This survey question appears to presuppose that “the notion of authorship” might have been stable to begin with. The author has been dead for a long time, or at least since Barthes said so in 1967. Post-modern theories of authorship suggest that meaning is derived from a variety of locations, including, but not limited to, the author, the reader/consumer, and the context.
This question specifically asks us to consider reblogging, or copying/remixing within a digital culture, as something that complicates the notion of authorship. Again, we know that copying and remixing something is not new with the introduction of digital communication technologies. Fan fiction writers have been copying characters and environments of their favorite fictional worlds, and then remixing the “canonical” works of those fictional worlds for many years. The introduction of the Xerox machine introduced an easier and more affordable method for helping share their remixed works. Based on this ramble, a part of this question becomes: is reblogging, which I am interpreting as the intentionally copying of a text (alphabetic, image, video, etc.) from one context to another, a form of remixing or is it just copying? As a rhetorician who grew up reading po-mo theories of authorship, I am going to make the argument that it can never just be copying; the new publication context always presents a new rhetorical situation.
Let’s take this discussion, temporarily, out of the world of reblogging and put it into the world of teaching. Both new and experienced teachers not only “borrow” one another’s instructional ideas, but, more often than not, also explicitly copy and reuse one another’s instructional materials. Why write an assignment prompt for an activity you like when you can just copy, paste, and go with someone else’s assignment prompt? However, as many experienced teachers know, just copying the assignment prompt usually doesn’t work. The assignment developed out of a specific course context, with a specific instructor, who has previous experiences and specific knowledge that informs her pedagogy. Even when taken out of context, the copied assignment prompt carries some of that historical, dare I say ideological, baggage to the new context.
In the examples discussed thus far for this survey question, the reblogging has emerged when individuals find content and then push/publish it to another context. I think this reblogging fits pretty nicely into the already messy po-mo understanding of authorship. However, what about if the reblogged content is machine generated? Individuals can use RSS or Atom feeds to subscribe to content and then have software automagically publish it elsewhere; folks can even use Google Alerts to convert the results of a Google search into a syndicated feed that can then be automatically published elsewhere. If the machine does the copying and publishing, is there still an author there? Or is the human agent that makes up part of what is considered the author just pushed further into the background of the production process? Someone still had to select what RSS feeds to subscribe to, what outlets to publish to, etc.
I’ll answer this survey question with a definitive, No, I don’t think reblogging culture has further complicated notions of authorship. Instead, reblogging culture just provides another object of study to use when testing and teasing out the already complex network of theories about who and what is an author.
Please note, I did not take the time to ramble on about plagiarism, attribution, copyright, etc. Actually leaving some type of official authorial signature is another related, yet different, conversation.
Meme constructed at imgflip.