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sharing and remixing via the abc

dan mackinlay: the abc’s pool


screenshot of Pool website - tag search screenshot of Pool website - tag search
THE RISE OF WEBSITES LIKE YOUTUBE AND FLICKR HAS MADE THE SHARING AND REMIXING OF CONTENT MORE MAINSTREAM AND MORE CONTROVERSIAL THAN EVER. REUSE AND REINTEPRETATION AREN’T JUST FOR ABSTRUSE FRINGE-DWELLING SITUATIONISTS AND GRANT-UNWORTHY CRAFTS LIKE SCRAPBOOKING. CULTURAL APPROPRIATION IS THE CURRENCY OF A NEW, FASHIONABLE GENERATION OF VERY MAINSTREAM INTERNET USERS. IT IS ALSO THE GROUND ZERO OF A PROTRACTED DISPUTE ABOUT THE NATURE AND OWNERSHIP OF INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY THAT ENGAGES MEDIA ORGANISATIONS, ARTISTS, GOVERNMENTS, COLLECTION AGENCIES AND THE GENERAL PUBLIC.

Into this disputed territory steps the ABC’s pool.org.au, a project that invites and fosters reuse of digital art. In the short time since the launch, the site has been populated with a fascinating array of content spanning the full spectrum between kitsch and inspired, unfinished samples and well-produced remixes and reworkings. There are already some familiar names uploading content; at a cursory inspection Alan Lamb and Jim Denley, and from within the ABC, producers Nicole Steinke and Gretchen Miller seem positively active. It’s not the only such experiment launched of late—the textually-oriented, Australia Council-backed Remix My Lit project has been making a splash in the blogosphere. The ABC has also made tentative gestures in this direction before with small creative reuse projects, such as the Night Share and the Orpheus Remix Awards.

But while the style and form of a social media site might be familiar to internet users in 2008, the institution behind this one is not your typical Facebook or Yahoo, nor is it an entrepreneurial startup. Why this sudden adventure into potential anarchy by the ABC? Are we seeing a public broadcaster relying on volunteers to make up a shortfall in content? Or an adept and thoughtful attempt to respond to the social media zeitgeist? Is it so very different to Australia Talks Back, and is it any more interesting?

I interviewed two of the project’s instigators, Sherre Delys and John Jacobs, about the venture and its origins. What follows is excerpted from those two interviews. Starting with the question: where did the idea for the pool come from?

pool evolution

Sherre Delys: The pool has [evolved] from an idea around since before YouTube—the idea of sharing and remixing. It’s only recently that we’ve been able to make the case to the ABC that this kind of thing is worth getting involved with. It’s an experiment with the role of a public broadcaster.

John Jacobs: There’s a lot of different ideas going into the pool. It’s a petri dish, it’s got culture in, it’s growing, and we’re all sticking our finger and licking it occasionally.That culture we’re growing is going to inoculate the ABC against becoming a fossilised media organisation...It’s R&D, to see what public media might be, in a networked, social media future. Public media have historically been cultural gatekeepers, representing people back to themselves…A networked social media thing could be the public media of the future...ABC workers have certain skills—we’re employed to “do” media for the people, if you like. I think there’s a role for the people to be paid by the government to help administer and facilitate a social network space.

why the abc?

Dan Mackinlay: What does the ABC getting involved in social media offer to the users that they would not get from, say, just filesharing on YouTube, or Facebook? And how about the criticism made of YouTube—that this “user generated content” is a cheap way to get media produced by volunteers while providing little in return?

SD: There’s a lot of answers to that. For one, we’re constantly concerned about giving back to our users. We’re organising production advice and resources—some of our projects get ABC studio time for pool users. We get exposure for people’s work, and provide a trusted brand and a non-commercial context, an advertising-free context. We don’t have to behave like a YouTube and work out how to make money out of it.

If it’s what users want we have resources to assist making that transition from ‘am’ to ‘pro.’ We’re curating works on the site. We have radio producers sharing their experience. You’ll see that Street Stories has started a project up—and at least one job at the ABC has come out of it already. We have a strong moderation process, a lot of skilled time goes into it, bringing out high quality results. It’s not at all one way.

copyright: issues & options

One part of the pool that has drawn a lot of attention has been the copyright regime. The pool allows works to be submitted under a variety of Creative Commons Licences, some of which allow legal re-use of the content without royalties to the artist who created it.

DM: As it currently stands: when you submit content to the site, you choose what licence to place it under. This can be either a Creative Commons licence, or not, and there is also a voluntary dual licence to allow the ABC to rebroadcast.

SD: We see it as providing a variety of options. So if you upload a low quality version of the work you might want to licence that with a very open licence to allow it to be distributed, to raise your profile. And you might reserve a high quality version for commercial use. It’s completely up to an artist and what their goals are with a given work.

DM: As far as I can tell, in the latest iteration of the relationship between [musical royalties collection agency] APRA and Creative Commons Licences, APRA argues that their collection contract is technically incompatible with Creative Commons. But they also acknowledged at the Music Industry Forum last year that a huge number of their members are actually using Creative Commons Licences, and they conceded that they would not to sue their own members…It’s definitely a grey area. Is there awareness of that among the users?

JJ: Absolutely, it’s come up. A lot of APRA members have been concerned about that…There’s compromise needed and the players are at the table working it out, but there’s a long way to go.

It’s time to think carefully about your rights, and not just allow other people to make the decisions for you. When you see the pull down boxes and all the different types of licences, it’s time to read the fine print. We’re already seeing artists becoming their own labels, putting their stuff out there, becoming experts in all sorts of areas, production, instruments. We know lots about lots of different fields; it’s time to know about rights management.

DM: One thing pool does is make really clear which licence the uploaded work has, what you can and can’t legally do with it. I’m assuming that’s part of the intent—a safe space for reuse of material? I notice you can also see which other works a piece derives from.

JJ: [Attribution] has got to be easy. If you are a remix advocate, like myself, that’s part of your responsibility. And so, on pool we have a first baby step in that direction—that is the ‘derived from’ field, you have a menu of [works] in the database…That’s a start, but it should be so much easier. And it will be.

everyday pooling

For my part the pool project is a hard one not to like; the effervescent excitement amongst the site users is more response than I’ve seen to an ABC project before, and all this without the usual high budget trappings and drum beating that kicks off, say, a new TV show. The budget didn’t even run to a catered launch. In the absence of an offer of celebratory canapés on the public purse, I consoled myself with a trip to the MCA show in the Biennale of Sydney.

In the dying days of that festival the galleries seemed more crowded than usual, and more full of miscreants. Those most mischievous of Sydney-dwellers, the mobile phone owners, were out in force with their illicit happy snaps of the works, keeping the gallery attendants busy. I had most sympathy for the gent getting himself shooed off Tracey Moffat and Gary Hillberg’s REVOLUTION. The didactic panel explained that this video work was proudly constructed from unlicenced samples of commercial works. That did not help the attendant make her plaintive case that this gentlemen could not in turn take photographs of those stolen frames of video. It’s gallery policy, you see.


www.pool.org.au
www.abc.net.au/classic/orpheus/
http://remixmylit.com/
http://creativecommons.org.au/
www.viscopy.com
www.screen.org/
www.copyright.org.au/
www.apra.com.au/

RealTime issue #87 Oct-Nov 2008 pg. 37

© Dan MacKinlay; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

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