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.

Is YouTube Blocking Your Vids? Exercise Your Right To Fair Use!

We’ve heard from a number of people that YouTube has recently blocked a number of fanvids due to alleged music rights violations. But YouTube also provides a mechanism for vidders to assert their right to fair use: a quick and easy dispute process.

YouTube recognizes that there are legitimate artistic and critical reasons to use copyrighted material, and the online form gives, as a potential reason for dispute: “This video uses copyrighted material in a manner that does not require approval of the copyright holder. It is a fair use under copyright law.” The form also asks you to explain further.

Fair use is a muscle: it gets stronger when you exercise it, so if you believe that your vid is fair use, that it transforms copyrighted material for a new critical or creative purpose, you should dispute the claim.

Here are some resources you might consult to explain why your vid is fair use:

1) The Best Practices in User-Generated Content released by the American University Center for Social Media. (Their main site on fair use is here.)

2) The EFF’s Test Suite of Fair Use Examples for Service Providers and Content Owners; the test suite features a vid.

3) The Q&A with Fan Vidder Luminosity in New York Magazine.

4) Michael Wesch’s Anthropological Introduction to YouTube presented to the Library of Congress on June 23, 2008 (features Lim’s vid “Us” among other videos).

5) Other academic and legal articles about vidding include:

Remixing Television: Francesca Coppa on the vidding underground. Reason Magazine, August/September 2008

Francesca Coppa, Women, Star Trek, and the Development of Fannish Vidding in Transformative Works and Cultures (2008)

Henry Jenkins, How to Watch a Fan Vid (2006)

Sarah Trombley, Visions and Revisions: Fanvids and Fair Use (.pdf), 25 Cardozo Arts & Ent. J. 647 (2008)

Rebecca Tushnet, User-Generated Discontent: Transformation in Practice (.pdf), 31 COLUM. J.L. & ARTS 110 (2008)

And don’t forget Fanlore: one stop shopping for trying to explain to people what fannish things mean!