What counts as original?: Digital Culture, Remix, and Re-vision

“This is the remix” was a popular phrase in hip hop during the 90s. The phrase signaled that the song to follow was going to be a recreation. In hip hop this meant anything from a new beat to guest lyricists to an entirely new song. Hip Hop, now a significant part of mainstream music, is grounded in the ideas of sampling, mixing, and remixing. Now, there are artists, like Girl Talk, who are famous for mashup-style remixes that utilize samples from several songs to create a new song. It is within this environment/culture that students’ perceptions of plagiarism, originality, authorship, and ownership are developed. Lawrence Lessigcaptured this culture best when he stated, “We watched TV; they make TV.” Contemporary culture is a participatory culture. There are myriad examples in digital culture of mashups and remixes, including fan-made remixes of songs and of Internet memes and gifs. This culture may, like hip hop culture, see using information as a form of flattery or paying homage to the original. However, it is not grounded in the idea of giving or receiving credit, but in sharing and expanding.How does one approach plagiarism in this time with students that may have this perspective?

A possible approach is a move away from the traditional definition of plagiarism. Digital culture pushes us to reimagine other concepts and aspects of life; therefore, it is possible that through digital culture, we can reimagine and redefine what counts as plagiarism. Consider Virginia Anderson’sargument that in joining information, ideas, and words that were not originally together, we now have new uses of old ideas; thus, we may need a new definition for what counts as original or new. Anderson examines the discourse around authorship, presenting Howard’s argument that writing is collaborative and ideas of ownership/origination cannot be applied to it. However, as this is accepted on one hand, on the other hand, instructors present that plagiarism (and hence ownership) does exist and it is wrong.  Building on the idea of ownership, Anderson uses Burke’s idea of “perspective by incongruity,” which presents the idea that words belong to specific categories and through strategic planning can be metaphorically moved to a different category. Perspective by incongruity can be interpreted as a way of twisting or remixing readers’ perceptions of the message/text/video. This approach allows students a more dynamic use of text and ideas that aligns with changing cultural perceptions about what counts as new and original. This also allows instructors to open dialogue about ownership and origination in digital culture.

Redefining (remixing/re-visioning) plagiarism may be a necessary step in embracing digital culture and meeting today’s students where they are.

Image on front page by ines saraiva via Flickr

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