Navigating fair use in multimodal projects

Last Friday night, I decided to watch “RIP! A Remix Manifesto.” To be honest, my first thought was simply, “Girl Talk needs to pay the artists for the work he samples.” But I realize that the issue is more complicated than that. The film talks about culture building on the past, and sampling in music is a means of creating culture that has been done for years; the difference now is that the “power has been democratized” with widespread access to materials on the internet. I still think artists have the right to their intellectual property, but when it comes to the greater good, as in cures to disease, the issue gets much more complicated. But let’s be honest; Girl Talk isn’t curing any diseases with his dj gig.

What does complicate the issue of appropriating pop cultural are the issues raised by Aoki, Boyle and Jenkins in the graphic novel, Tales from the Public Domain: Bound by Law?.  They discuss the copyright issues arising in documentaries that reflect the world we live in and things as simple as someone using a song lyric in everyday conversation or a clip from a television show playing in the background of a movie shot. I think what seems different to me from Girl Talk purposely sampling the music of others to create a commodity is that the documentaries discussed in the novel do not plan for the copyrighted material to infiltrate the film; they just happen to occur in natural ways. Maybe the difference is taking something versus happening upon it. It seems to me that fair use would fall into this category of happenstance.

The three articles we read this week all centered on the practical concerns raised by asking students to create multimodal projects that involve incorporating copyrighted material. Hobbs and Donnelly’s “Toward a Pedagogy of Fair Use for Multimedia Composition” talks about the necessity to explain to students ideas about fair use of copyrighted materials, especially as we ask them to create multimodal projects. While copyright laws are so vague and unclear, I like their suggestion that we  explain to students that they should consider sites where they can legally appropriate material, like Creative Commons. Anderson’s article, “The Low Bridge to High Benefits: Entry-Level Multimedia, Literacies, and Motivation,” continues along our previous discussions on creating multimodal, “real world” assignments. In this vein, Anderson describes projects that serve as a bridge between students’ personal and academic interests (48). His concern seems to be that instructors are often unsure of how to integrate technology in meaningful ways because they are not experienced in the use of some technologies themselves. While this can lead to exercises in “technological determinism” (43), I agree with him that there needs to be an entryway for teachers to begin to transform their lessons and the work. Technology for technologies sake is superficial, and the students will recognize that; however, entryway technology projects, like a YouTube playlist, can become more meaningful if the playlist is analyzed rhetorically and justified in a written explanation. This meets Anderson’s concerns about creating a bridge between students’ personal and academic interests, while also serving as a low stakes entry point for an instructor unfamiliar with technology.

I like that Ball, in “Assessing Scholarly Multimedia: A Rhetorical Genre Studies Approach,”  provides interesting examples of how students can create multimodal projects in the classroom; the interactive fibromyalgia project was particularly interesting. Pedagogy like this really makes me reflect upon my own practice as an instructor because I can see how meaningful a project like those describe by Ball would be to students. Perhaps more importantly, I can also see how many different levels of complex thinking and composing are reached in these multimodal projects. Although we talked in class about not just using technology to say we use it, I think the projects described by Ball transform the research papers students are already writing for us into something that is much more layered and complex but with the potential to reach more people. I do question how much reading of a multimodal project ever really occurs. They’re interesting to look at, but do people ever actually read all of the text when there are so many graphic elements and places to click? Actually, a similar question could be asked of the traditional research paper: does anyone ever read it besides the instructor? If the answer is, “no,” than the multimodal project is likely to be more meaningful to both the student and potential audience members who will at least look at parts of it.


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