Remix Guide


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This guide was last revised 15 October 2010

Digital formats and publishing tools make it easy to adapt and create digital content for new purposes. Publishing on the internet however often triggers copyright issues, even if the intended audience is only friends and family. If you clearly identify what can be done with your digital content online, users will find it easier to engage and interact with what you have on offer.

Understanding Remix

Remix is a term made popular in the music industry, where a audio mixing of music samples is used to make an alternative version of a song. The concept of remix however dates back much further to the technique of collage. Collage has been used since the 19th century for creating memorabilia scrapbooks, while from the 20th century photomontage has been used for creating a whole variety of new works such as postcard designs, display advertisements and layouts for magazines. The ‘cut and paste’ metaphor for computer software came from these origins.

Montage Of Photographs

Early remix: Montage of photographs relating to the British Antarctic Expedition (1907-1909)
Manuscripts & Pictorial, Collections of the Alexander Turnbull Library (external link), Reference PAColl-6408-01

Remix as fair dealing

Sampling material as part of a new work is a long-standing practice for text-based research, where samples, or quotes, of text are copied and removed from their original context. These are placed in the new work as part of the process of citing evidence or to illustrate an argument. For copyright material this activity is protected under New Zealand law through a process of fair dealing. Fair dealing is a specific exception to copyright protection adopted in the 19th century to allow uses common at that time. These include research, critique, reviewing and news reporting.

Fair dealing works well for sampling text, but is much harder to apply to artistic works (such as drawings, paintings, photographs) and audio or moving image recordings. Audio samples only a few seconds long used for remix have been subject to court cases, while use of another’s photograph as part of reporting news is specifically excluded from fair dealing.

Where copyright exists, almost all artistic works, audio and moving image recordings require permission granted through a licence in order to use or adapt within a new work. Where copyright has expired, the only non-commercial sources of these types of works are private collections and collecting institutions such as museums, libraries and archives. Until digitisation and broadband internet, access to these collections for copying was highly controlled, greatly limiting the potential for remix.

Use without permission versus piracy

Until recently the cost of copying, adapting and publishing content was high. This often meant only commercial artists and creators could afford to access and copy works for remix. This might have been done through a publisher who could engage legal specialists to negotiate a licence fee or research expired works.

Today, digital technology has made it possible to copy, adapt and publish content at almost no cost. Anyone with access to a computer and an internet connection can create, remix and publish with a few basic skills. What most people will not have is access to legal specialists to clear copyrights and research expired works. As a consequence, content that has been copied or remixed without prior permission is now widespread on the internet.

For many creators, collectors or distributors of digital content, unauthorised copying and remix is a fundamental challenge to their way of working. Commercial media organisations such as music and movie studios and distributors often equate all forms of use without permission to piracy. The term piracy, being an act of intentional counterfeiting or copying for financial gain, may not reflect what is actually happening to this content.

While remix and sharing of content without permission can certainly be for commercial gain, many cases of use and sharing are purely creative or social. Users of blog sites and other social media sites frequently copy and paste content from copyright sources without permission in order to illustrate their posts. Video sharing sites such as YouTube are well known for their remixed content, most of which is non-commercial and used without permission. In popular culture, there has been a long standing practice of video remix and fan authored fiction based on the Star Wars movie franchise. This kind of use is growing as the opportunities for internet publishing increase.

Responding as a digital content owner

Today, almost every possible use of digital content available on the internet involves making a copy, potentially triggering copyright infringement. At the same time, abundant sources of cultural creativity have become readily accessible along with the digital tools to create new works. Users now often have choices, which may mean bypassing one source of content for another that is easier to use. As a digital content owner, you may need to balance three things:

  • protecting your income if you depend on creating content for a living (the original purpose of copyright)
  • maintaining patronage if you depend on use of your content to generate support (advertising-supported services and many public heritage organisations may require this)
  • having users respect your intentions for how they will use your content (particularly if you do not want to threaten your users or take them to court)

If you need to protect your income as a content creator, then thinking carefully about why you put content on the internet is likely to be your starting point. The public internet is built on technologies that rely on open standards and the creation and distribution of copies. Over time, the value of your content on the internet cannot be maintained through controlling access and distribution.

Kevin Kelly in a famous post on his blog the Technium (external link) has made a case for identifying things of value that do not rely on controlling digital copies. If your aim is to promote your work to a wider audience using the internet, it may be useful to consider a web marketing strategy that makes use of your content.

Part of your purpose may be to provide public access to digital copies or information about content you own or hold. If so, you may want to encourage users to interact and engage with your content. This can build patronage for your website, a relationship with your users and wider interest in your content. There are many choices available for adding this functionality. They include providing for user tagging and comments, running a blog, and making use of social networking content sites like Flickr.

In addition to these responses, encourage users to respect your intentions about how your content is used. Think carefully about the messages you send with your Terms of Use and permissions statements. Many of these statements still in use were adopted before the internet became an abundant source of rich media that can be re-used. It is still common to think of websites as brochures or catalogues that will lead to someone politely contacting you and requesting a printed version of your content. That view is now outdated.

Content owners can expect that users will be interested in digital copies of content that can be accessed immediately and used for a variety of purposes. If you want users to respect your intentions for use of your content, you need to respect their needs for accessible and usable content. Providing clear, accurate and honest descriptions of the rights that exist in the content you own and of the permissions you allow is a good start. This needs to be done for each item or collection of items you have online, and may require you to review and correct past poor practice.

Providing content for remix

Providing some or all of your digital content to users for remix has a variety of benefits. One of the greatest benefits is to change the way users view your content. Where there are clear permissions, it becomes much easier for users to appropriately choose to use one form of content for remix over another. You will be encouraging reciprocity by giving permission in return for requesting respect for the content creators. Encouraging these choices is a positive development for the internet, as it promotes community-based norms rather than relying on legal threats or artificial barriers.

For organisations specialising in cultural and heritage material, you have a unique opportunity to build a new relationship with your users. Your collections contain material that is rare or unique, out of print, or restricted from display due to fragility or lack of space. Providing digital access is a way to increase both the usage value and the heritage value of these items.

Remix at its best is a profound way of teaching creators young and old the value of their heritage, allowing them to reforge it in a way relevant to them. Cultural expression is maintained through use and re-use of the knowledge and traditions of the past. Forgotten histories can be brought back to life, and past creative insights can be applied in new ways. One thing you may need to be prepared for is to be surprised (or even a little shocked) at what people come up with.

Monalisa

Remixes of Mona Lisa by Lindy Drew Photography, viewable on flickr.com

Enabling remix

Make it easy for users to identify and choose materials from your online digital content. There are three steps to consider in adding or making changes to digital content for remix:

Step 1: Select your content with the user in mind

Some content is better suited for remix than others. Users will be interested in both the content and the visual form of a digital object, depending on how they plan to make use of it. Referencing or linking to the original digital item may be important if the remix is a form of documentary or social commentary. Titles, authors, dates and other descriptive information will assist this and searching. You may want to consider grouping content for remix or creating a space on your website to search and access it from.

You may find our Make it Digital Scorecard decision making tool helpful for prioritising material you have not yet digitised.

Step 2: Choose a format that is easy to edit

Some digital formats are designed for access and not editing. Enabling access to higher quality digital copies will make it easier for users to adapt a work for remix. This is particularly important for audio and video resources, but also for image and text. Avoid the use of watermarks and formats not designed for editing such as Flash objects. A lot of remix uses will be designed for viewing on a high definition television, LCD computer monitor or handheld device. Quality ideally should be good enough to output on these devices.

You can read about useful digital formats and some of the issues for editing in our Creating digital content guide

Step 3: Create rights and usage statements

You digital content is likely to belong to one of the following five groups of rights:

  • content out of copyright - content where copyright has expired or that had no copyright. This content can be labelled with the wording ‘no known copyright' or you can use the Creative Commons Public Domain Mark (external link). Read our main Make it Digital guide on Enabling Use & Re-use, and our Public Domain Guide for more information on copyright and expired copyright material.
  • content where you own the rights - if you are the creator or you have acquired the rights (such as through contract or bequest), you can licence this using Creative Commons
  • content where someone known owns the rights - if you own the copy but not the copyright, you may be able to negotiate a licence with the rights holder on behalf of your users
  • content where someone unknown owns the rights - this content requires research to attempt to trace the rights owner. If it was published over 50 years ago, it can generally be assumed out of copyright if this research does not track down the owner
  • content that is a special case - there may be non-copyright issues restricting use, such as privacy (if created after 1993), cultural or political sensitivity, or restrictions on publication placed by donors to institutions. There may also be content that you depend on to generate revenue, regardless of its copyright status.

Choosing a copyright licence

Creative Commons provides six licences that you can use to place your copyright permissions on a digital item. They provide a visual symbol and plain English text, along with a persistent URL to link back to the full legal description.

The two most restrictive licences (BY-NC-ND and BY-ND) allow copying but do not allow derivative works to be made. These are not suitable for remix purposes.

The recently published New Zealand Government Open Access and Licensing Framework (external link) recommends the most open licence (BY), which only requires attribution. This allows the most free re-use of a digital work. They also suggest publicly funded agencies in most cases should make no distinction between commercial and non-commercial usage in their licence. However there may be cases where you depend on revenue or already have a separately negotiated licence for commercial use where a non-commercial licence choice may be relevant.

Adding a share-alike requirement (BY-NC-SA or BY-SA) means any new work needs to also be licenced under the same terms. Depending on how much of your material is used and the way it is used, this has the potential to make it hard for creators to distribute their new works. Think carefully about whether this option is really necessary for you content.

The full list of Creative Commons licences are available on the Creative Commons Aotearoa New Zealand’s website (external link).

Note that Creative Commons in New Zealand only applies for copyright works. Works where copyright has expired (such as many heritage items) cannot legally be licenced in this way. A ‘no known copyright’ statement is more appropriate. The Creative Commons organisation also has a recently launched (2010) international Public Domain Mark (external link) recommended for use where copyright is known to have expired or not apply. The use of this internationally is expected to steadily grow in the next few years. As it is not a licence this can be readily used in New Zealand without further adaptation.

If you wish to have all copyrights waived for a work that’s still in copyright, you might consider using the CC0 universal waiver (external link) that has been issued by Creative Commons in the United States.

Terms of Use statement

Many terms of use on websites were written in an era when it was easier to put up a blanket statement as a legal disclaimer and leave it to users to worry about copying. Today this is a disservice to you and your users, as it discourages them from using your online services and respecting what your website says.

Rather than relying on wordy legal disclaimers, you can use your terms of use to describe the kind of community and behaviour you would like to see built around your content. As part of the Creative Commons' work on a public domain mark, they have drafted an excellent set of user guidelines (external link) that can be used as a basis of drafting a Terms of Use statement for your remix content. You are free to copy and adapt this text, provided you attribute Creative Commons.org for the original text.

Examples of Remix

Below are some links to examples of remix. If you find more that you think would be suitable for this guide, you can add a link in the comments box at the bottom of the page.

Page from scrapbook includes two photographs, 1842-1967 - an example of scrap book remix (on Manuscripts & Pictorial)

Photographer's joke - an early photo remix (on Flickr)

Vintage photoshop - a montage of two photos to creat a family portrait (on Flickr)

Collage portrait of Georgia Stafford - using mixed analogue and digital techniques (on Flickr)

Michelle Caplan Mixed Media Collage Artist and interview - image gallery of an artist selling remix prints using photos and text (on Etsy)

Sergey Larenkov's photo journal - photo blog of a Russian artist remixing images from World War II with the present day (on Livejournal)

Aotearoa - 2009 music video by Minuit (on NZOnScreen)

Music remixes - Remixes using Creative Commons licenced material (on ccMixter)

Star Wars fan fiction - a collection of over 20,000 fan fiction stories based on the Star Wars movies and characters (on fanfiction.net)


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