The Problem of Copyright in a New Media Context

One of the greatest strengths of the internet is the way in which it is able to facilitate collaboration.  Trends we are seeing in the development of web applications are starting to have profound effects on the way knowledge is produced.  Talking about students in a transmedia environment, Jenkins says:

They have to weigh the reliability of information that emerges in different contexts. No two people will find the same content and so they end up needing to compare notes and pool knowledge with others. That’s why our skill is transmedia navigation – the capacity to seek out, evaluate, and integrate information conveyed across multiple media. – Henry Jenkins

The rise of social media, in particular, is changing the way that we can understand the production of knowledge.  It allows people to more accurately integrate others’ contributions into their knowledge production by connecting the producers:

Collaboration used to be about documents. Now, it’s social; it’s about people. People have become an alternative form of file system. Search still relies on keywords but knowledge workers increasingly have another option: finding the person who can help. – Thomas Claburn

A change in knowledge production needs to be beneficial, however, in order for it to stick, and the change that is occurring seems to fulfill that need.  “Remixed” knowledge like what we see in new media (borrowing others ideas and productions to put a new insight or spin on them) is a community knowledge production effort that can provide very valuable results:

Contestants are constantly “stealing” one another’s code, making small tweaks that let them leapfrog to the top of the leaderboard. Some of the contestants get hooked by the instant feedback, and work all week long. The result is that the winning entry is often fantastically good. – Michael Nielsen

This potential cannot be fully tapped until there is a restructuring of how idea ownership is negotiated.  Traditional copyright laws are no longer serving their purpose as efficient regulation to keep knowledge production alive:

The concept of copyright seems to have a weak and unstable basis which has always been vulnerable to various social claims. And it looks like that such vulnerability of copyright concept results from (1) a contradiction in the purposes of copyright law; and (2) a unique relation between copyright law and communication technology.
First, the instability of copyright concept results from the fact that copyright law is supposed to protect and promote two mutually conflicting rights; content creators and content users. Cooter and Ulen (1992) wrote that “without a legal monopoly not enough information will be produced, but with the legal monopoly too little information will be used.” – Yong-Chan Kim

The disconnect between law and practical use is coming from the fact that consumers and producers are fast becoming the same population.  Archaic legislation like copyright regulation is unwittingly trying to protect one group of people from themselves, and it is hindering the valuable knowledge production that comes from collaborative efforts.  The community aspect of knowledge on the internet is so ingrained in the current culture of the internet, that its absence in any form of new media is immediately disturbing to the user:

Frozen is the right word, because we’re so used to selecting and copying digital text, encountering text on a screen that can’t be selected leaves you with a strange initial assumption: that the application has crashed, and the screen is frozen. – Steven Johnson

What we are seeing here, is the failure of copyright policy to promote effective production of knowledge in the new media landscape.

5 Responses to “The Problem of Copyright in a New Media Context”
  1. Sijia says:

    I just want to point out that your blog has the coolest “quoting” style.

    I like your idea that we are actually become smarter, not stupider, after being long-time exposed to multiple media. According to your first quote, our world still has a promising future, where people are effective thinkers rather than brainless media consumers.

    I didn’t mention any thing about copyright in my post, but it’s definitely an important issue. I believe people will evantually find a way to solve this problem when it becomes more salient, I just don’t know how…

  2. aflaten says:

    I think there certainly is value to the remixing of ideas and, like you said, our current (and sometimes rather overzealous, in the case of Youtube) copyright strikes and restrictions preclude the development of them.

    However, I can’t help but wonder if remixing something is the easy way out. I think there is some merit to the idea of forcing someone to really polish and present their idea in an original production, rather than just mashing together a bunch of video clips and calling it a day.

    Of course, this could require more effort, which is probably the number one cause of idea death.

  3. caseyawilson says:

    I’ve always been torn on the copyright issue. I think that it’s important for content creators to preserve their work as their own if they choose to, even if I happen to think that some of the remixing that’s done is valuable.

    But I do think a changing of the guard in that respect is coming — people are, I believe, becoming more and more likely to use Creative Commons or to otherwise share their content under a copyright that leaves room for reinterpretation. It just might take some time — people will have to get used to making their content *knowing* it will be used by others, instead of expecting it to exist in isolation.

  4. This is very nicely reasoned and constructed. I’m not wild about the Claburn source because he’s just a trade journalist, but the quote works well in your context.

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