Thursday, April 5, 2012

Assignment 3 - Remix Culture: Tensions in Vidding

“Vidders” make “vids” also known as fan videos or “fanvids” which are unauthorized videos using clips from TV shows or movies, set to a song.

Surprisingly, vidding was first started in 1975 when a fan named Kandy Fong showed a slide show at a Star Trek convention that used a recording of Leonard Nimoy singing “Both Sides Now”, illustrating Spock's dual human/alien nature. In the 1980’s, vidders (not easily) used two VCRs to capture and edit video clips, then mail copies to other fans. Not until the advent of digital tools and the internet did fanvids become relatively easy to create and publish. Only then did some fanvids become accessible to the public, outside of their “fandom” or fan community.  (Ulaby, 2009)

The fundamental tension that created vidding is the need for fans to interact with the shows that mean a lot to them. Says GS (xgman), “Vidding is love. Artistic love for the values & characters of a show, the music involved & the creative self-expression that comes from marrying these two.” Ana G (AnaG) wrote: “I've always wanted more from TV than to be a passive consumer. Vids really fill in what is missing, a conversation.” (Ulaby, 2009)

A TV series or a movie doesn’t allow for much fan input, either through necessity or choice of the producers. As Chuck writer/producer Phil Klemmer explains, "I don't think there's room for fans' voices in a writers' room. There are already so many voices trying to reach a consensus, inviting the whole world into a writers' room is more chaos than it can bear.” The main reason that fans can't influence shows is due to the lag between when a show is written and when it airs, usually many months. By the time fans react to a particular show or plot change, future episodes are either in production or finished. (Turner, 2012)

The most obvious tension in vidding is around the unauthorized use of copyrighted materials, namely the video footage, and recorded music. There’s the right to ownership of intellectual property versus the need for freedom to appropriate and remix works to create new ideas, and works. If you ask filmmaker Kirby Ferguson, remix is the natural order and evolution of life, “Copy, transform and combine”, and social evolution too, “…but the elements aren’t genes, they’re memes—ideas, behaviors, skills” (Ferguson, 2012). Ferguson reminds us that copyright and patents were introduced to allow the creator to regain the additional cost of development of an original product—that a copy wouldn’t have. After a period of protection, it would then enter the public domain to be built upon and “remixed” as it were into further new concepts and products.

Ferguson suggests that loss aversion has twisted copyright law further into protectionist territory. Loss aversion is people's tendency to strongly prefer avoiding losses to acquiring gains (Some studies suggest that losses are twice as powerful, psychologically, as gains.) Ferguson says, “The gains we get from copying the work of others don’t make a big impression, but when it’s our ideas being copied, we perceive this as a loss and we get territorial.”  When it came time for Disney’s copyright on early films to expire, they successfully lobbied to have it extended by 20 years. Copyright laws are so strong that some firms purchase copyrights so that they can they can sue against infringements.

Lawrence Lessig is a well-known lawyer who has fought to create awareness of and change in the restrictions that copyright places around remix of intellectual property, thereby restricting creativity and the generation of new ideas, and criminalizing our youth who are the ones who are the vidders, the mixters, and more (2008). He has taken on the Goliath media institutions for the Davids who are the individuals and communities that are undertaking their creative pursuits with the institutions’ property.

GS(xgman) says, I am involved in a group where most vidders are young female teens or mothers. What an evil demographic *wink* for an art that requires huge amounts of patience. May we not find our next budding film editor or director in this unsupported community with the help of those most in the position to encourage itthe very people who prohibit it.” She goes on to say, “My YouTube Channel is one of the few featured on the official X Files site supporting the movie. I fear my days are numbered even as I write this. (Ulaby, 2009)

Another tension in the fanvid world is between privacy or private enjoyment of fanvids and public (internet) distribution. According to Henry Jenkins’s blog (2006), there are “living room vids” that are made for a small in-group whose members already know everything about the show (so the video doesn’t need to go there), and these vids are complex. “Convention vids” are designed to be watched in a general audience, where people aren’t concentrating deeply; they simply want to laugh or cry together. It’s easy to visualize a Star Trek convention for the latter, and a small group of dedicated Trekkies poring over every detail of a vid in their living room for the former. Apparently a good fanvid can exist on both levels at once (Jenkins, 2006).

The convention and living room vid scenarios existed before the internet, and these vids were made for a more-or-less in-crowd. Consider public placement on a YouTube channel where viewers have none of the culture or knowledge of the fandom. All it takes is one person to upload it and expose it publicly. The vid experience is now completely different, and may be misinterpreted. Some vidders are not comfortable with their work in the public domain. They fear being misunderstood. Copyright becomes more of an issue with this visibility as well.

Closer is considered to be a “constructed reality” video, presenting a new idea; not just an emotional interpretation. Jenkins (2006) says, “They are trying to entertain hypotheticals, address what if questions and propose alternative realities.” While this may be fulfilling for the fan community, this type of video – like Closer – that presents its characters in a controversial light will likely be even less appealing to the marketers and producers of the show, increasing the likelihood that they will cry copyright infringement.

I was interested to read that Closer is “slash” fan fiction. It’s about Kirk and Spock, or K/S, and the slash between them suggests that there is a different kind of relationship between them, perhaps a homosexual one (Jenkins, 2006).

Where does this leave YouTube? Whose side are they on?

They’re pretty much caught in the middle. Rebecca Tushnet, a US law professor who’s on the board of the Organization for Transformative Works, says there’s a lot of “notice and takedown” where videos get removed from YouTube (for infringing copyright). Tushnet and Francesca Coppa, a vidder and professor at Muhlenberg College, in Allentown, Pennsylvania who studies the vidding phenomenon, say that media corporations are beginning to tolerate vids – to the point that some vidders feel they have to struggle against commercialization.  (Ulaby, 2009)

Tushnet (2012) says “that fanworks help fandoms grow, sustain enthusiasm over time, and build long-term success, Harry Potter being one of the biggest examples of that.  Copyright owners who’ve learned to let a thousand flowers bloom have seen fans respond positively.” This is sage advice for a media corporation that’s considering suing their biggest customers. Without the potentially damaging effects of slash vids or other derogatory works, it can be a win-win prospect.
Tushnet (2012) advises that “fair use” has a number of factors for determination. Fair use, to some degree, tempers the legislation and attempts a more reasonable approach to re-use; however, recent attempts in the USA to pass the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and Preventing Real Online Threats to Economic Creativity and Theft of Intellectual Property Act (PIPA) led to a huge outcry, including Wikipedia shutting down its site for a full 24 hours in protest. 

Some vidders think the media establishment is talking out of both sides of their mouth at once. They want to shut vidders’ unauthorized use down, but at the same time, use them to support their revenue streams. Killa – one of the authors or the famous Closer vid – says:

I'm fascinated that the Star Trek video with its 1.6+ million hits, has a click-through ad banner to buy Monty Python and the Holy Grail on Amazon. I wonder whether the person who posted that vid (without asking the vidders first) is the one making revenue from those clicks? Or is that a YouTube promoted ad, so that YouTube is making money? It's curious, because it goes against the idea that vids don't make a profit for anyone. If it is YouTube making the revenue, I wonder if it's something we'll see more of -- i.e. hosting providers using fan creations to make money through traffic? Curious. (Ulaby, 2009)

Or as GS(xgman) notes above – her YouTube channel is featured on the official X Files site.

Some countries’ industries work symbiotically with the fan culture. Tushnet (2012) notes that “Japanese publishers generally don’t interfere with unauthorized doujinshi, even hiring fan authors who’ve proven themselves in the doujinshi market—which is a commercial market.” Doujinshi are amateur self-published Japanese magazines, manga or novels. She also notes that the Japanese are much less litigious than the Americans.  

Despite the forces of money, law, technical challenges and the fans’ need to interact with the shows and characters that they love, vidding was born and continues to thrive. The fan communities and their pursuits are supported by the efforts of those, like Lessig and Tushnet, who fight for a better environment for remix culture. Over the months and years to come, I look forward to enjoying the stories and perspectives of fan culture in these kind of vids, and monitoring progress in the fight to allow them to do it.


Ferguson, K. (2012, February 15). Everything is a remix part 4 transcript. Retrieved March 30, 2012, from Everything is a Remix:
Jenkins, H. (2006, September 16). How to watch a fan-vid. Retrieved March 28, 2012, from Confessions of an Aca-Fan:
Lessig, L. (2008). Remix: Making art and commerce thrive in the hybrid economy. New York: The Penguin Press.
Turner, J. (2012, March 20). Is TV paying too much attention to fans? Retrieved March 30, 2012, from The Christian Science Monitor:
Ulaby, N. (2009, February 25). Vidders talk back to their pop-culture muses . Retrieved March 30, 2012, from npr:
unknown. (2012, March 21). Q&A with Professor Rebecca Tushnet. Retrieved March 30, 2012, from Dear Author:

1 comment:

  1. Thanks Barb - I enjoyed your posting and learning more about this remix culture.