By Any Media Necessary: Mapping Youth and Participatory Politics

Conversation Starter Topic: Remix in the Digital Age

How can appropriating and remixing content from popular culture lead to new kinds of political consciousness? And, how do activists who appropriate and remix  existing media in their campaigns resolve issues around copyright? These are the sorts of topics that prompted the Remix conversation starter video collaboration with HitRECord.
We are seeing examples of the merging of the identities of fans and citizens across a range of political movements -- most spectacularly in our work through the Harry Potter Alliance and the Nerdfighters, but also in the use of remix for political expression via the Occupy Wall Street movement (like the Pepper Spray Cop memes), the protests against Gov. Walker in Wisconsin,  “Binders Full of Women” during the 2012 Presidential Campaign, and the use of the Guy Fawkes mask, most closely associated in the United States with V for Vendetta, by a range of activist groups, including Anonymous.

Remix promotes a mode of political speech that can be easy to understand, funny and powerful. It contrasts with the policy wonk language that often excludes youth from meaningful participation. Within this context, copyright can be seen as “private censorship” that silences a particular kind of expression. Creative activists need to understand the basic criteria of Fair Use and make informed choices as they quote and circulate pre-existing media. Diving into these complex issues with your organization, community or students can open up many opportunities for meaningful learning. In classroom contexts especially, remix practices may intersect with questions around plagiarism and present a productive context in which to develop best practices for citation and appropriate use of existing content for purposes of critique and transformative work. This video is meant to be a starting place and jumping off point. More context, resources, and topics to consider are provided below.

Questions you can ask to get a conversation about remix started in your community

Suggested key points to include

Key term definitions


Remix is a maker practice used by many individuals and groups featured here. At its most basic level, remix means taking existing content (images, videos, songs, etc.) and transforming that content in some way to create your own new work. Many powerful remix works comment on the original work, critiquing it or boosting particular elements, but this is not necessary for a work to be a remix.Digital media literacy scholar, Renee Hobbs (2010, 8) defines plagiarism as follows:


“Plagiarism is using someone else’s work without attribution. We think of plagiarism as ‘cut and paste’ writing. . . . Although the conduct of plagiarism may overlap with copyright infringement, the two concepts are distinct. You can plagiarize from Shakespeare, but you’ll never have a copyright problem, since his works are in the public domain. Plagiarism is an ethical problem handled by teachers and schools; copyright infringement is a legal problem handled by the courts.” 

Fair Use

Fair use is a doctrine of copyright law in the United States that protects certain kinds of use and re-use of copyrighted works without permission or consent of the copyright holder. In general, a work will be considered to fall within the guidelines of fair use by assessing several qualities such as: whether it constitutes a significant transformation from the original source material; if it offers a critical commentary not contained by the original work; by how much of the source it uses; what the intent of the new work is and whether it is of a commercial or noncommercial nature; and whether the new work will impede on the value of the original.

Participatory Culture

Participatory culture describes shared activities and social engagements, ranging from fan fiction writing and crafting to gaming guilds, through which people collectively carve out a space for cultural expression and learning. Such groups are characterized by “relatively low” barriers to artistic expression and civic engagement, strong social support for creating and sharing and for the development of “voice,” informal practices which provide mentorship and training for would-be participants, and where contributors feel that what they share with each other matters. (Jenkins et. al. 2006)

Remix, Appropriation, and Plagiarism

Fan and media scholar, Henry Jenkins (2013, 110) distinguishes between plagiarism, appropriation, and remix:
"Remix and allusion are aesthetic practices having to do with referencing other people’s creative works as part of your own expressive practices. A remix may or may not be authorized, may be from a work that falls into public domain, may fall within fair use, may constitute a form of critical engagement that is protected by the law, and thus may or may not be infringement. A remix may also acknowledge or mask its sources and thus may or may not be plagiarism. But ultimately, it should be judged on the basis of its creative contributions—what it adds to the meanings associated with the original work, how it deploys those meanings to create something new. The use of mechanical tools to ferret out plagiarists contributes to the confusion, since they can tell whether a piece of text is being reused, but not the conditions under which it is being used. In that sense, they do not in and of themselves help you to separate infringement, plagiarism, and remix in meaningful ways.”

It is important to note that in the same way there are criteria by which a remix qualifies as Fair Use, there are criteria to be met by a remix author so that their work does not cross into the realm of plagiarism. Attribution to authors of source material and proper citation practices are key. In an academic setting students should follow the citation guidelines for digital media according to their institution’s preferred system (MLA, APA etc.). Remix authors should also strive to use only as much of any given source as is absolutely necessary for the success of their work. This applies to the use of sound and music as well as visual imagery.

Fan Activism

Fan activism harnesses fan enthusiasm toward real world change. Jenkins (2012) defines it as “Forms of civic engagement and political participation that emerge from within fan culture itself, often in response to the shared interests of fans, often conducted through the infrastructure of existing fan practices and relationships, and often framed through metaphors drawn from popular and participatory culture.”

Take It to the Next Level

If the HitRecord Remix video and information contained here inspired you to action, you may want reach to the original call for submissions that inspired this video to be made in the first place. While the deadline for submissions has expired, you are always free to create your own responses to it!

Included resources on remix

American University’s Center for Media and Social Impact
Center for Internet and Society
Critical Commons
Jenkins, Henry, and Wyn Kelley. 2013 Reading In a Participatory Culture: Remixing Moby-Dick in the English Classroom. New York: Teachers College, Columbia University.

Jenkins, Henry, Katie Clinton, Ravi Purushotma, Alice J. Robison, and Margaret Weigel. 2006. Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education for the 21st Century. Cambridge: MacArthur Foundation.

Hobbs, Renee, Peter Jaszi & Pat Aufderheide. (2007). The cost of copyright confusion for media literacy. Washington, DC: American University. 
Hobbs, Renee. 2010. Copyright Clarity: How Fair Use Supports Digital Learning. Thousand Oaks: Corwin.

Kuhn, Virginia. 2012. "The Rhetoric of Remix." In "Fan/Remix Video," edited by Francesca Coppa and Julie Levin Russo, special issue, Transformative Works and Cultures, no. 9.

What's Copyright? Music Video – a School House Rock style video made to help students understand copyright and Fair Use. Produced as a resource to be used along with the The Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for Media Literacy Education from the Center for Media and Social Impact.

You can download "Conversation Starter Topic: Remix in the Digital Age" resource packet here.


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