I’ve been reading a lot about remix culture just recently in preparation for a TikTok and Reels workshop I’m launching.
What is remix culture? It’s the taking of existing content and putting a new spin on it and it’s far, far older than you can possibly imagine.
What does it look like? Go back to the First World War, soldiers would make up new lyrics for popular hits of the day. That’s remix culture too.
Cassetteboy remixing content to create something new is remixculture.
Using a meme would be that.
The tricky part is when the law – namely copyright – comes into play.
Here’s a blog around what can be done and what can’t. Usual disclaimer: this is not legal advice. Go seek legal opinion.
So what do comms people need to know about it?
In short, comms people need to know that remix culture is a licence to be creative as well as to be careful of the long shadow of copyright.
Lawrence Lessing in his 2008 book ‘Remix’ spoke in praise of remix culture and railed against the tight copyright laws that stifle a lot of creativity.
For example, Mickey Mouse who was first appeared in1928 should have been out of copyright in 1984. Then it was extended to 2023 after aggressive Disney lobbying. It’s a reality we have to navigate around.
But how can we?
Just this week, Doncaster Council were praised for using a meme to launch a public consultation. The meme is a girl shouting into the ear of a disinterested boy.
This particular meme comes from 2019 from a Spanish-speaking internet user. The girl in the original was shouting to a boy that quick nutrition fixes should not be trusted. The pair are Argentinian.
It’s been used in lots of places.
So, Doncaster Council using it was treading a well-used path.
All they’ve done is used a meme and adapted it with their own message. That’s refreshing.
Mind you, I say ‘all they’ve done.’ But that would minimise the not inconsiderable leap in local government culture that usually demands that the elected member is quoted in all comms. How every New Labour. Nothing against New Labour, but that’s not the way to communicate today. We’re not in 1997, anymore.
But why do people on the internet use memes?
Almost three quarters of people send a meme to make others smile or laugh. At a time when the internet can be an angry place and messages struggle to cut through this is really important. For Generation Z especially but Millenials also the use of memes is part of their currency of conversation.
Do all age groups use memes? In differing ways, yes. But I don’t think anyone should be too hung-up about them not being universal. Nothing in com,munications is universal and thinkling that it is is an out-dated concept.
Hang on, are memes legal?
Sharing memes is legal in the UK. The country has not followed the EU in enforcing legislation which requires tech companies to ban memes.
Delving into it, in UK law a substantial part of copyrighted material needs to be taken for it to be a breach of copyright to have taken place.
Not only that, but there are exceptions to copyright which UK Government has been clear to explain. Parody, caricature and pastiche are all exemptions as is fair dealing which you have to be satisfied that your use hasn’t ruined the original use.
So a meme of Sean Bean saying that ‘winter is coming’ does not ruin the Game of Thrones franchise.
Is music free to use?
The issue of music is less happy.
Copyrighted music should not be used without permission. You’re unlikely to have your video with the offending music hosted by the main channels, firstly. Platforms like Facebook will disable your upload, for example. Secondly, you run the risk of being pursued by rights holders who will demand money with menaces.
What you’re basically after is Royalty Free music namely that the copyright is owned by someone else but you don’t have to pay to use it.
The solution to this is the range of Royalty Free music sites that range from giving away entirely free to those that are free if you acknowledge where it came from. I’ve blogged about this here. Be careful how you use the tracks and always read the small terms and conditions.
How else can it go wrong?
Well, if you steal stuff by right clicking an image and passing it off as your own.
Or even if your idea closely resembles another great idea.
This week, Quorn Foods pulled imagery that was a little too close to the badger, badger, badger website.
Music, TikTok and Reels
One area where creativity and remix culture can thrive is Reels and TikTok.
TikTok has hundreds of thousands of tracks cleared for use on TikTok itself.
TikTok allows you to use the music they provide. However, business is being encouraged to go down the route of having a business account if they’re using TikTok. This reduces the amount of choice. But it does clear a path for you to use cleared music for commercial reasons. That’s a big win. You can add it to your TikTok video.
However, don’t think you can export that TikTok clip with the music and re-use it on other channels. You don’t have the licence for that. You can only use it on TikTok.
Similarly, creating video using the Reels functionality means you can add some limited tracks that are cleared for Reels and Reels alone.
Yes, you can use remix culture with a modicum of common sense.