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Thoughts after listening to L. Lessig on fair use, copyright and online video

March 5, 2010

On Thursday 25, thanks to OpenVideoAlliance, I watched live a very
interesting conference that Lawrence Lessig was giving at Harvard School
on “Fair use, politics and online video”.

After having attended a few webinars an other online presentations, I’ve
taken to taking down notes pretty much in the same way as when I’m in
the same room as the presenter. My comments here will come from what I
remember and what I wrote down during the talk and will have, of course,
been sifted through the filter of my own interpretation.

The first thing that caught my attention was the word PASSIVITY.

I’ve been so immersed in learning about the possibilities of the Web 2.0
that I no longer associate as easily as before the concept of
technology with passivity. So the question that ensued was “who took it
away?”. Now we’re talking; there was passivity, now there isn’t so much
-there’s been a change. But how did that passivity come to be? Well,
partly because creativity was being consumed (the Web has some great
sites), but consuming ends there -it doesn’t create. And so a context of
began to take shape.

Around 2004 this cultural passivity that technology had created and
maintained for so long suffered a change because of -according to
Lessig- a revival of the Reading and Writing (R/W) culture. Technology
was now making it possible to REMIX content.
One of the examples shown was mixing Anime with audio; another one, a
video featuring political leaders mixed with a love song in the
background. Lessig considers another big change took place in 2006 with
YouTube. Of course. YouTube increased participation: now anyone could
make a video and upload it, comment on other people’s videos, email
their friends with links to those videos…

emerged as a new kind of amateur culture.

Now, the topic of the talk was not participation in itself but
discussing fair use and politics in relation to online video -amateur
and professional. Lessig took us to the early Disney productions, which made use of
works in the Public domain…PD was fine for Disney…that is, until
Disney saw what could happen to their own productions and a Copyright Act was passed so
now “no one can do to Disney what Disney did to the Grimm brothers”.
And yet Disney’s “Little
today are taking classical music and remixing.

Lessig’s talk opened up my eyes and mind to the concept of remixing.
Until listening to him I hadn’t considered remixing as creating; it was
using other people’s works and putting them together. Period.
Legally and ethically, they were part of plagiarism or just plain
copying to me.

Now I see it isn’t. When I use Animoto, for example, and take some of my
photos (or someone else’s photos in the PD), select PD/CC licensed
music to go with them and choose the order in which I want to use them,
as well as whether I want a particular image or piece of a video clip to
have more prominence, let the program manipulate the images and then I
give that video a title -I’m creating. The key for
understanding this to me is the fact that I want to give my clip a title
-if it were just putting together different works that someone else did
and trying to make them pass as my own, why do I feel that choosing a
title is so important? A title, as a category, is at the highest level
of the superstructure of
a work (text, video, anything) -most titles are not final until the
whole work is finished. A title is mine,
it embodies the synthesis of
what I want to convey with my work. Semantically, and borrowing Van
Dijk’s terms, it is at the highest level of a text’s macrostructure.

When I’m asked to write essays and I’m not allowed to choose a title for
it, I feel something’s missing.

Lessig sees amateur remixing as celebrating freedom and reincorporating
it. He stresses, however, the importance of the existence and
enforcement of a copyright law -for professionals, for those who profit
financially from their remixes using other people’s works. He sees
progress in this direction coming from the Court (in the US) but not
from Congress.

Then he moves on to the issue of responsibility; who’s responsible for
making this change -from passivity back (or forward) to creating?
Immediately after this Lessig cites the (real) example of a captain that
was too drunk to run his ship to make the point that if you are there
and do nothing, you are responsible too. The “good people” need to step
up and do something -let go of the passivity and improper dependencies
that destroy.

He encourages amateurs to use their talent and technology to see and
change the dynamics by which creativity is being stifled. According to
Lessig, copyright does no good when it limits amateur creativity and
exhorts to create and enforce a copyright law that focuses on commercial
entities that are using and profiting from amateur creativity.

He looks at 2 ways of remixing:
(1) the one used by (for example) G.Lucas for Star Wars: he
reserves all rights for himself even if you created, for example, the
music that went into your remix. That, Lessig says, is treating people
not as creators but as “people doing stuff for you”.

Remix way #2 gives the copyright to the remixers, thus treating
them as creators and promoting more amateur creativity.

Now as I write this I ask myself: why is it so important to have amateur
creativity? Isn’t it enough to pick and choose from commercially
available creations?

And I think
of teaching.
I can go into my classroom and follow recipes
time and time again, with different groups. Or I can see my students as
individuals who, together with myself, form a particular group, with
particular needs and interests, with feelings that change over the
semester or the school year or even a week. I can remix the coursebook
with them, I can ask them to think which part they want to change and
why -what’s useful, what could be tweaked to make it more interesting,
what’s fine as it is, what they’d like to bring in…

I could go into the classroom and set myself onto autopilot.

Or I can go into the classroom and help students grow, think for
themselves, and express their ideas and emotions, and prepare them to
continue learning when I’m not around anymore, to become independent
thinkers and interpret the world in their own way and be aware that
they’re doing so.

Prepare them to collaborate with others and appreciate the good in other
people’s artifacts.

To contribute to a more tolerant and inclusive culture and society.


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  1. Nina Liakos permalink

    Such a thought-provoking post! It made me think in new ways about web 2.0, creativity and teaching…. just the thing to start out my week.

  2. Nina Liakos permalink

    Hi Joel,<br>I will also be at TESOL in Boston and hope to meet you there f2f! When/where is your presentation?

  3. Joel Bloch permalink

    I’m currently writing a book about this topic so I’m excited that someone is actually interested. I’ve enclosed a link to a presentation I gave last month – <a rel="nofollow" href="; target="_blank"></a&gt;. I’m not sure it makes much sense without the commentary. I’m also discussing this at the TESOL conference in Boston.

  4. Nina Liakos permalink

    @Joel: I don’t understand the prezi (my first experience also). The sample I looked at from prezi went in a particular order but I couldn’t get yours to do that. How does it work?

  5. Nina Liakos permalink

    Why have you "nearly had it" with PowerPoints? Just curious.

  6. Beatriz Lupiano permalink

    Thank you both very much for your encouraging comments!<br><br>Joel, I like your presentation very much; it’s actually my first experience with prezi . I’m sure the commentary would make the experience richer, but I think I got the message and it was interesting to navigate through it (I’ve nearly had it with ppts I’m afraid). Digital storytelling is also a topic I’m interested in , so having remixing and DS together was a real treat.<br><br>I hope both you and Nina have a great time in Boston -and I’d also love to know more about your book and when it comes out.

  7. Nina Liakos permalink

    I know what you mean (and I have a tendency to make PowerPoints with exactly the flaws you mention). I learned in a workshop once that 4-5 slides is probably all one needs for an effective 40-minute presentation. I think in most cases, it’s probably true. On the other hand, for people who miss the presentation and see only the ppt, extensive text is very helpful; how would you know otherwise what the presenter had said? But during the presentation itself, I agree.<br><br>I am a very left-brained, linear type thinker, so things like prezi (and also mindmaps) are difficult for me to navigate. I always feel like I will miss something. You can see that from my question to Joel: which particular order does he want me to follow? Maybe he wants me to wander around, something you seem perfectly at ease with but which just makes me anxious.<br><br>I should cultivate my right mind more. (Just read "My Stroke of Insight" by Jill Bolte Taylor; see also her fantastic talk on

  8. Beatriz Lupiano permalink

    @Nina: My wording was not very accurate; I’ve nearly had it with ppts being used in talks and seminars as the whole presentation, rather than as a visual aid. Presenters reading from their slides rather than talking to their audience, slides changing too fast for me to read+listen+think+take down notes, too many slides…that sort of thing. I have nothing against ppts when they’re used to enhance the experience, or when they’re embedded in a site, for example -especially now that you can add audio and video.<br><br>Thanks for the question and letting me clarify my views.<br>One of the reasons I liked Joel’s prezi was exactly that: it’s not linear, you navigate and along the way you find stories, phrases, photos; you can stop where you want more of something, you can make your own associations…(I experienced it that way at least, but,as I said, I don’t have other prezis to compare it with)

  9. Beatriz Lupiano permalink

    I’ve never used PowerPoints in a presentation (well, I’ve never actually presented anything, but have never used them in class either). I made my very first two this month thinking of an audience that would only get the ppts, not me explaining the topic. It was a different way of presenting my ideas and felt more like being in a classroom than if I’d written an article -I’ll probably love prezi when I try it.<br><br>I understand what you say about being a very left-brained, linear type thinker -I have a private student with a similar learning style and, since it’s a one-to-one context, I’ve started asking her to show me and explain how she feels more at ease. She loves making lists and organizing vocabulary and is actually the very first student I know with a vocabulary notebook. I find it very challenging to think of tasks for her, because I have a very different learning style, just like you say (and in spite of the claims denying the existence of learning styles…)-but the experience is also very interesting. We’ve had grammar sessions which I’d have never thought of planning, and she’s loved them. I can see progress in her learning, so I try to include more tasks that suit her style while I still feel enough at ease to participate as well.<br><br>I’ll search for Ms Taylor’s talk -thank you (and add her book to the fast growing wish list :-)! )<br><br>Thanks for your comments 🙂

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