Response 2 – Remix in Higher Education (5.2)

by Sergio Figueiredo

The MEmorial genre/practice first conceptualized by Gregory Ulmer in Electronic Monuments, and most recently re-thought by Sarah Arroyo in Participatory Composition, asks writers to identify a contemporary problem in need of monitoring, applying avant-garde literary and art methodologies encoded in computer programming (e.g., appropriate, cut/paste, collage). In contrast to traditional memorials, an electronic monument asks researchers to monitor an ongoing issue as they relate to “the values and sacrifices in our society” (Kevin Brooks, “Exploring MEmorials“).

Douglas Terry’s “Remix and Higher Education” focus on Copyright legislation, including the challenges that electronic technologies pose to current (inter)national policies, parallels the kind of work proposed by Ulmer. The information inventoried on the site offers a database, of sorts, offering a historiography copyright relevant to these challenges. In terms of content, much of the information and arguments (‘manifestos’) surrounding copyright are common; however, the site offers an example of a self-reflexive ‘hypernarrative’ structure facilitated by the database design of computing systems. While in some instances, such narrative structures may appear gimmick-y, the “remix” of materials about remix successfully attempts to expose a contradiction in cultural values: creative-appropriation/-assemblage v. copyright-law (as enforced in electronic networks).

Some of the issues raised in Terry’s project also related to a bill floating around the US Congress over the past year: Rep. Zoe Lofgren’s “Aaron’s Law.” The bill proposes to revise some of the language current copyright policy, particularly in response to reports about the federal investigation of Aaron Swartz (for designing a ‘hack’ to download JSTOR files in bulk). The bill parallels much of Terry’s implied and explicit arguments addressing the importance of remix and appropriation in of higher education, especially as it relates to ‘freedom of information’. While the purpose is described as an investigation into integrating remix as an foundational practice of writing online, it also serves as a cautious reference for students and instructors engaging with these practices.

The project, though, has its limitations. The site design, for example, has some problems loading, mostly due to the amount of embedded videos; in addition, the design packs in a lot of information on each page that may become distracting for some readers. And yet, the design also reflects what many of my own students have said during units on copyright: that copyright law is highly complex, difficult to fully grasp, and a whirlwind of seemingly contradictory policy decisions. Of the most significant concerns, though, has to do with the limited amount of original material; while the selections and appropriations included in the project may ‘speak for themselves’, the common arguments surrounding debates about copyright law are expected, including references to Creative Commons–the nonprofit organization designed to self-regulate copyright in online environments.

Overall, the project attempts to raise awareness about copyright regulation, and does so successully, although it would likely be most appropriate for a general audience rather than an academic audience (since the arguments in the project are fairly common in institutions of higher education). As the copyright debates continue across each of these institutions (online, academia, government), this project’s attempt to monitor these debates offers an ever-growning resource (if Terry decides to continue working the site)–a MEmorial.