350MC – Reflective Research

by alexmasonphotography

Remixing/Authorship and Reflection on my own practice


[with object]

be the author of (a book or piece of writing):

she has authored several articles on wildlife

be the originator of: the concept has been authored largely by insurance companies

I first became interested in the idea of authorship whilst planning a film that I am currently in the process of making which is about Freerunning or Parkour. Being the digital native that I am the first thing I did when it came to researching was type ‘Freerunning’ into Google and I was surprised to learn that the ‘founder’ of ‘freerunning’ is a man called Sebastièn Foucan. How can somebody become the author of something that is simply an advance on walking? Am I the author of my film about freerunners? Or is it the person who is said to be the founder of freerunning the author? After speaking with several of the runners I know, this idea of somebody being the founder of freerunning seems to be conflicting in other peoples minds.

Authorship is something that effects myself and many of my peers who are embarking into the world of media. It is important to know who the author of a project is and what is acceptable.

Considering a collaborative authorship when creating the original material is something that is becoming more prominent within my own practice and with my current project about Freerunners. I consider the team that I am working with to be the author of the their input and they have a certain amount of control at how they choose to represent themselves which gives them some authorship and we see examples of this in a lot of photography. Wasma Mansour collaborates with her subject and refers to her subject as the participant

“It is amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit”

It’s important to not let the idea of authorship drag you down too much. Although I agree with the quote above in the sense that it will help one move forward and achieve great things, there is a definite part of me that wants to be able to say ‘I created this’ especially for potential future employment.  To claim full authorship over my current film would somewhat exploit my subjects and disregard their self-representation.

“In order to understand new media we must understand old media” (check quote)

Appropriating work is something that strikes me as an important topic with authorial identity. In some cases work has been appropriated without the appropriator actually realising they have done it and in other cases it is just deliberate which some would classify as theft. Kirby Ferguson mentions in his Ted talk ‘Embracing the remix’ that Bob Dylan who has often been described as one of the most influential figures of the 20th century, musically and culturally has used the same melody in in his songs as that of another folk musician from before he was around and has even used the same lyrics as another artist in his famous song Don’t Think Twice It’s Alright. It has been estimated that 2/3rds of the melodies Bob Dylan used in his early songs were ‘borrowed’. The concept of multi touch that Steve Jobs talks about and says he has patented in 2007 has actually been developing since the 1980’s. It is the small parts of multi touch that are patented like sliding an icon with your finger to unlock the phone. In the 80’s there was no such thing as a digital patent. If the creators of the first generation computers had patented the idea of a desktop and the digital virtual folders that are on computers Steve Jobs and his company would not be the success that they are today. So it is important to research ones concept before undertaking it.

“Openness is a commitment to a certain set of values, we need to speak of the values, the value of freedom, it’s value of community, it’s value in the limits in regulation, it’s value in respecting the creator” Lawrence Lessig talks about his experience with uploading a video to YouTube finding out that once he tries to play it the sound doesn’t work because he has used material that he does not own. I have had the same situation. In certain situations authors of a product will encourage people to appropriate their work and I think remixing somebody else’s work one should respect the author and think of how it could benefit them. Cory Doctorow an author of books and newspaper articles is a man that has thought about how people remixing his work could enhance his audience. He would rather people saw his work for free and talked about it than people not seeing it because they don’t want to pay for it. He encourages the reproduction of his own media.

We get mixed messages about the concept of copyright, you can’t use this image, you can use this but only if you credit the original author, however we are encouraged from some social networking and blogging platforms to remix other people’s material; ‘Re-Tweet this, Re Blog this, Share this’. Once done, this will now appear on your own Twitter or WordPress page and it is seen to be acceptable when the original source is clearly visible but often this isn’t the case. When people have re-blogged my work in the past I simply see it as an honour that they would choose my work to appear on their page to all their followers. The fact that this is such a talked about subject on the Internet goes to show how much we really care about authorship.

Ideas are based on shared knowledge. Without somebody inventing the wheel and realising that it could roll, cars wouldn’t exist and this same principal applies to Steve Jobs with his slide to unlock feature on touch screen electronics. If it wasn’t for the circumstances and Steve Jobs was to look at the facts, would he be grateful for people having spent years researching the concept he has applied to his fortune in apple?

Austin Kleon describes appropriation as ‘stealing like an artist’. There isn’t anyone who hasn’t snipped anything out of a newspaper or magazine and now during the rise of the digital age there isn’t likely to be anyone who doesn’t have stolen music, images and other types of media on their computers. Austin also says that the artist is a selective collector, we gather ideas, words, images. In Austin’s case he was having a case of writers block and decided to steal words from newspapers and black out the text that he didn’t want, he would then upload these to his blog and would receive criticism for not being an original writer/artist. After doing some research he then found out that not only was his idea of taking words from newspapers wasn’t original but it had already been happening for 250 years.

Nothing is completely original, this essay that I am writing now isn’t original and it could be argued that nothing that is claimed to be original, is original. On YouTube for example, videos of young up and coming musicians titled for example ‘John Smith – Clowns Parade (Original Song)’. When what it really is, is a song that has been written based on inspiration, melodies, themes and lyrics from other people’s songs. David Bowie was once asked in an interview if he would consider himself original and he said, “No no no I am a tasteful thief”.  There needs to be a differentiation between ‘original’ and ‘remixed’. I agree with Austin Kleon to a certain extent when he says “Nothing is completely original” but I do believe there can be an original concept within a creative piece of work and this is what gives the creator/creators the authorial rights to the piece. People avoid the word stealing and prefer to use the word appropriated. This is probably because we relate the word stealing to something that you are not supposed to do and this is enforced from a young age. Does it make it better if we are all considered thieves? Certain films inspire the film I am making at the moment and I am not ashamed to admit that. The more that artists talk about inspiration and decision-making, the less of a taboo subject stealing will be.