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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Remixing Authorship: Copyright and Capital in Hollywood's New Media Age

  • Author(s): Deeb, Hadi Nicholas
  • Advisor(s): Ochs, Elinor
  • et al.

The explosion in new media technologies and how people use them has ruptured a longstanding model of authorship and ownership behind intellectual property (IP) laws and norms. New media make creating, manipulating, and circulating information much faster, easier, and cheaper. The romantic author entitled to own her expressions of creative genius is being reimagined as a remix author who always borrows, collaborates, and has partial claims over cultural products. Scholars in various fields have used this development to reconsider what authorship is and how it relates to ownership. My approach employs empirically, locally grounded linguistic anthropological methods that have not been applied before to this topic. My aim is to uncover what motivates authorship as a communicative activity that has social value, as evidenced by its link to ownership. I conducted fieldwork among professional storytellers, lawyers, and marketers in Hollywood, an influential industry that relies heavily on copyright, the branch of IP law that regulates the circulation of creative expression. I investigated how people who see remix authorship as both a challenge and an opportunity talk about authorship and, in doing so, talk as authorship. Framing my study in practice theory terms, I analyzed the micro-semiotic and macro-social aspects of that discourse in contexts such as courtroom litigation, professional gatherings, and story production. I argue that authorship and ownership are mutually defining practices driven by a productive tension between the chronological pursuit of authentic experience and a horizonal goal of idealized authenticity. Striving to achieve authenticity is socially mediated, and often occurs through cultural products, including entertainment commodities. For a long time, romantic authorship ideology tailored authenticity to its own terms, mitigating the tension and supporting the modern IP regime. Spurred by new media, remix authorship ideology pries open that loop. More broadly, people constantly remix the nexus of what authenticity, authorship, and ownership mean. My findings further remix authorship theory in order to think beyond the superficial divergence of IP law and social practices; specify the social and institutional consequences of linguistic authorship, including how it can lead to paradigmatic transformation; and describe an experiential motivation behind that practice.

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