Remix culture: the paradigm with which Lawrence Lessig challenged the myth of authorship and originality



A remix is a piece of media which has been altered or contorted from its original state by adding, removing, and/or changing pieces of the item. A song, piece of artwork, book, video, poem, or photograph can all be remixes. The only characteristic of a remix is that it appropriates and changes other materials to create something new.

(“Remix.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Fdn., n.d.)

One of the cultural expressions that has gained ground in the last 10 to 15 years and which falls in line perfectly with copy-paste creativity is remix culture.

With this terminology, we refer to a social and cultural system which allows for, or even encourages, the use of already-extant creative material to give life to original new work.

If it’s true that most products of human ingenuity are and always have been the fruit of the continuous re-working and reprocessing of existing ideas and products, today, in contrast to past historical eras, especially thanks to the arrival of the internet and new technologies, this aspect of remix culture has exploded into full view.

U.S. attorney and theorist Lawrence Lessig was the one to grasp the salient points of the phenomenon, writing a famous text titled Remix: Making Art and Commerce Thrive in the Hybrid Economy in 2008.

In his book, Lessig analyzes remix culture starting from the role attributed to the consumer of the original and distinguishes between read-only (RO) and read/write (RW) cultures.

Read-only culture is that with a traditional media system where there’s a clear separation between those who create content and those who consume it. To the contrary, in read/write culture, there is a continuous exchange of content between producer and consumer. Taking that idea one step further, it is the very lack of distinction between producer and consumer that defines the much-discussed figure of the “prosumer” (a portmanteau of producer and consumer).

A long-time supporter of creative practices based on the recycling and reworking of existing digital content, Lessig continues by positing that remix culture is a sort of modern compositional paradigm that has definitively eradicated the myth of authorship and originality. Perhaps we shouldn’t be too surprised that his ideas have a curious resonance with those of many avant-garde artists living and working in the early 20th century.

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