stores, $60 game discs)? And how are business models in the gaming industry shifting as we see massive success simultaneously from high-budget technology like Kinect and low-budget distribution like the Humble Bundle? Panelists: T.L. Taylor, Associate Professor of Comparative Media Studies, MIT Christopher Weaver, founder of Bethesda Softworks and industry liaison, MITGameLab Ed Fries, architect of Microsoft’s video game business and co-founder of the Xbox project Walter Somol, head of tech community outreach, Microsoft New England Research and Development Center Moderator: Futures of Entertainment Fellow and games producer Alec Austin

The Futures of Storytelling and Sports Throughout the history of mass media, sports programming has been an innovator. In today’s era of online circulation, transmedia storytelling, and 24/7 access to engaging with sports stars, teams, and fellow fans, sports franchises could be argued as the most immersive of storyworlds–with drama playing out in real-time, and the “narrative world” being our own. What is driving innovation in how sports tell their stories, and get their fans more engaged than ever, through multiple media platforms? How does operating as a media franchise in our everyday world set sports apart from entertainment properties? How are sports empowered by being “real,” and what constraints does that place on what they can do as well? How are talent engaged to be part of the storytelling? And what innovations are seen as sports are extended wholly into the fictional realm, whether through licensed extensions or various forms of “sports entertainment”? Panelists: 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 Jena Janovy, Enterprise Editor, Jamie Scheu, associate content director, Hill Holliday Moderator: Alex Chisholm, transmedia producer and Co-Founder and Executive Director, Learning Games Network

Closing Remarks from FoE Fellow Sheila Seles and Dr. Heather Hendershot, Comparative Media Studies, MIT

Rethinking the Industrial Mindset: An Interview with No Straight Lines' Alan Moore (Part Three)

You describe mobile communications as both a disruptive and transformative technology. Why? What do you see as the long term impact of the growth of mobile communications in our lives?

I describe mobile as our remote control for life. If we think that the fixed internet has been a disruptive force, mobile devices of which there are more on this planet now than people will have an impact of a higher order of magnitude. From east side LA to the Masai in Africa and onwards to the rain forests of Peru, we are all connected up to and across each other, enabling flows of data / information that can be described in the same way as when Eleanor Roosevelt first saw Iguassu Falls where the Amazon meets Paraguay, Argentina and Brazil and exclaim “poor Niagara”.

Mobile is transformative we see this in Africa, a continent that is vast that could never benefit from the fixed internet in the same way the US or Europe has for example. By the constraint of design mobile communications has become the platform by which Africa is dealing with banking, education, healthcare, and trade. MPesa a mobile banking system allows people to pay for goods and services, to have salaries paid, and is used as a payment system for people working via their mobile devices (translations / fact checking) so that they have the potential to increase their income from $2 per day by making $2 for every hour worked. Four years after introducing mobile banking and mobile payment into Kenya, 25% of the total Kenyan economy is transmitted through mobile phones and 70% of the population uses MPesa. There are 74 mobile phones for every 100 Kenyans, well above the African average of 65. And nearly 99% of internet subscriptions in Kenya are on mobile phones. And, Kenya’s biggest bank, Equity Bank is opening an innovation centre in Nairobi focusing on mobile technology.

M-Farm is a service that gives farmers access to market prices for the cost of a text message and allows them to group together to buy and sell products. Something similar is happening in India. is providing African children with mobile enabled kindles giving them the first time the opportunity to access information, books, knowledge and learning at a price they can afford.

The crisis management platform Ushahidi could never have worked without mobile technology and its unique characteristics; the ability to harness time critical information using GPS and time stamped location data. Ushahidi is now used in many ways to help gather data - mapping information into a cartography around human crisis issues from natural disasters (Japan and Haiti) to the harassment of women in Egypt by predatory men, to citizen journalism and civic engagement.

In Japan data from vehicles' windscreen wipers and embedded GPS receivers track the movement of weather systems through towns and cities with a precision never before possible. It’s the evolution of what we would call a smart city.

The rainforest tribe the Achuar are using mobile GPS devices to map their land using that data by transferring it onto mining maps augmenting them so that companies buying land from the Peruvian government for mineral extraction can now see for the first time that their activities have a devastating effect on people that wish to live a way of life that has been continuous for many thousands of years.

Museums can become platforms and start to provide services that create additional assets and additional revenue streams. Their audience is global from day one.

These are but a few glimpses of the transformative power of mobile, Africa upgrading itself in part through mobile connectivity to itself and the rest of the world. It can now plug into the world economy.

So mobile is the Iguassu rather than the Niagra – an enabler of all aspects of our lives – an empowering us, providing us with greater autonomy, freedom, efficiency and effectiveness. Even more beautiful with the arrival of smart phone technology that enables us to interface with the world around us with ever decreasing interference in new and exciting ways, contributing to the step change in humanities progress.

You write about the relationship between “data” and “democracy.” I would want to draw a distinction between “data” which can be collected and aggregated without the knowledge of participants (as is increasingly the case in Web 2.0 services) and “discourse” which emerges from the active and conscious deliberation of communities who are working towards a shared goal. Are these two models equally democratic?

Democracy as data the black gold of the 21st Century

I made this observation in 2004, and like all resources of great value, conflict is never far behind.

And I completely agree with your observation and distinction. Data is integral to what comes next, thinking from a perspective of openness and aesthetics of design in that only ugly thoughts bring to bear ugly realities. It may not at first seem a clear connection between data, individual sovereignty and democracy. However once we understand that at high level the commercial world seeks to influence and in some cases coerce political institutions then we have to see them as linked. Or indeed that political ideology seeks to direct the course of political outcomes as is the case in Pennsylvania at the moment and elsewhere where Republicans seeks to make it much harder for various sections of the African-American community to vote in the hope they weaken Obama’s chances of re-election.

In Britain there are attempts by the Government of the day to legislate so that they can access and extract comprehensive, fine-grained covert surveillance of entire populations. All our digital activity: voice, text, Google searches, a level of surveillance that is unprecedented and as John Naughton describes as pernicious.

The recent phone hacking debacle in the UK in which it was found The News of the World hacked into the voice mail of thousands of people including murdered school girl Milly Dowler to sell tabloid newspapers demonstrating a rubicon has been crossed.

Data whichever way you look at it is about power and everyone is at it.

These examples are not democratic, they are harvesting data for personal or state gain. Which is why so many organizations work so hard to fight for the democratic rights of individual sovereignty around the world. It is a battle we must all be part of as 1984 just might be here already.

The opportunity of the open society

Whereas if we see shared data as a life enhancing resource that amplifies cooperative capability built upon mutuality rather than extraction of information for individual gain – then there are reasons to be optimistic.

The Ordnance Survey, the owner of all the topographical data of the UK, has opened up its data-base under a creative commons license to enable other to build upon the work of others, Ushahidi, the crisis management platform, could not work without data. Open source platforms allow diversity to flourish a default setting of nature, and they are extremely resilient and adaptive.

Like all things it is about asking the right question – is what we create for the collective good – where mutualism and trusted networks of relationships can flourish? The increase in the use of Creative Commons and open innovation demonstrates this can work in commercial and non-commercial contexts – there must rules of engagement but these rules are built upon what I describe as the economics of sharing.

We could go one further with the idea of the open commons region. What data could be released into the public domain to aid local communities be better communities to become, as the Shareable Magazine in San Francisco describes as, ‘shareable cities’. Where a multitude of neighbourhood resources can be shared; car rides, urban farming, skills, culture, civic innovation. Like an initiative called Brickstarter, this open approach enables citizens to submit ideas which then get registered on a website. Then based on ideas submitted to the platform, the service then connects visitors, and invites them into project groups. Project groups have their own project page with more information, upcoming events, feedback, etc. Projects can also form connections to existing city resources and community organizations. In July 2011 the City of New York invited volunteer-led community groups to apply for a Change by Us NYC grant to fund ongoing projects.

These initiatives are citizen led, grassroots, networked and flat in hierarchy. As C. Otto Scharmer, author of Theory U describes, “as an evolved geometry that devolves power from hierarchies to evolving trusted networks of relationships”. The aesthetics of such design processes lead to exemplary outcomes.

You introduced me to Richard Sennett’s The Craftsman and Sennett’s arguments play a key role in this book in defining what you see as the ideal form of labor for the future. What do you see as the core insights we might take from Sennett’s book, which deals with much earlier moments in the history of work, to think about how people might relate to their “jobs” in a networked culture?

Insights to Craftsmanship

Richard Sennett in The Craftsman reminds us of a number of things to reflect upon. First the craftsman represents the special human condition of being ‘engaged’.

Secondly, Hephaestus was the Greek god presiding over the craftsman, the bringer of peace and the maker of civilization. ‘More than a technician, the civilizing craftsman has used his tools for a collective good’, he writes. And it was through the spirit of the Enlightenment that the craftsman brought forward a huge surge of social and creative innovation that made the lot of ordinary humans better. So the craftsman questions why he makes things; he must evaluate the energy, effort and time that will consume him in his craft and the final act of creation – is he doing good, is he solving a real problem and offering up something better, is he using all his skills as a civilizing force? These questions must weigh constantly in his mind.

The craftsman is always in beta

His mind must be open to new ideas, techniques, tools and processes; to close his mind to the new, or new ways of doing things, is the greatest risk he will take. The ability to bring two unlikes together in close adjacency and recognise a pattern or a new possibility is the true act of creation; Lennon and McCartney or the fusion of medical knowledge and computing are but two real life examples of what I mean. The craftsman must combine technique and expression so that he is also able to act intuitively.

This can only happen when he possesses deep or what is called implicit knowledge. Rather than acting only upon empirical information, the craftsman’s ultimate act is one of unique expression which can only be delivered through the mastery of these skills.

The engaged craftsman is a committed craftsman, ergo the engaged organization is a committed organization and will work far more effectively.

Does this description describe work for the majority in the early 21st Century? I was asked by a senior leader of a large organization, when I was running a Transformation LAB, whether craftsmanship as a culture could truly be inculcated into a large organization – my answer was yes but it does require a change of culture. The ability to create a dynamic where space is created for a constant process of creating, critiquing, collaborating and communicating.

We are all designed to be risk averse, yet there are ways to mitigate risk, and that is through pattern recognition. Where people see no connection, no pattern, no new pathways, only chaos, the craftsman see patterns, which he can then deconstruct into steps that will lead him successfully to achieving his goal. ‘What do you see?’ and ‘What do I see?’ are questions we need to ask as we seek. For example, if I use Creative Commons legal frameworks in the design and manufacture of cars, what might that mean to accelerate innovation? If I use a highly motivated community open source software connected up to Google APIs and mobile GPS technology, what might that mean? If I use revenue sharing, how will that make my business more attractive yet more disruptive at the same time? Pattern recognition comes from insight – it doesn’t come from an inflexible linear process.

This is also a form of systems thinking – the craftsman thinks about the whole system.

The craftsman also knows how to deliver quality without it necessarily costing the earth.

This then leads on to the idea of whether creativity is a resource or a competence. Organizations from a linear world are designed to function at 100% efficiency, which largely means there is no way in which they can also be creative organizations, as this requires room for reflection, deliberation, conversation, trying stuff out; that’s the practical stuff, but also industrial organisations ideologically fear creativity – anything deemed ‘creative’ is outsourced – but for the craftsman, and the crafted organization, creativity, to be creative, to think and act creatively is something that is a fundamental part of what makes them who they are.

This is the pathway I argue to how we make work more meaningful and life-enhancing which is also a part of our new Human Operating System.

Many are arguing that our current notions of intellectual property emerged and reflected a world where a limited number of people had access to the capacities of cultural production and circulation, and they are reaching a crisis point as we expand the number of participants in the communication systems. How central is copy-right reform to the emergence of the kind of alternative social and culture structures you propose? What would a better model look like?

This is an extremely important question, as law is the hidden framework that underpins and shapes all our lives – in so many ways. The framing by large media conglomerates that all file sharing, and modding of content is ‘piracy on the high seas’, demonstrates an unwillingness by those that believe only they have the right to manufacture culture to adapt to the shape of a more participatory world.

Copy-right reform is central to creating a more diverse and rich cultural and economic landscape. A better model is created out of a commons approach that provides different types of permissions for usage as expressed through the creative commons licenses.

I also think that this parallel universe to law should be taught at law and business schools so our next generation leaders and practitioners of law can learn to assess the granular benefits of an economy built upon sharing and open frameworks as separate to an ideology of strict one-way controls.

Lets face it if copy-right had existed when Dvorak was writing some of his great works based on folk tunes, folk myths and folk culture we would not have that work, nor the great work of many others. They built upon the work of others.

It is of course a difficult area to negotiate; if I had invested $160m in making a movie I might feel very unhappy if I saw no return on that investment based upon piracy. However one could build a model where elements of the movie could be made available for modding, reinterpretation and for sharing and this engaged fan fiction approach could be of great value to creators of expensive content – through marketing, development of innovative ideas and even new content.

And of course we see and extraordinary surge in innovation through the open source movement – the ability to innovate at a much lower cost at greater speed.

So this redistribution of wealth and value, wealth of knowledge, the value of creating better, the ability to build multiple services shows that openness encourages diversity the default setting for life to flourish. As Weber writes in the Success of Open Source the conventional wisdom that innovation is driven by the promise of individual and corporate wealth, ensuring the free distribution of code among computer programmers can empower a more effective process for building intellectual products. But it does challenges the dominant logic of an industrial society.

For myself I published No Straight Lines in an open access epub format which is globally accessible to anyone with a browser and I ask people to tweet to pay, which I think is fair compensation for seven years hard work – but the work also exists in paperback and kindle formats and we ask payment for these. Some people are happy to pay, some people are happy to pay with a tweet, some people are happy to make a donation.

The point is I seek more than short-term monetary value by giving permission for my story to flow and to be part of a global consciousness which would not have been possible otherwise. To emphasize I have used combinations of legal frameworks as an author I am seeking various values and not all are financial. Standing on the shoulders of giants

If we look back to the 60’s it was the Grateful Dead that perfected the idea of sharing as an economic and cultural means to spread their music, hence more people came to the concerts, more people bought the T-shirts and a tribe of Deadheads were born.

So this new model is adaptive, flexible in allowing value to be created in a variety of ways. The economy and aesthetics of sharing creates cultural value, intellectual value and a richer and more diverse pool from which our wider humanity can profit from in a multiplicity of ways. It is a model created from the ethos of mutualism rather than cultural and economic monoculture and strangulation.

You end the book with a series of core principles, one of which is adaptiveness. Why do you see this trait as central to your “nonlinear” culture? What roles can education play in preparing future citizens to be more “adaptive” to a changing environment?

I see this as a core principle because if Humanity is demanding an upgrade from all our industrial institutions which are now proven to be inappropriate for our time – seeking to unleash the full creative potential of every human being and in so doing enhances their wellbeing and that of the wider society – from healthcare to education to the workplace, allowing humanity to surge forward united by a common purpose. We have to ask what do organizations look like in a human-centric world – and how do traditional organizations innovate to upgrade themselves to be able to belong to the extraordinary story of human evolution that now points towards a more participatory, cooperative, and regenerative model of our society?

So learning to be adaptive is central to the story. From an education perspective – we need to prepare our citizens and our organizations to be able to upgrade themselves constantly. Many of the skills I learnt as a typographer whilst at college were obsolete within three years of leaving. And so for me it is an important and key lesson – that we need to teach people to be curious about the world they live in, to want to play in it, and that life long learning – the requirement to be in constant beta (a skill the craftsman possesses) is a necessary condition of thriving in a non-linear world. Adaptiveness is upgrading personal capability, organizational capability, our economies and by default the means by which we do business.

More specifically the ability to individually and collectively: create, critique, collaborate and communicate are the necessary conditions to learning to be adaptive. Your work for the MacArthur Foundation also inspired me to think about adaptiveness as a core principle. You cite the need for play, to appropriate, to simulate – by which you express the need to be able to be a good builder of patterns that can bring new insight – and I would also suggest a new language to describe new and novel ways to create, to ‘scan one's environment and shift focus as needed to salient details’. There is an emphasis on collective intelligence which for me connects to participatory leadership – which ascribes to the view that a best possible future lies in the minds of the many. Teaching our children the power of participatory leadership would bring great value to our general society and therefore great rewards to individuals.

I worry these skills are not being taught, and I worry that there is a growing disconnect between the world we are creating and how education prepares the next cohort to inhabit that world meaningfully. We have to teach our children to be creative actors, and creators in our non-linear world – not to be passive consumers. As Proust observed “the real voyage of discovery is not to seek new landscapes but to look upon the world with fresh eyes”, and in that way we too can learn to adapt well to a changing world.


Alan  Moore sits on the “board of inspiration” at the Dutch Think Tank Freedom Lab. He acts as “Head of Vision” for the Grow Venture Community, is a board director of the crisis management NGO Ushahidi and is as a special advisor to a number of innovative companies and organizations including publishing, mobile, the theatre and finance.

"We Do Not Have a Hollywood on the Outskirts of Warsaw:" What Poland Can Teach Us About Copyright and Circulation (Part Two)

I was able to share some core insights from this research as part of an very engaged panel at this past week's Futures of Entertainment conference (with musician T-Bone Burnett and Annenberg Innovation Lab head Jon Taplin.) Expect to see the video of this panel (and others from the conference) on my blog before much longer. For those of you who live in Los Angeles, you might be interested in attending a one-on-one conversation I am having with T Bone Burnett this Weds. Nov. 14, 7:30, Hammer Museum. Check here for more information. Now back to your regularly scheduled interview...


You situate your study in a much larger tradition of media and cultural scholars in Poland writing about “circuits” or circulation. Can you share with us some of the core insights from that tradition? 


ALEK TARKOWSKI: Polish sociologists in the Communist era were very focused on the issues surrounding the so-called “second circulation”, grassroots political and cultural activism as protest against the hypocrisy of the system and a sort of safety valve that enabled the society to externalize its frustrations. But in Polish history, informal circulations also included diverse economic activities and a vigorous youth culture movement. For us, that tradition served only as background – we haven’t used the tools that Polish sociologists developed to study alternative circulations. Yet we took them into account, since as concepts they have the power to disrupt the current logic and point out existing mechanisms that can be eerily similar to the ones observed in the Communist period. For example, there were social exchange networks used by our parents to distribute independent media and barely available products of Western popular culture. The irony of the situation lies in the fact that people who were active users of informal circulations in the Communist era are mostly quick to condemn informal usage of such circulations among their kids and grandkids.

Of course it’s difficult to make a direct comparison between both situations, but it turns out that as far as moral economy, or what people consider right and wrong, is concerned, there are a lot of similarities between the two. A qualitative study that Mirek is currently conducting involves a closer look at these similarities.


How might we situate the study of grassroots circulation of media in relation to the larger examination of what I call participatory culture or what Yochai Benkler discusses as “peer production”? 


JUSTYNA HOFMOKL: Research shows that in Poland the creative output uploaded by people to the Internet is still marginal and the percentage of active creators does not grow. Of course, I do not mean all the marks we leave on the Web, like Facebook comments – just more substantial forms of creativity. There are some differences in the results depending on the indicator we chose, but no more than few percent of Internet users engage in regular cultural production. That’s why we decided to look for a Poland-specific point of reference for your and Benkler’s ideas, which would enable us to expand cultural participation categories to include more elements than just “production.” We considered things beyond “peer production,” like peer reproduction, redistribution, and recommendation, as we decided that even though they’re more controversial than grassroots production, they have just as strong an influence on the media and culture, which are known for wielding distribution control as a powerful weapon.

We were also very inspired by Mirko Tobias Schafer’s “extended culture industry” concept, which dissolves the top-down/bottom-up distinctions. Even in the discourse of exploitation identical situations can be interpreted in completely different ways: Internet users redistribute content to which they have no rights, but simultaneously they are doing the dirty work for the corporations as they promote their work. In a way, both content authors and consumers are participating in culture – maybe both groups don’t share the same rights, but they surely share similar possibilities for action. The role of software in all this is also really significant – it’s often the case that participation based on redistribution requires very little activity. Many users of file-sharing networks exchange content almost incidentally, the software does it for them. The significance of technological architecture behind cultural participation is an avenue well worth exploring.

We still want to broaden our knowledge of the grey area between authorship and consumption because we feel that a lot of interesting things happen there. We just commenced a qualitative study of people who still aren’t authors but are something more than just consumers – the category includes people who function as grassroots content archivists, who prepare and release Polish subtitles for TV series and movies. In informal circulations these people are institutions, and preliminary interviews show that they often feel that their actions “serve a higher purpose.” At the same time, they’re still using content to which they have no rights.


As you note in your report, much of the work in “informal economies” has centered on the developing world. What new insights do we get if we apply this model to talk about how media travels through more developed countries? How, for example, might that operate in relationship to post-Communist Eastern Europe? 


ALEK TARKOWSKI: The claim that informal economies and circulations function worldwide should be a truism. This is well demonstrated by Robert Neuwirth, for example. We find it very interesting that the informal economy category, at first devised to describe the economies of developing countries now applies so well to modern creative economies. We also like Ravi Sundaram’s idea of “pirate modernity”, which claims that modernity is neither regulated nor sterile, but haphazard, informal or even illegal.

And Poland, today a developed country, has been very different only twenty years ago. Although we moved from a shortage economy to a surplus economy, some mechanisms are still working just fine. And digital technologies only invigorate the informal circulations. Many Poles still remember the times when public radio played entire music albums on the air, while people at home mass-recorded them on tapes. Nobody really knows whether it was legal, but we all suspect that we might have had pirate public media back then. In the 1990s, we had legally operating stores that copied for customers albums from CDs to tapes. But simultaneously we assumed that this informality was typical of the Communist era when it functioned as the prohibited, glorified second circulation, as well as the crazy transition period of the early 1990s. We’re trying to demonstrate that the informal processes are still heavily influencing our culture.

The application of concepts developed for third world countries in Poland might hurt the national pride of many people. Yet we believe that Poland should draw on the experiences of for example the BRIC countries instead of comparing its culture industries with the United States. Look at the official copyright policy one feels as if Poland’s strategy was to copy the American intellectual property model directly. Yet we do not have Hollywood on the outskirts of Warsaw. While IP policy is imposed by international trade agreements, there is still room for taking into account local specificity and the national interest. This is rightly emphasized by Joe Karaginis in his commentary on our report. Joe writes that in the 19th century, the United States tolerated copyright infringement when it benefited American citizens. Meanwhile the policymakers in Poland, as well as we as a society, are not collectively asking whether another model might suit the Polish national interest better than the one currently implemented.

What are the primary motives for seeking content through informal circulation? 


JUSTYNA HOFMOKL: Asking about motivations that drive people towards using informal circulations is very important, but it would be wise to remember that for the user, the delineation between a formal and informal circulation is blurry at best. The average user doesn’t have sufficient knowledge to easily discern whether a given online source represents the formal or informal circulation. Even payment doesn’t help to distinguish between the two, as the grey area in Poland includes websites that charge the users not for content, as they claim, but for data transfer. But for users, that distinction is often unclear. For the purposes of our project, we classified online sources such as streaming as part of the informal circulation. But to answer your question, it appears that price is the key factor when it comes to picking the informal circulation; about two-thirds of the respondents point to this motivation. Availability of content and ease of acquisition turn out to be equally important. This criterion is especially important for people living in smaller cities. Many respondents also pointed out that it’s important to them how up-to-date the content offer on the Web is. With no comparable offer from the official distribution channels, the Internet becomes a much more attractive source of content. In Poland, the offer of video-on-demand services, online music stores and paid streaming websites is still very limited and aimed at a mainstream audience.

In our study, we also analyzed attitudes towards downloading. The results basically paint Poles as pragmatists: for many people downloading is simply easier than visiting a store.


Near the end of the report, you describe what you are calling “Next Generation Internet Users.” Who are these people and what distinguishes them from the general population in your country? Are they more or less likely to buy content online? 


JUSTYNA HOFMOKL: Faced with rising Internet penetration rates, we decided to make the “Internet user” category a little more nuanced. That’s why we applied the concept of “Next Generation Internet Users,” a term proposed by the World Internet Project’s William Dutton. The term describes heavy Internet users, also accessing the Web through various mobile devices, people who are constantly online, more or less. They’re also distinguished by their relatively high creative output – they take photographs, create digital content, build their own websites. They are heavily involved in content sharing but frequently purchase content as well. In Great Britain, these users make up over 40% of all Internet users. The people we polled in our study, however, demonstrated higher than average Internet usage: they spend multiple hours on the Internet, often accessing it via different devices. They turned out to be a very cultured group: e.g. 89% of them declared that they read at least one book in the past year. Using informal circulations is common in the group. About 88% of them use the informal circulation of music, 73% use the informal circulation of books; 78% use the informal circulation of movies. A high percentage of the people we studied declare buying cultural content online – a little over a third of the respondents (37%) claim to have paid for access to content online in the past year.

Our study has demonstrated that the division of the Polish population into Internet users and people who don’t use the Internet is consistent with the division into people who actively consume cultural content and those who don’t engage with any type of content circulation (except broadcast media – TV and radio – which weren’t the subject of the study). At the same time, the people displaying heaviest Internet usage and cultural consumption are also the most active users of informal circulations.


What do you think are the biggest mistakes made by policy and industry folks when they look at the relationship between formal and informal circulation of content? 


MIREK FILICIAK: Policy and industry folks have to stop perceiving informal circulations as excommunicated havens of the illegal and the anti-cultural. They need to treat these circulations as an alternative or as competition – it might be amoral and dishonest, but it is a part of the general circulation of culture. If a different approach is the desired result, changing the language might be a good place to start.

Policymakers make the mistake of considering only the legal implications of using informal circulations – we need to place a few positive aspects of these circulations on the other scale, like increased access to content and increased cultural activity. On the other hand, the industry in Poland offers few legal alternative to downloading – there’s not enough content, it’s expensive, and there’s no easy way to access it. We believe that people who engage with informal circulations might switch to legal purchasing of content online if given an honest alternative offer.

Presenting our findings to a group of industry representatives was an interesting experience. Many of the people from the creative industries, who publicly decried our report claiming that it legitimizes stealing, changed their tone and agreed with us in private conversations. They were aware of the fact that they will need to adapt to the users, and that the status quo is untenable and cannot be artificially supported by making the laws more severe. It was obvious especially to people working in the Internet industry. When asked about the main obstacles that hinder business development they didn’t mention piracy, they spoke about lack of flexibility on the part of collective rights management organizations and copyright holders, especially in the film industry.

We hope that the public debate currently underway in Poland, in which our report voiced a few very important issues, will head in the right direction. That we’ll witness the foundation of new services based on new business models and that the authorities, after learning from the experiences surrounding the ACTA fiasco, will introduce balanced regulations that will care for the interests of authors and producers as well as the society in general.

Mirek Filiciak is a cultural studies scholar, works at the Warsaw School of Social Sciences and Humanities. He is interested in the influence of digital media on cultural participation practices and research methodologies. Co-editor of Polish cultural studies quarterly Kultura popular (Popular Culture), co-author of book Youth and Media.

Justyna Hofmokl is a sociologist and vice-director of Centrum Cyfrowe - think-and-do-thank building digital society in Poland. She is the author of Internet as a New Commons and published in International Journal of Commons.
Alek Tarkowski is a sociologist and works as director of Centrum Cyfrowe. He is Public Lead of Creative Commons Poland and former member of the Board of Strategic Advisors to the Prime Minister of Poland. His research interests focus around the intersection of intellectual property, society and digital technologies, with a special interest in open models of collaboration and sharing.

"We Do Not Have Hollywood on the Outskirts of Warsaw": What Poland Can Teach Us About Circulation (Part One)

The Centrum Cyfrowe Projekt: Polska recently posted an English language translation of their report, The Circulations of Culture, which deals with the informal, sometimes illegal exchange of media content which is occurring in contemporary Poland. This report is a model of the kinds of thoughtful research which should be done in other countries around the world, including the United States, on this highly contentious topic. They start with a recognition that the pervasive language of "piracy" closes off issues which we need to be exploring. As they write:

"Wanting to become familar with and understand new practices one may not assess them in advance, let alone condemn them as illegal or wrong. Only knowing their scale, character and consequences may we assess the influence of new circulations of content on the sphere of culture. The domain remaining out of control of the state and the market is very varied. We lend and borrow books and records. We watch films uploaded to YouTube, but also we download them from websites and p2p networks. Usually we do not think whether we do it legally or not. And the facts of the case may be varied – there is content made available on the web illegally, but we may also use many materials in accordance with the law. Only 13% of Poles buy books, music or films. As many as 33% get hold of them in digital form, in a non-formal manner and for free. This number increases to 39% if we include also the „physical” forms of exchange into informal circulations, such as lending CDs. That is three times more than the market circulation, based on purchases of content."

So far, the report's findings might seem to support those who feel that informal circulation undercuts the development of a commercial market. Yet, the picture they develop turns out to be more complicated. They found that the rate of cultural consumption in contemporary Poland remains very low -- only 44% of Poles had contact with a book over the past twelve months and only 20.80% of Poles went to the cinema over the past year. Among those who are most active online, though, the numbers are significantly higher. 89% of "Internauts" or "heavy Internet users" have read at least one book over the past year, and 82 percent have gone to a movie in the past 12 months. So, while less than 5 percent of Poles have bought a book and less than .1% have bought cps in the past year, those numbers are much higher for those who are most active online -- 68% bought a book, 29 percent bought music.

Most of the heavy internet users acknowledged downloading some form of media content without paying for it -- the number can be as high as 95 percent depending on how we define our terms, but they also represent the core of the existing media market. As the report concludes, illegal downloads do not preclude legal purchases. So much for the argument that it is going to be impossible to get people to pay for content they can download for free. Instead, we need to enter into a much more complex exploration of when and why people who could and do download content illegally choose to pay for media content. So, when the media industry declares war on pirates, it may also be declaring war on its best customers, and this may explain why their tactics so far have been so unsuccessful at slowing the rate of "media piracy," because they are directed at the wrong people, because they do not understand the root causes of the issue, because they are not addressing the key motives for why people choose to pay for media.


Mirek Filiciak,  Justyna Hofmokl, and Alek Tarkowskithe primary authors of the report, were kind enough to participate in the following interview, which helps situate their findings within the context of a broader range of research in Poland and other parts of Eastern Europe concerning "sharing cultures" and "informal media economies." In what follows, they share further insights from their research which might guide policy-makers in other parts of the world as they seek to develop a more nuanced understanding of the ways such unauthorized circulations may impact the creative industries and the culture more generally.

For a creative presentation of the report's core findings, visit this site.


Can you provide some context abort the current state of the debates around intellectual property and file sparing in Poland? What motivated your study? 


MIREK FILICIAK: The subject has been moving from the fringes towards the mainstream of the debate on culture for several years now. The shift has motivated the Polish government to work at increasing access to the public domain and to create initiatives such as the Digital School project, which directed a significant amount of funding towards the creation of open educational resources. The protests of Polish youth against ratification of the ACTA treaty in January and February of 2012 were a breakthrough moment for public discussion surrounding the subject. Incidentally, that’s when we unveiled our report, the end result of more than a year’s work.

For our team, taking on the subject was a continuation of our previous initiatives and research projects. Take, for example, the series of “Culture 2.0” conferences we co-organized, one of which featured you as a keynote speaker. Justyna and Alek founded the Polish chapter of Creative Commons and now they’re heading Centrum Cyfrowe (Digital Center), which is a leading Polish organization working towards greater cultural and civic engagement through digital technologies. IP issues are one of the Center’s main areas of interest and thus the organization hosted our research project. I myself have extensive research experience in this field and my previous research projects concerned for example fans of American TV series in Poland, or the “Youth and Media” project (the full report will soon be available in English) which was an ethnographic study of the use of media by Polish youth. We demonstrated in that study that thanks to networked digital media content often flows outside of official markets and without the involvement of institutional intermediaries. Our previous work and experiences with research, policy and activism suggested that the available indicators of cultural participation, often focused on official distribution channels, illustrate only a subset of the cultural practices of Poles.

That’s why we decided to provide empirical data that can be useful both for researchers and for policymakers. In Poland, previously data was limited and skewed: based on outdated research schemes of official statistics or biased studies set to prove that piracy is wrong and harmful for culture. There are some commercial studies, but usually the methodology is kept secret, which makes it hard to debate the results. From the very start, our project was designed to be a scientific study as well as an additional voice in the public debate. We also wanted to propose a set of standards for transparency of methodologies and data presentation (not only did we make the report and raw data sets available to the public, we also prepared a very approachable mashup).


You make a clear point in the opening paragraphs of the report that you are not studying “pirates,” but rather you are researching “informal content sharing practices.” Can you explain the distinction you want to make between the two and why it is such an important one for framing your findings? 


JUSTYNA HOFMOKL: Above all, we wanted to draw public attention to somewhat deeper aspects of cultural activities of Internet users. And to retire the “pirate” label, as it basically leaves no space for debate and substantial arguments. In Poland, content sharing via the Internet has been presented for the last few years strictly as a struggle between “thieves” and “pirates” on one side and “evil corporations” on the other, without making any attempts at trying to understand the phenomenon.

The “piracy” tag draws attention solely to the financial consequences suffered by authors and intermediaries, while omitting issues that are absolutely fundamental for the state’s cultural policy, such as building social and cultural capital through accessing and sharing content. Only by framing the issue in a neutral way can we look for regulatory solutions that will balance the interests of the authors and intermediaries with societal benefits.

That’s why we were determined to take a closer look at the circulation of content outside of the market and reinvigorate the public debate, which doesn’t seem to have developed in Poland in any sensible way in the years that passed since the fall of Napster. Instead of talking about “piracy,” we’d rather discuss the flow of cultural content in the society. It often slips outside of the control and regulation of both governments and markets – and forms informal circulation.

We didn’t want to evaluate the legality of the behaviors we studied – and by the way, that’s not an easy task. In Poland, even the lawyers themselves can’t agree on what classifies as “fair use.” We assume the point of view of the users themselves and take a closer look at the way they access and use cultural content. We want the debate on regulating certain cultural practices on the Internet to be based on facts and reliable data.


Many have argued that the informal sharing of media content online comes at the expense of purchasing media. We hear the argument that people are unlikely to pay for media when they can get so much of it for free. What did you discover around this question through your research? 


ALEK TARKOWSKI: Our results demonstrate that the people who access informal circulations can be roughly divided into two groups. About a quarter of them are people who at the same time download informally and purchase content. Surprisingly enough, they are among the culture industries’ best customers. They make up the largest group among said customers and their expenditures are similar to the expenditures of consumers who don’t engage in illegal downloading. Formal and informal distribution channels are not competing in their case. However, 75% of people who participate in the informal circulation – this amounts to about 25% of all adults in Poland – don’t purchase any media from the formal circulation. They use radio, the TV, and the Internet. The question is whether they’re people that have “quit” the market or ones that never participated in it to begin with. We think (although that’s strictly a hypothesis) that they’re potential future customers or people that don’t participate in formal distribution due to economic reasons. Informal circulations increase the cultural activity of people who, until now, were only passive consumers of mass media.

In our next research projects we are trying to better understand the exact relationship between the two types of circulations, studied through the practices of individual persons. We don’t know for example whether an Internet user that engages with both circulations does it with equal frequency or how downloading influences purchasing behavior over time. We are also pressuring the government to organize a research consortium that would explain the economics of the two circulations.


Mirek Filiciak is a cultural studies scholar, works at the Warsaw School of Social Sciences and Humanities. He is interested in the influence of digital media on cultural participation practices and research methodologies. Co-editor of Polish cultural studies quarterly Kultura popular (Popular Culture), co-author of book Youth and Media.

Justyna Hofmokl is a sociologist and vice-director of Centrum Cyfrowe - think-and-do-thank building digital society in Poland. She is the author of Internet as a New Commons and published in International Journal of Commons.
Alek Tarkowski is a sociologist and works as director of Centrum Cyfrowe. He is Public Lead of Creative Commons Poland and former member of the Board of Strategic Advisors to the Prime Minister of Poland. His research interests focus around the intersection of intellectual property, society and digital technologies, with a special interest in open models of collaboration and sharing.

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,! 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.