MiT5 – Third Plenary, Identity and Forth Plenary

After the great session on brand, I headed back over to the Bartos to attend the third plenary session. I was acting as the designated rapporteur for the day’s plenary sessions and so the notes for them are more in-depth. At some point the complete summaries will appear on the conference Web site but until then here are my notes.

Third Plenary – Copyright, Fair Use and the Cultural Commons

Wendy Gordon – is a professor of law and Paul J. Liacos Scholar in Law at Boston University. In many well-known articles, she has argued for an expansion of fair use utilizing economic, Lockean and ethical perspectives.

Gordon Quinn – is the president and founding member of Kartemquin Films, where for over 40 years he had been making cinema verite films that investigate and critique society by documenting the unfolding lives of real people (i.e., Hoop Dreams, 1994). Quinn is working on Milking the Rhino, a film examining community-based conservation in Africa and At The Death House Door, a film on a wrongful execution in Texas.

Hal Abelson – is a professor of electrical engineering and computer science at MIT. He is engaged in the interaction of law, policy and technology as they relate to the growth of the Internet and is active in projects at MIT and elsewhere to help bolster the intellectual commons. Abelson is a founding director of the Free Software Foundation, Creative Commons and Public Knowledge and serves as a consultant to HP Laboratories.

Patricia Aufderheide – is a professor in the School of Communication at American University where she also directs the Center for Social Media. She is the author of several books including Documentary: A Very Short Introduction (2007), The Daily Planet (2000), and Communications Policy in the Public Interest (1999). She has been a Fulbright and John Simon Guggenheim fellow and has served as a juror at the Sundance Film Festival. She received a career achievement award in 2006 from the International Documentary Association.

William Uricchio – is co-director of Comparative Media Studies at MIT and professor of comparative media history at the University of Utrecht in the Netherlands. His most recent book is Media Cultures, on the responses to media in post-9/11 Germany and the U.S.

Uricchio began by providing an overview of the roots of the debate around IP protection. In early 18th century England, the Statute of Anne (which formed the basis for US copyright law) transferred copyright protection from the publishers – who had enjoyed a royal monopoly in perpetuity – to the creators. This protection was good for 21 years with a 14 year extension.

This change provoked a robust response from the publishing industry and a whole series of court battles followed. One English case in particular, on the eve of the American Revolution, was Donaldson v. Beckett (1744). It had to do with the reach of the protection afforded creators and the publishers attempt to regain control of works for themselves. The courts decided that the publishers desire to regain control in perpetuity were not in the publics’ best interest.

This outcome – as was the case of the Statute of Anne – was reflected in the U.S. Constitution in its ideal of promoting science and the useful arts by providing to their authors and inventors the exclusive rights to their writings and discoveries.

So what did this protection look like in 18th century America? A time of horse and carriage? Copyrights lasted for 14 years (with a 14 year extension) in a time when it took days – or even weeks – to go from Boston to New York.

Now we live in an age of endless rights and extensions. Something is amiss. Bizarrely, the faster information circulates, the longer copyright protection lasts. This seems at odds with the intentions of the framers and the case law upon which they based their thinking. We’re back to the 18th century debate; back to the battle between creators’ rights and the industry, back to the battle of limited protections versus what seems like protection in perpetuity once again.

In light of what is being discussed at MiT5, it is important to ask what the new era of IP will look like.

With that, Uricchio introduced the panel and handing things over to Wendy Gordon.

Gordon set up a film on best practices for fair use that was created by a coalition of documentary filmmakers. Copyright is designed and intended to provide ground rules for using copyrighted materials. One can always use facts and ideas and one may use expression provided that its use is deemed to be fair.

It is difficult people to use all of the liberties that the law provides due to resource constraints – in terms determining and defending fair usage. One doesn’t need a lawyer though in order to use some of the rights provided by the law. In fact, if you create coalitions you may get unexpected support.

To get support, and to have full rights under copyright law, individuals and organization need to think about three things: coalitions to consider and address the issues, courage in terms of standing up for one’s legal rights and new customs that can be pointed to when challenges are made.

Our free speech rights aren’t always exercised because we often choose the second best option rather than insisting on being allowed our rights. This is a chilling effect driven by fear of the repercussions; but more than that, it creates a custom that allows rights holders to continue to act as they do.

So how does one take a stand for fair use? One approach is isolated courage – simply proceeding without securing the necessary rights. Another is to reach reciprocal agreements not to sue. While yet another is to consider the prisoners dilemma and try to come up with a cooperative first move – for example, putting content into the public domain.

What Pat and her group have created is a standard for what documentarians can use under fair use practice. The coalition they created wasn’t limited to filmmakers but even gained the support of insurance companies that are willing to insure projects that abide by the agreed-upon fair use standards. This adherence can then lead to customs that can ultimately change the way the law views content and usage.

Today, fear is driving the purchase of lots of licenses – which can lead to a vicious cycle for those courageous individuals who try to act in fair use. Through projects like this one, it becomes possible to push back on the misinformation of the content community to bring fair use back into common use.

The film – Fair use and Free Speech explains the creation, content and purpose of the Documentary Filmmakers’ Statement of Best Practices in Fair Use document.

Following the film, Gordon Quinn spoke. As a filmmaker coming out of the 1960s, Quinn said that many of the early films included fair use content everywhere. Now though, he’s found himself self-censoring. For example in Hoop Dreams, he paid $5,000 to license “Happy birthday.” In a more recent film, The New Americans, it was removed all together.

Quinn supports the Best Practices document mentioned in the film. He is just finishing a film on stem cell research that includes lots of fair use content. He has been able to proceed because he knows that it will be insured and that it will be aired. What he found particularly empowering was the knowledge that he didn’t have to go to anyone for direction. By relying on a set up agreed upon standards, filmmakers can determine for themselves the appropriateness of fair use in their works.

While Quinn is seeking to understand and use fair use, he is also a copyright holder and has concerns with how fair use is applied. He offered, as an example, footage from one of his earlier films of a young girl at a demonstration that was requested by filmmakers working on a project on abortion. The filmmakers wanted to use the footage to convey a sense of the time. When Quinn saw the footage in context he was concerned – it implied that the youngster in the film had herself received an abortion herself – and would not let them use the content.

Hal Abelson spoke next and presented himself as a simple nerd and one intimidated by the rest of the panel. Abelson addressed the issue of fair use in Academe and the fact that if it isn’t used it will be lost. He described the academic community as being “to chicken” to act of fair use and offered two recent examples that he’d come across.

The first was a request for a sentence of his to be included in another author’s work. The second was the inclusion – and ensuing comedy of errors – of a reference to recent research on the effects of alcohol on the anti-oxidant benefits of strawberries on a blog. (There was first a request that the copyrighted material be removed, which was posted to the blog, followed by an apology for the misunderstanding, followed by a subsequent request by another organization that the content be removed . . .)

At MIT, this problem has several manifestations. On Stellar [the school’s online course resource system] access to materials is often limited to students of a specific course and only for the duration of the course. Some of the works he cited were classical ones, clearly by their nature on longer under copyright; but the selected translations were still protected.

Abelson has been very active in developing the MIT Open Courseware program. For this they have avoided relying on fair use content in virtually all cases, electing to either secure permission for third-party content, removing it or recreating it. Of the 81 hours that it takes to produce a course for the system, approximately 40 percent of that time is spend dealing with protected content.

Universities, he believes need to rely more on open content and also become more aggressive about their use of fair use content. The restrictions being placed on usage – particularly on the limits placed on students access to information – spells the destruction of the university as an intellectual community. Use open content be more aggressive about fair use

Abelson was followed by Aufderheide, who wondered what the future will look like. Practice, she argued, makes practice and this makes it critical that people use their fair use rights. This was the case in the development and adoption of the Fair Use Best Practices that was adopted by the documentary filmmakers and of the agreement by the insurance industry to provide fair use coverage.

The model used by the documentary community can be applied elsewhere – the university is on example, as are other situations where the production of content has become a community process that lends itself to the creation of coalitions. The McCarther Foundation is also funding a project to create a fair use code for media literacy practitioners. This is especially important now that media literacy means helping people create the most compelling and creative content possible.

While all of the plenary sessions I attended were interesting, this one was probably the most important. For social media to work, there needs to be some understanding among those involved on how content will be used. Content appropriation and reinterpretation have become – thanks to technology – new tools for communication and expression. How people work with that content will have an impact on how that communication is received and, in turn, interpreted again. This panel presented a model for what can work and a warning for what might happen if steps aren’t taken to make it work.

Reimagining Identity
As was the case with the imaging panel this morning, I came to this with a set of expectations that didn’t nearly match up with the content. I’m pretty interested in the issues of identity in social media and was hoping that this would be discussed. Nope. This panel was more focused on how identity is created online (primarily through a discussion of celebrity culture that included the quote – “Tom Cruise is the most iconic actor in 20 years.” I’ve never thought of him that way but maybe that’s just me.

There was also an interesting presentation on the “Trickster Identity” but it was too nebulous and transitioned from one theme to another too quickly for me to follow a clear chain of logic. The third presentation of the session was on Deleuzian perspectives on ownership and identity on the Web. Of all the papers that were presented, this one was probably the least accessible to me and so I didn’t get much out of it.

Forth Plenary – Learning Through Remixing
If the panel on copyright was the most important of the conference, this one was the most inspiring. Many of the panels and discussions that had taken place were focused on ideas and theory. This one was focused on real applications and projects that illustrated the ideas of creativity, ownership and collaboration that were at the center of the conference.

Erik Blankinship – is a co-founder of Media Modifications, a new start-up whose mission is to expose and enhance the structure of media to make its full learning and creative potential accessible to all. He has many years of experience working with children as an inventor of educational technologies and activities and as a researcher studying to potential of digital media for teaching and learning literature, history, mathematics and game design. While an undergraduate at the University of Maryland, College Park, he was a recipient of the Jim Henson award for Projects Related to Puppetry.

Juan Devis – is a new media producer at KCET/PBS Los Angeles in charge of all original Web content including Web Stories, KCETs multimedia Webzine. He is currently working with the USC School of Cinematic Arts and the Institute of Multimedia Literacy to develop a serious game based on Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn. Devis was recently awarded a writer’s fellowship at ABC/Disney for his original screenplay Welcome to Tijuana which is scheduled for production in early 2008. Devis is president of the board at Freewaves, a non-profit media arts organization, and the project manager for OpenPlay.

Renee Hobbs – is associate professor of communication and education at Temple University where she directs the Media Education Lab. She has worked extensively with state departments of education in Maryland and Texas, and her new book Reading the Media: Media Literacy in High School English (2007) provides empirical evidence to document how media literacy improves adolescents’ reading comprehension skills.

Ricardo Pitts-Wiley – has been the artistic director of Mixed Magic Theatre for over 20 years. In that role, he has written/produced/directed a number of productions including From the Bard to the Bounce: A Hip-Hop Shakespeare Experience, Kwanzaa Song, The Great Battle for the Air, and four Annual Black History Month Celebrations at Portsmouth Abbey. Pitts-Wiley was resident artist at Brown University Summer High School in 2001.

Alice Robison – is a postdoctoral fellow in the Comparative Media Studies program at MIT, where she writes about literacy and video games. She is also a consultant for the New Media Literacies Project and advises several student-run organizations devoted to the study of video games and interactive media.

Henry Jenkins

Jenkins began by pointing out that there had been discussions throughout the conference of the historical antecedents of the topics at hand. In terms of using remixing as a tool for learning, he cited Lev Kuleshov – who started what may have been the first film studies program in the early days of the Soviet Union – asking his students to re-edit Birth of a Nation and Intolerance and also pointed to the use of commonplace books in the 19th century as an example of collected/appropriated content.

The purpose of this session is to share information on a number of current projects dedicated to promoting learning through remixing content. Jenkins pointed out that engineers learn how machines work by taking things apart and putting them back together. Can the same be done with culture? The people and projects represented on this panel demonstrate that it might.

Eric Blankenship starts things off by discussing his current company, Media Modifications. They invent tools for exposing and enhancing the structure of media to make its full creative and learning potential accessible to all. This is a theme he promises to return to throughout the course of his comments and demonstration.

If one starts with a black screen, you have the space to create a screenplay and ultimately a film or video. In the case of his demonstration, the video was a clip from Star Trek the Next Generation. On the left hand side of the screen the video of the scene appeared, on the right side, the text of the script. Blankenship was able to drag and drop sections of the script which in turn reordered the words and action in the video. He described it as being similar to magnetic poetry, exposing the structure of the media and allowing it to be rearranged and reloaded.

He next demonstrated how this type of remixing and restructuring could be used to create new content. In this case, he created a countdown by selecting and connecting numbers used by Star Trek characters in many many episodes. Giving fans access to the structure of media – as in this case – can be a lot of fun.

This project led them to begin further work around the idea of adaptations. In the case of the Star Trek countdown, he was able to adapt the Star Trek content to tell the simple story conveyed through the numbers in an interesting and original way. At this point he announced, a Web site (not yet launched) to provide access to tools for media adaptation.

He used to tools to do two demonstrations on how people can expose the structure of media to create new adaptations.

The first example was of The Fellowship of the Ring and it started with two representations of the same content in text and video side-by-side. This allows for the comparison of the two forms to understand what is happening in each. Across the top of the screen, two time lines – one for the movie and the other for the book – appeared and were connected where the two formats shared content. He described this capability as a new type of closed captioning that allows additional detail from either media to be used to enhance the other. As a scene played on the video, the text related to the screen from the book was highlighted, illustrating those parts of the book used in developing the film.

The second example used Romeo and Juliet. Two different films used – Zeffirelli’s from 1968 and the 1996 DiCaprio version. In each case, the connections to the source text were shown at the top of the screen. This allowed one to see how the different film versions had adapted the text differently, choosing to emphasize or ignore sections of the story. This exposure of the underlying structure creates opportunities for students to study and consider the thinking and context behind the final content.

A final fun element of the process that Blankenship demonstrated was the ability to cast a remixed version of the film by using and combining performers from each of the versions at hand.

All of this provides for the deep analysis of content in multiple formats. With this, Blankenship’s time came to a close.

He was followed by Juan Devis.

In 2002/2003 Devis worked to develop a video game with students at Belmont HS in Los Angeles. Ninety five percent of the students were from Central America and Mexico and the goal was to create a game based on life in their home countries to help illustrate their history. It was a good idea, but there were two problems: first, the students were involved in the conceptualization of the game but not in its development or production and second they were living here in the US and were making a game about Latin America.

These problems led to the decision to do another project, a game about the neighborhoods they live it and that they’d be able to create and code themselves. Pacman was chosen as the basis of the game because it was familiar and essentially non-violent. It could serve as a simple template for the students to remix their neighborhoods.

Devis demonstrated one version of the game called El Imigrante. In this remix of Pac Man, a Mexican character moves through LA, picks up trash and tried to get a Green Card while avoiding the Minute Men. Each of these games (and there were several) became portraits of the students’ neighborhoods.

These games addressed the first of the problems – limited student involvement. Now Devis is working on a project to deal with the second – presenting American civics and history in an interesting and meaningful way. The project is build around Huckleberry Finn, which initially seemed like a great idea, but one that had a lot of problems that he hadn’t anticipated. Issues of bondage and slavery and language that, as a foreigner himself, Devis hadn’t considered.

They went back to the original novel and broke it apart – a process that is currently ongoing. As he and the students are reading the novel, they are creating a “side script” to reimagine it in 21st century LA. For example, instead of the Mississippi River they are using the LA River, etc.

While he is still planning on creating the game, he’s come to realize that there are a lot of issues around race and class that young people here in the US just don’t understand. Before making a game out of this content, the tools for understanding the issues needed to be applied – which is what led to the creation of the side script and the discussions that followed.

Renee Hobbs was next and she discussed how young people can be helped to read the media.

Hobbs started by discussing the importance of media literacy as a way for young people to understand the underlying nature of the media. Remixing, she believes, is a tool that can deepen our appreciation of the constructedness of media messages. As a media literacy educator, this understanding needs to be a core element of the community.

Remixing also helps illustrate the plasticity of meaning and how it can so easily be altered. This works because remixing allows us to see and appreciate the functions and structure as they are expressed in the content. In the past Hobbs had worked on developing curricula and materials for teachers but not for reaching kids directly.

To do this, Hobbs and her group have created My Pop Studio to help girls between 10 and 12 understand media literacy. It was launched in July, 2006 with funding from the Office for Women’s Health (part of DHSS). The site includes 15 games and a number of discussion forums and is used by 10,000 and 20,000 people per month.

There is a TV Studio that provides drag-and-drop editing tools. In the Music Studio kids can create their own pop star to get a sense of all of the choices involved in constructing popular music. In the Magazine Studio they can turn themselves into celebrities, constructing a celebrity identity to help understand image, celebrity culture and body ideals. In the Online Studio girls can experiment to understand how their social relationships are impacted by their online life.

The goal was to combine the key elements of media literacy (building skills around creative production and authorship, as well as analysis skills) by exploring themes like celebrity culture and music and how these are being used to form and understand identity.

To illustrate her points, Hobbs demonstrated Pop Star Producer. It begins by asking visitors to select a value message in order to consider how values play into decisions about music and image. Next they choose a musical genre, lyrics and an image/style for their character. When done, the avatar performs the music and other visitors rate the performance and try to determine the intended value message. It was an interested demo and exposed – to a degree – how music functions. This section also has a feature that shows how music is used to sell products by using it to convey ideals and associations.

As girls use My Pop Studio, the can begin to understand how meaning changes as a result of context. It also helps them to understand the essential “constructedness” of all representational forms. These aren’t things that kids just understand so it’s important for them to have an opportunity to learn.

Ricardo Pitts-Wiley spoke next on his work with the Mixed Magic Theater

Pitts-Wiley is currently working on Moby Dick and wasn’t sure how this project fits in with the others. This is because what he is doing is less about remixing than getting people into the mix.

One of the challenges in working with material like Moby Dick was to do it in a way that would be interesting to young people while preserving the integrity of the novel. His goal was not to deconstruct the novel but to keep it whole. Times change, people change, but Mody Dick remains constant.

The white whale is Ahab’s nemesis, but it isn’t something young people identify with; but the pursuit – and the idea of tracking and vengeance is something they very much understand. In this interpretation, Moby Dick is transformed from the white whale into the white thing – cocaine, the seas into a city and the Pequod into a subway.

With this new context, Pitts-Wiley took his group back into the novel to find the words and themes they would need to address. Although the setting had been shifted into their time, they still needed to tell Melville’s story.

The first time he did this project was at the Rhodes Island training school, a reform school. The participants were all bright people and he explained to them that they were going to be doing Moby Dick as cocaine – but that they would have to read the novel and then choose a character that they identified with and redefine it for the new context. One example of this recontextualization was Queequeg as a pimp. Why a pimp? Because Queequeg is colorful, exciting, dangerous, he deals in human flesh and he’s loyal. However the kids choose to redefine their characters, Pitts-Wiley forced them to defend their choice using the novel.

People often ask him why he uses Moby Dick as the basis for this project. It is, he said, because it is all there. All of the characters are there, the history is there, the culture is there so there is no need to invent any of them. It is also great and challenging literature.

Pitts-Wiley chose to complicate his task in producing Moby Dick by doing two versions simultaneously – one with young people and the other with older members of the community. Part of this decision was based on his belief that young people are taught things that are important but that are not demonstrated as being important in the community.

Part of his goal is to create a community around a shared language; and for him, having many members of the community read Moby Dick helps to create that common language and deeper community. It offers opportunities for engagement between different people; but only if everyone shares the experience of reading the novel.

The idea of community building aside, Pitts-Wiley still needed to tell the story. As the two companies – the young one and the older one – worked on their productions, they began to teach and learn from one another. Not just about the novel, but about community and the impact of culture on community. Throughout the production, familiar cultural elements – music, fashion, authority figures – are used to convey the meaning of Melville’s work.

Pitts-Wiley digressed for a time to describe the size, scope and impact of the drug culture until Jenkins let him know his time was coming to a close.

He then discussed the importance of keeping people moving into the future – but not at the expense of older literature. Moby Dick is the first of three projects. The next one will be Frankenstein followed by Uncle Tom’s Cabin. The big goal of this program is to change the literary landscape of the community over the next 10 years and to bring young people not only into the technical age, but also into the literary age.

Alice Robison was the panel’s final speaker.

Robison is working on a project with Jenkins at CMS around remixing. Her comments focused on the idea that new media literacy borrows from and extends on the concepts of new literacy studies. New media literacy expands on – but does not replace – new media studies by creating a place for the study of things like participatory culture.

The new media literacy framework borrows and builds upon some of new media studies’ cutting-edge theories of cognition. All of this has been slowly developing over the last 10-15 years as new theories of literacy, ones that go beyond functional models, have come about. The new theories focus more on the process by which people create meaning and include ideas like:

Multimodial literacy
Multiliteracy framework
collective intelligence
Problem-based learning
Situated and distributed cognition
Peripheral participation

At the heart of all of this is the question, where does meaning come from? Much of the way new literacy has been taught has been based on a consumerist model – to view an image and to understand what it is trying to communicate – similar to what Hobb’s work [described above] attempts to do.

This approach is now expanding to include the participant when thinking about the creation of meaning by considering what happens in the space between the individual as the consumer of a message and the writer or producer of a message. Robison isn’t interested in the making of meaning but more in what happens in the space between the production and consumption of meaning.

The role of context is something that she finds to be very important when discussing the issues of media literacy. As part of the New Media Literacy project they have identified a number of what she refers to as “exemplar videos,” and at this point Robison showed a number of them.

These videos, of which there are eight, are designed to provide a framework for understanding media literacy. The intention is that educators will access these videos to use with their students in a variety of environments. Robison sees value in the way that these videos expose the process of media making to people unfamiliar with the way in which new media works.

There is also a skills and competencies white paper available on the site that addresses topics like play, performance, simulation, appropriation, multitasking, distributed cognition, collective intelligence, judgmental, transmedia navigation, networking, negotiation as they relate to media creation and new media literacy.

The New Media Literacy project will be working with Pitts-Wiley and the Mixed Magic Theatre next year. Robison encouraged everyone to read the white paper as it develops many of the theories behind new media literacy and why they are so critical.

The issue of new media literacy is really important. I’m often worried that the capabilities presented by social media will simply be co-opted as tools to reach markets in new ways. To make these tools and ideas really valuable, people need to understand how to use them and how to dissect the content created with them. This final session of the day presented examples of social media being applied to enhance our understanding of content, context and meaning. All four of the projects that were presented will help accomplish this goal.

As I think I mentioned in an earlier post, attended this conference made me realize just how little we really understand about social media and its implications. Everyone is talking about the latest and greatest tool or technology but this event gave me pause to consider what is happening and why it matters in a larger sense. I’d suggest that PR and marketing people take the time to visit the event Web site and prowl around for a while. There are recordings of many of the sessions and a growing collection of the papers that were presented.

[tags]MIT, MiT5, Media, Copyright, Fair Use, Cultural Commons, Wendy Gordon, Gordon Quinn, Hal Abelson, Patricia Aufderheide, William Uricchio, Remixing, New Media Literacy, Erik Blankinship, Juan Devis, Ricardo Pitts-Wiley, Renee Hobbs, Alice Robison, Henry Jenkins[/tags]


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s