Remixing Colbert

We’d like to join the EFF, Cory Doctorow, and others in applauding Lawrence Lessig’s appearance on the Stephen Colbert show on Thursday Jan 8, 2009 (watch the video at colbertnation.com). Lessig was there to promote his new book, Remix: Making Art and Commerce Thrive in the Hybrid Economy, and Colbert, in his sly way, noted that the remix economy was good for copyright holders, noting that, “When we have our green screen challenges, they [fans] do all the work and I get all the ad revenue.” Colbert also issued a kind of reverse-language remix challenge to his fans:

Colbert: Nobody should take my work and do anything with it that is not approved! Ever ever never ever take anything of mine and remix it! For instance, I will be very angry and possibly litigious if anyone out there takes this interview right here and remixes it with some great dance beat. And it starts showing up in clubs across America.

Actually, there are already some great Colbert (and Colbert/Stewart) vids out there.

One of my favorite Colbert vidders is Di, who’s made vids such as “Bad Day” (which she describes as “a tribute to my hero, the wonderful Stephen Colbert, during his Daily Show years”) as well as the joyful Jon/Stephen vid “All The Small Things.”


Bad Day (Stephen) – Di


All The Small Things (Jon/Stephen) – Di

I would have linked to these vids on YouTube, except, whoops:

This video has been removed due to terms of use violation.

Which brings us to the next point: just as vids and remixes become more widely known and this art form becomes accessible to more participants, YouTube has begun aggressively taking them down.

I don’t think the situation is quite as dire as Mike Riggs notes in Reason Magazine’s blog post, New YouTube Policy Heralds an end to Vidding, Mash-ups, Dancing Babies–for one thing, the courts seem to be pro-Dancing Babies, and we just elected a president on a wave of political remix video. (Obama, at least, seems to understand the importance of remixing; his websites, change.gov and now (\o/) whitehouse.gov, were released under Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 licenses.) But Stephanie Lenz and the EFF fought for the rights of Dancing Babies everywhere, and vidders are going to have to fight too.

As Colbert has recognized, vidding is good for copyright holders: it makes people want to watch your show. It also makes people want to buy your song, because of the new, positive associations with it. (Fans bought Regina Spektor in droves after Lim transformed “Us” into a fannish anthem; see Jonathan Gray’s almost offhand note of how Lim sold Regina’s work to him.)

Vidding is a form of speech: it’s an essay in visual form. There’s a lot of talk in education circles about “the language of new media” and of the importance of learning how to communicate through the media: vidding is a fun, grassroots form of media education. Some vids are of course better than others, but all vids are useful creative exercises: at the very least, vids turn our one-way, read-only culture into a read-write culture. Or as Clay Shirky put it: “A screen that ships without a mouse ships broken.” Increasingly, that screen comes standard with some form of video editing software, too.