Fair Use & Creative Remixing on YouTube

A liveblog of a Berkman Center lunch.

Elisa Kreisinger (@popcultpirate) is a content creator and remixer who has used YouTube to host her artistic work. She uses pop culture to sugarcoat social political critiques. She finds that her work helps her navigate the tension between being a fan of pop culture and a critic of it. She phrases this creative work as a way to “work off her consumption” of pop culture.

A sampling of her work
Real Housewives attracts Elisa to the characters on the show, but couldn’t turn off the feminist theory picked up in undergrad.

Artists and critics and curators get psyched to be recognized one on one by Jay-Z – the art world never has this much fun – so Elisa re-edited the video to make it more Taylor.

She tries to combine two pieces that should never be in the same sentence together in a way that makes them more original than the originals. The critique or the message embedded in these works is what makes remix fair use of copyrighted material.

Elisa describes fair use as a safety valve in copyright law that allows cultural pieces to make use of copyrighted works. There are various tests, such as whether it is commercial use or a market substitute for the original.

Elisa started by recutting Real Housewives into lesbians on YouTube in 2011. Her work started getting flagged, but not taken down, with timecoded references to the

While she awaited copyright holder’s approval, YouTube placed ads over the videos. This upset Elisa, who didn’t want ads running on her artwork.

Most of the time, the content was removed and blocked globally.

Content ID
YouTube’s media-scanning copyright-ID engine is powerful and technically correct that these are copyrighted works belonging to others. But it leaves no room for discourse or arguing the legal validity of these critiques.

This is where artists turn to Vimeo. But then what happens when Vimeo starts sending the same takedowns?

Elisa chose to fight for change on YouTube rather than flee and build utopia elsewhere. The collective effect of public speech being reduced in this way is potentially massive. An entire generation is uploading legal content and being told by the machine that their work was questionably legal. What is the cumulative effect

Do Terms of Service trump fair use rights? We consider YouTube a public space, but it’s a private platform. Good taste and corporate resources are allowed to trump creative expression on private platforms.

In 2008, YouTube received legal pressure from copyright holders, which led to the introduction in 2011 of Content ID. It scans 400 years of video daily from voer 5,000 coypright holding partners. The database contains over 3 million copyrighted reference files, and variations of that content are flagged. YouTube’s compromise solution to the massive takedowns requested by record labels and others was to run ads over the offending videos and give the revenue back to the copyright holders.

Content ID misidentfies and teaches an entire generation of creators that they do not have the rights they may actually have.

Polls of creatives have found great confusion and misinformation around fair use, leading to self-censorship based on misunderstandings of aggressive copyright protection.

Elisa teamed up with Eyebeam and Public Knowledge to explore these questions in a 6-month residency. At the end of her residency, Elisa concluded that Content ID is a private agreement between a company (YouTube) and private copyright holders with no room for creators. It’s not clear whether users were represented in these discussions.

In 2012, a man went to his backyard and picked and ate a wild salad, recording himself. YouTube’s Content ID system identified the video as containing music belonging to Rumblefish. Rumblefish disagreed, and said they owned the rights. This closed the dispute in YouTube’s eyes. The “music” in the video was the sound of birds chirping in his backyard.

Content ID is a powerful technology. It shows the offending uploader the exact frames where they supposedly commit copyright violation.

Elisa took these screenshots and had them painted in oil, framed in gold, and showcased in a gallery. Here the videoframes were safe from overlay banner ads.

The House of Representatives Subcommittee on the Internet is looking into the takedown process. We’re not sure what’s going to come of this process.

Fair Use Solutions
Elisa’s takeaway is that policy has a direct impact on artists. Fair use is continually threatened; it’s a muscle that atrophies without use.

Elisa wants to make it easier to flex fair use online, and to introduce more friction to the process of systematically taking down creative works.

Elisa proposes a verified account flag for artists making fair use works to state

Another proposal is to allow savvy copyright users to opt out of Content ID, and opt into having that discussion in court if necessary. The DMCA currently requires safe harbor providers to take down potentially offending content.

The Center for Media & Social Impact publishes resources on how to benefit from fair use, including best practices for online video.

YouTomb was an MIT project to collect videos removed for copyright violations.

Photo by Steve Alfaro

Voto Latino’s 2014 Power Summits

I’m heading to New York this weekend to help launch Voto Latino‘s Power Summit (#VLPowerSummit). Hundreds of young Latinos will further develop their leadership, advocacy, and media & technology skills this Saturday. There will be three additional Power Summits over the course of 2014, in San Jose, San Antonio, and Miami. And in addition to the impressive speaker lineup and training schedule, the Summit includes a couple of other interactive components I’m excited to follow. Continue reading

Questioning the Quantified Self as it Marches Towards Mainstream

I’m back at the Media Lab today and got to attend a talk by cultural anthropologist Natasha Dow Schüll, of MIT’s Science, Technology, and Society program, who’s speaking at Pattie Maes’s Tools for Well-Being series.


Digital technologies can have negative impacts on our well-being. Natasha grew interested in the topic over the course of writing Addiction by Design, on the game elements throughout machine gambling in Las Vegas. Speed, repetition, continuity, and designer chairs lure players into a zen flow and open wallet. The casino industry seeks to produce this bubble state, and closely tracks players’ behavior to further refine its profit engines. Loyalty cards are a key mechanism for these studies, recording the games we prefer, the denominations we default to. As “Dividuals“, we are treated as a collection of habits and preferences that can be marketed upon, often in real-time. Continue reading

#HackATTN @ SXSWi 2014

attn hack

The plane tickets are purchased and I’m getting closer to a place to sleep, so I can now announce that I’m going to SXSW for the first time since 2008 (that time I met Mark Zuckerberg at a Facebook nightclub event). I’ll speaking in a session with Josh Stearns of Free Press, Madeleine Bair of WITNESS, and Adaora Udoji of Syria Deeply. We’ll be sharing our experiences hacking global attention for the purposes of disasters and revolutions.

If you’re going to be in town, I’d love to see your face at the session (or over some incarnation of a taco).
Continue reading

Companies Mobilizing Customers

Because I don’t have enough Tumblrs, I’ve started Companies Mobilizing Customers to collect examples of web-native companies mobilizing their customers to advocate on behalf of the services the companies offer. It’s a brave new world of corporate advocacy, disruptive technological possibilities, and evolving regulatory landscapes. Help me add new examples and those I’ve missed?

Uber intervenes in Boston bus driver striker

Uber intervenes in Boston bus driver strike

On feeling comfortable in new places

It can take some time (2.5 years?) before you really feel comfortable living in a new city. Some people jump right in, others need time. Even though I’m pretty nomadic and love things like bikeshares and coworking spots and Amazon Prime for purposes of pretending I live in places I don’t, I’m emotionally more in the latter camp.

I moved to San Francisco yesterday to try it out for a bit, and even though I’ve been all over the area on previous trips I haven’t been a good explorer these past 24 hours. For example, today I made the conscious decision to take a right hand turn for the sole purpose of breaking my one-street life thus far. It’s Catherine D’Ignazio’s thesis in real-time — she’s working to create a Fog of War for real life to encourage geographic serendipity.

I’m chatting with a friend in a new city going through the same thing. Her city is colder and darker. But I told her I’d write up my list of shortcuts to feeling like you belong somewhere. Here’s what I’ve got: Continue reading

Gift Idea: Puzzle States

Puzzle States gerrymandered jigsaws

I’ve combined political nerdery with fabrication nerdery to produce laser cut gerrymandered jigsaw puzzles. Each state’s political boundaries are laser cut into finished maple plywood to create a real wooden jigsaw puzzle. The pieces are the gnarly congressional districts designed every decade or so by politicians. States with lots of congressional districts (like California, Texas, and New York) make for pretty difficult puzzles. Even states with fewer districts get tricky to solve in the more populated areas.

The mere act of assembling a puzzle becomes a lesson in controversial computer-assisted gerrymandering, where politicians use Census results to carve their constituencies into districts that will keep them in power. I’m excited to say that for every puzzle purchased, we’ll be donating an additional puzzle to an innovative school civics education program. Students will learn about congressional representation and the decennial redistricting process. The puzzle pieces are also a great conversation starter for learning about The Great Compromise, whereby the far less populated states receive equal representation in the Senate.

Puzzle States are now for sale over at Etsy (you can always just go to puzzlestates.com). Get one today for the campaign geek in your life.

Laser cut jigsaw puzzle