Remix culture

Remix culture, sometimes read-write culture, is a society that allows and encourages derivative works by combining or editing existing materials to produce a new creative work or product.[2][3] A remix culture would be, by default, permissive of efforts to improve upon, change, integrate, or otherwise remix the work of copyright holders. While a common practice of artists of all domains throughout human history,[4] the growth of exclusive copyright restrictions in the last several decades limits this practice more and more by the legal chilling effect.[5] In reaction, Harvard law professor Lawrence Lessig who considers remixing a desirable concept for human creativity has worked since the early 2000s [6] on a transfer of the remixing concept into the digital age. Lessig founded the Creative Commons in 2001 which released Licenses as tools to enable remix culture again, as remixing is legally prevented by the default exclusive copyright regime applied currently on intellectual property. The remix culture for cultural works is related to and inspired by the earlier Free and open-source software for software movement, which encourages the reuse and remixing of software works.


Lawrence Lessig described the Remix culture in his 2008 book Remix. Lawrence compared the default media culture of the 20th century to the usage of computer technology terminology as Read/Write culture (RW) vs. Read Only culture (RO).[5]

In the usual Read Only media culture, the culture is consumed more or less passively.[5] The information or product is provided by a 'professional' source, the content industry, that possesses an authority on that particular product/information. There is a one-way flow only of creative content and ideas due to a clear role separation between content producer and content consumer. The emergence of Analog mass production and duplication technologies (pre-Digital revolution and internet like radio broad-casting) inherently enabled the RO culture's business model of production and distribution and limited the role of the consumer to consumption of media.

Digital technology does not have the 'natural' constraints of the analog that preceded it. RO culture had to be recoded in order to compete with the "free" distribution made possible by the Internet. This is primarily done in the form of Digital Rights Management (DRM), which imposes largely arbitrary restrictions on usage. Regardless, DRM has proven largely ineffective in enforcing the constraints of analog media.[9][10]

Read/Write culture has a reciprocal relationship between the producer and the consumer. Taking works, such as songs, and appropriating them in private circles is exemplary of RW culture, which was considered to be the 'popular' culture before the advent of reproduction technologies.[5] The technologies and copyright laws that soon followed, however, changed the dynamics of popular culture. As it became professionalized, people were taught to defer production to the professionals.

Digital technologies provide the tools for reviving RW culture and democratizing production, sometimes referred to as Web 2.0. Blogs explain the three layers of this democratization. Blogs have redefined our relationship to the content industry as they allowed access to non-professional, user-generated content. The 'comments' feature that soon followed provided a space for readers to have a dialogue with the amateur contributors. 'Tagging' of the blogs by users based on the content provided the necessary layer for users to filter the sea of content according to their interest. The third layer added bots that analyzed the relationship between various websites by counting the clicks between them and, thus, organizing a database of preferences. The three layers working together established an ecosystem of reputation that served to guide users through the blogosphere. While there is no doubt many amateur online publications cannot compete with the validity of professional sources, the democratization of digital RW culture and the ecosystem of reputation provides a space for many talented voices to be heard that was not available in the pre-digital RO model.

Intertwining of media cultures

For remix culture to survive, it must be shared and created by others. This is where participatory culture comes into play, because consumers start participating by becoming contributors, especially the many teens growing up with these media cultures.[11] A book was published in 2013 by Henry Jenkins called "Reading in a Participatory Culture" which focuses on his technique of remixing the original story Moby-Dick to make it a new and fresh experience for students.[12][13] This form of teaching enforces the correlation between participatory and remix culture while highlighting its importance in evolving literature. Since media culture consumers start to look at art and content as something that can be repurposed or recreated therefore making them the producer.

Effects on artists

Remix culture has created an environment that is nearly impossible for artists to have or own "original work".[14] Media and the internet have made art so public that it leaves the work up for other interpretation and, in return, remixing. A major example of this in the 21st century is the idea of memes. Once one is put into cyberspace it is automatically assumed that someone else can come along and remix the picture.[15] For example, the 1964 self-portrait created by artist Rene Magritte, "Le Fils De L'Homme", was remixed and recreated by street artist Ron English in his piece "Stereo Magritte".[16]

An exemption exists for disability service technology to change copyrighted media to make it accessible to them.[17] The American Foundation of the Blind (AFB), American Council of the Blind (ACB) and Samuelson-Glushko Technology Law & Policy Clinic (TLPC) work with U.S. Copyright Office, Library of Congress to renew the exemptions that allow the visually impaired to convert visual texts in copyrighted work into e-readers and other forms of technology that make it possible for them to access. [18] So long as the copyrighted material is obtained in the legal way, the exemption allows for it to be remixed to help to be accessible to anyone disabled. [17] This exemption extends broadly, including transcribing public broadcasts such as television or radio to be transcribed to braille or visual text if need be. [19] With the proper license, obtained by anyone with a disability that can limit perception, copyrighted material that is obtained legally can be remixed for their understanding. [19] [20]. It has last been renewed in 2012 and continues to stand. [17]

Domains of remixing

Folklore and vocal traditions

Graphic arts

  • Graffiti is an example of read/write culture where the participants interact with their surroundings and environment. In much the same way that advertisements decorate walls, graffiti allows the public to choose the images to have displayed on their buildings. By using spray paint, or other mediums, the artists essentially remix and change the wall or other surface to display their twist or critique. As example, Banksy is a notable contemporary English graffiti artist.

Books and other information

Software and other digital goods

Software as digital good is well suited for adaption and remixing.


  • DJing is the act of live rearranging and remixing of pre-recorded music material to new compositions. From this music, the term remix spread to other domains.
  • Arrangements involve taking an already existing melody and reconceptualizing them into a new song. The term "remix" is often used within internet continuities as synonymous with this practice, independent from the original definition of the term "remix" as applied to music.
  • Sampling in music making is an example of reuse and remix to produce a new work. Sampling is widely popular within hip-hop culture. Grandmaster Flash and Afrika Bambaataa were some of the earliest hip-hop artists to employ the practice of sampling. This practice can also be traced to artists such as Led Zeppelin, who interpolated substantial portions of music by many acts including Willie Dixon, Howlin' Wolf, Jake Holmes, and Spirit.[38] By taking a small clip of an existing song, changing different parameters such as pitch, and incorporating it into a new piece, the artist can make it their own.
  • Music mashups are blends of existing music tracks. The 2004 album dj BC presents The Beastles received acclaim[39][40] and was featured in Newsweek[41] and Rolling Stone.[42] A second album named Let It Beast with cover art by cartoonist Josh Neufeld was produced in 2006.


In film, remixing is often done and happens in many forms.

  • Most new movies are adaptations of comics, graphic novels, books, or other forms of media. The majority of other Hollywood cinema works are typically genre films that follow strict generic plots.[43] These forms of movies hardly appear original and creative, but rather rely on adapting material from previous works or genre formulas, which is a form of remix. A prime example is the film Kill Bill which takes many techniques and scene templates from other films (predating all these were The Magnificent Seven, an official remake of The Seven Samurai, and Sergio Leone's A Fistful of Dollars).[44]
  • Video mashups combine multiple pre-existing video sources with no discernible relation with each other into a unified video. Examples of mashup videos include movie trailer remixes, vids, YouTube Poop, and supercuts.[45][46]
  • Vidding is the fan labor practice in media fandom of creating music videos from the footage of one or more visual media sources, thereby exploring the source itself in a new way. The specialized form for animation shows is called Anime music videos, also made by fans.
  • VJing, similar to DJing, is the real-time manipulation of imagery through technological mediation and for an audience, in synchronization to music.[47]
  • Fandubs and Fansubs are reworks of fans on released film material.
  • Walt Disney works are important company remixing examples, for instance Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, Frozen. These remixes are based on earlier public domain works (although Disney films are altered from their original sources).[48][49] Lawrence Lessig therefore called Walt Disney a "remixer extraordinaire" and praised him as ideal of the remix culture in 2010.[50] Some journalists however report that Disney tolerates fan remixes (Fan art) more than in earlier times.[51]


GIFs are another example of remix culture. They are illustrations and small clips from films used for personal expressions in online conversations.[52] GIFs are commonly taken from an online video form such as film, T.V. or YouTube videos.[53] Each clip usually lasts for about 3 seconds[53] and is "looped, extended and repeated."[54] GIFs take a mass media sample and reimagines, or remixes, its meaning from the original context to use it as a form of personal expression in a different context.[55] They are used throughout various media platforms but are most popular in Tumblr where they are used to articulate a punch line.[53]

Remixing in religion

Throughout history remix culture has been truthful not only in exchange of oral stories but also through the Bible.[56] Eugene H. Peterson reinterpreted bible stories in his 2002 book "The Message// Remix" which makes the bible more simple for readers to interpret.[57] An idea of remixing dated back to the Quakers who would interpret the scripture and create a biblical narrative by using their own voices, which went against the "read-only" practice that was more common.[58]


Remixing was always a part of the human culture.[4] US media scholar Professor Henry Jenkins argued that “the story of American arts in the 19th century might be told in terms of the mixing, matching and merging of folk traditions taken from various indigenous and immigrant populations.” Another historical example of remixing is Cento, a literary genre popular in Medieval Europe consisting mainly of verses or extracts directly borrowed from the works of other authors and arranged in a new form or order.[4]

The balance between creation and consumption shifted with the technological progress on media recording and reproduction. Notable events are the invention of book printing press and the analog Sound recording and reproduction leading to severe cultural and legal changes.

Analog era

In the beginning of the 20th century, on the dawn of the analog Sound recording and reproduction revolution, John Philip Sousa, an American composer and conductor of the late Romantic era, warned in 1906 in a congressional hearing on a negative change of the musical culture by the now available "canned music".[59][60]

These talking machines are going to ruin the artistic development of music in this country. When I was a front of every house in the summer evenings, you would find young people together singing the songs of the day or old songs. Today you hear these infernal machines going night and day. We will not have a vocal cord left. The vocal cord will be eliminated by a process of evolution, as was the tail of man when he came from the ape.

Specialized, expensive creation devices ("read-write") and specialized cheap consumption ("read-only") devices allowed a centralized production by few and decentralized consumption by many. Analog devices for consumers for low prices, lacking the capability of writing and creating, spread out fast: Newspapers, Jukebox, radio, television. This new business model, an Industrial information economy, demanded and resulted in the strengthening of the exclusive copyright and a weakening of the remix culture and the Public domain in throughout the 19th and 20th century.

Analog creation devices were expensive and also limited in their editing and rearranging capability. An analog copy of a work (e.g. an audio tape) cannot be edited, copied and worked on infinite often as the quality continuously worsens. Despite that, a creative remixing culture survived to some limited degree. For instance composer John Oswald coined in 1985 the Plunderphonics term in his essay Plunderphonics, or Audio Piracy as a Compositional Prerogative for sound collages based on existing audio recordings and altering them in some way to make a new composition.

Remixing as digital age phenomena

Technology changed fundamentally with the digital revolution.[61] Digital information could be reproduced and edited infinitely, often without quality loss. Still, in the 1960s the first digital general computing devices with such capabilities were meant only for specialists and professionals and were extremely expensive; the first consumer oriented devices like video game consoles inherently lacked RW capability. But in the 1980s, the arrival of the home computer and especially the IBM personal computer brought a digital prosumer device, a device usable for production and consumption at the same time, to the masses for an affordable price.[62][63] Similarly for software, in the 1990s the free and open-source software movement implemented a software ecosystem based on the idea of edit-ability by anyone.

Internet and web 2.0

The arrival of the Internet in the late 1990s and early 2000s created a highly effective way to re-implement a "remix culture" in all domains of art, technology and society. Unlike TV and radio, with a unidirectional information transport (producer to consumer), the Internet is inherently bidirectional, enabling a peer-to-peer dynamic. This accelerated with Web 2.0 and more user-generated content due to Commons-based peer production possibilities. Remixes of songs, videos, and photos are easily distributed and created. There is a constant revision to what is being created, which is done on both a professional and amateur scale. The availability of various end-user oriented software such as GarageBand and Adobe Photoshop makes it easy to remix. The Internet allows distribution of remixes to the masses. Internet memes are Internet-specific creative content which are created, filtered and transformed by the viral spreading process made possible by the web and its users.

Foundation of the Creative Commons

As a response to a more restrictive copyright system (Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension, DMCA), which started to limit the blooming sharing and remixing activities of the web, Lawrence Lessig founded the Creative Commons in 2001. In 2002 the Creative Commons released a set of licenses as tools to enable remix culture, by allowing a balanced, fair enabling release of creative works, "some rights reserved" instead of the usual "all rights reserved". Several companies and governmental organizations adapted this approach and licenses in the following years, for instance flickr, DeviantART[64] and Europeana using or offering CC license options which allow remixing. There are several webpages addressing this remix culture, for instance ccMixter founded 2004.

The 2008 open-source film by Brett Gaylor RiP!: A Remix Manifesto documents "the changing concept of copyright".[65][66]

In 2012 Canada's Copyright Modernization Act explicitly added a new exemption which allows non-commercial remixing.[67] In 2013 the US court ruling Lenz v. Universal Music Corp. acknowledged that amateur remixing might fall under fair use and copyright holders are requested to check and respect fair use before doing DMCA take down notices.[68]

Under copyright laws of many countries, anyone with the intent to remix an existing work is liable for lawsuit because the laws protect the intellectual property of the work. However, current copyright laws are proving to be ineffective at preventing sampling of content.[69][70] On the other hand, fair-use does not address a wide enough range of use-cases and its borders are not well established and defined, making usage under "fair use" legally risky. Lessig argues that there needs to be a change in the current state of copyright laws to legalize remix culture, especially for fair-use cases. He states that "outdated copyright laws have turned our children into criminals."[71] One proposition is to adopt the system of citation used with book references. The artist would cite the intellectual property she sampled which would give the original creator the credit, as is common with literature references. As tools for doing so Lawrence Lessig proposed the Creative Commons licenses which demand for instance Attribution without restricting the general use of a creative work. One step further is the Free content movement, which proposes that creative content should be released under free licenses. The Copyright reform movement tries to tackle the problem by cutting for instance the excessively long copyright terms, as it was debated by scholar Rufus Pollock.[72][73]

Other copyright scholars, such as Yochai Benkler and Erez Reuveni,[74] promulgate ideas that are closely related to remix culture. Some scholars argue that the academic and legal institutions must change with the culture towards one that is remix-based.[75]

Reception and impact

In February 2010 Cato Institute's Julian Sanchez praised the remix activities for its social value, "for performing social realities" and remarked that copyright should be evaluated regarding the "level of control permitted to be exercised over our social realities".[76][77]

According to Kirby Ferguson in 2011 and his popular TED talk series,[79] everything is a remix, and that all original material builds off of and remixes previously existing material.[80] He argues if all intellectual property is influenced by other pieces of work, copyright laws would be unnecessary. Ferguson described that, the three key elements of creativity — copy, transform, and combine — are the building blocks of all original ideas; building on Pablo Picasso's famous quote "Good artists copy, great artists steal.".[78]

In June 2015 a WIPO article named "Remix Culture and Amateur Creativity: A Copyright Dilemma"[68] acknowledged the "age of remixing" and the need for a copyright reform.


But the culture is not without its critics even going so far in accusations of plagiarism. [81][82]

In his 2006 book Cult of the Amateur.",[83] Web 2.0 critic Andrew Keen criticizes Free and Read-Write Culture.

In 2011 UC Davis professor Thomas W. Joo criticized remix culture for romanticizing free culture.[84] Terry Hart had a similar line of criticism in 2012.[85]

See also


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  68. Rostama, Guilda (June 1, 2015). "Remix Culture and Amateur Creativity: A Copyright Dilemma". WIPO. Retrieved 2016-03-14. in 2013 a district court ruled that copyright owners do not have the right to simply take down content before undertaking a legal analysis to determine whether the remixed work could fall under fair use, a concept in US copyright law which permits limited use of copyrighted material without the need to obtain the right holder’s permission (US District Court, Stephanie Lenz v. Universal Music Corp., Universal Music Publishing Inc., and Universal Music Publishing Group, Case No. 5:07-cv-03783-JF, January 24, 2013).[...] Given the emergence of today’s “remix” culture, and the legal uncertainty surrounding remixes and mash-ups, the time would appear to be ripe for policy makers to take a new look at copyright law.
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  73. Rufus Pollock (15 June 2009). "Forever minus a day? Calculating optimal copyright term" (PDF). University of Cambridge. Archived from the original (PDF) on 12 January 2013. Retrieved 11 January 2015. The optimal term of copyright has been a matter for extensive debate over the last decade. Based on a novel approach we derive an explicit formula which characterises the optimal term as a function of a few key and, most importantly, empirically-estimable parameters. Using existing data on recordings and books we obtain a point estimate of around 15 years for optimal copyright term with a 99% confidence interval extending up to 38 years. This is substantially shorter than any current copyright term and implies that existing terms are too long.
  74. Erez Reuveni, "Authorship in the Age of the Conducer", Social Science Research Network, January 2007
  75. Selber, Stuart (December 2007). "Plagiarism, Originality, Assemblage". Computers & Composition. 24 (4): 375–403. CiteSeerX doi:10.1016/j.compcom.2007.08.003.
  76. Julian Sanchez (2010-04-01). "Lawrence Lessig: Re-examining the remix" (video). TEDxNYED. Retrieved 2016-02-27. Time 7:14: "social remixes [...] for performing social realities"; 8:00 "copyright policies about [...] level of control permitted to be exercised over our social realities"
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