The LAMP’s Executive Director D.C. Vito paid a visit to MIT’s Center for Civic Media yesterday, and gave a presentation about the Media Breaker. The following blog post about the visit, including text from the Q&A portion of the presentation, was originally published here and written by Rogelio Alejandro Lopez.
Blog Contributors: Erhardt Graeff and Rogelio Alejandro Lopez.
Today’s Civic Lunch speaker was D.C. Vito from the New York City based Learning About Media Project aka The LAMP. Vito is a returned Peace Corps volunteer and works with media, specifically with video. The lunch talk centered around LAMP’s new video remix tool called Media Breaker, which is ultimately intended for encouraging social commentary, parody, and critique through media creation. Along with covering Media Breaker, the talk also touched on questions of fair use, copyright, and how legal systems affect online media creation.
D.C. Vito mentions that the goal of his team is to create 10,000 little Jon Stewart’s around the country, which means people actually engaging with and being critical about Mass Media.
Media Breaker allows you to respond to copyrighted content, ie. newsclips, advertisements, and commercials. It is mostly meant to work with small “clip” sized content. and it’s free for all and in the cloud.
The idea came from work six years ago, where they were doing ‘make’ commercials and ‘break’ commercials. They showed young people existing commercials and urged them to re-edit those commercials and to talk back to them.
“We had a young student named Violet, who really disliked how a particular Bratz commercial made her feel,” said Vito. So she created the “break” version. They decided to put the broken video online, and it got 45k views, mostly by young girls who wanted to see the original unaltered Bratz commercials. The team also received negative feedback from the toy company, demanding that video breaking stop before further damaging the Bratz brand.
D.C.’s team found that students were really enthusiastic about talking back to media and commercials. At the same time, students had limited resources, and were intimidated by media companies and the legal murkiness. In response, they wanted to create something that would technically facilitate media “breaking” — maintaining a focus on process over product. To address issues of access, they made the tool free, fair use, and cloud-based.
As part of the project, they developed the LAMPlatoon library on their website, which is were most of the broken videos are viewed. To give us a sense of what they create, V.C. Vito showed a broken State Farm Insurance video, which was the first video that received a copyright infringement claim. However, in time they were able to defeat the claim.
The LAMP’s current goal is to host 500 broken videos online to gain critical mass. Last year they received a grant from the Knight Foundation to build out the tool. They also want to address copyright law in the context of breaking videos, since they found that copyright misconception creates fear among creators. “You can’t teach media literacy without using copyrighted material,” comments Vito. Fair use is also critical for a media economy that is based on sharing and making. The point of Media Breaker is to avoid snark and hate speech, and at the same time train critical thinkers. This goal is supported by the fact that in order for it be fair use, it has to be critical.
With Media Breaker’s Terms of Service, the team wants users to understand that they will only be editing pre-existing (mostly copywritten) content. Vito says, “You aren’t here to edit your skateboard video, you’re here to edit someone else’s skateboard video.” In the editor, they have a selection of creative commons licensed audio clips that users can add to their videos. A broken video shown took on Dr. Pepper TEN, a sub-product of the soft drink marketed as “for men only” and “not for women.” Another example critiqued the Kia “Soul” car commercial, by linking the car manufacturer’s portrayal of “urban hamsters” to early racialized cartoons about African Americans, which perpetuate racial stereotypes.
As part of LAMP’s goal to combine literacy and media creation, Media Breaker is paired with educational resources, such as instructional videos. However, they found that 50% of site visitors don’t click on the introductory proper use video, which explains how to make critical commentary through the media breaker tool. The video also contains a step by step guide to get started with Media Breaker and even has tips for being a critical thinker and how to link broken videos to social larger contexts. Additionally, they encourage users to cite sources at the end of videos.
LAMP is currently expanding to programs in cities across the country and further building out the tool. They have an annual paper where they gather all the videos from the Super Bowl, and have kids break them during the event, so that when people search for them on YouTube after the game, theirs are up there in the search listings. In the future, they would love to put on a broken media festival, maybe on Madison Avenue.
Ethan: We looked at ads here but there is nothing that prevents me from doing this with any clip of video. You talked about the Daily Show inspiration; would our “Fox News / What does the Fox say?” mashup fall into the same genre as you are creating and the same legal territory? And what about people outside of your programs using the tool?
DC: Yeah, as long as it fits into our fair use approach. The political aspect doesn’t bother us. The minimum age to use the tool is 13, but we have undergrads and grad students using it and we encourage them to push the tool forward.
Ethan: I admire the Terms of Service because the language is very clear and it addresses key points of copyright. Through the ToS, LAMP owns all of the content in order to take full legal liability for all content created. What steps will be taken if you are challenged by large companies?
HH: You talked about the organizational overzealousness of enforcing copyright. I’ve also run into algorithmic abuse. We had a faculty member give a TED talk with copyrighted content and YouTube automatically took down the faculty member’s videos from the Media Lab channel because we copied their content and they were aggressively clamping down on copies of TED videos. What can be done about algorithmic copyright infringement mechanisms?
DC: We get notices from YouTube when we upload videos, which were clearly algorithmically triggered. We got another one on a Dodge video, which came after uploading with notes, so we know that was manual. We haven’t had to take down any videos though.
Ethan: Algorithmic copyright review was needed for large content sites like YouTube, but those mechanisms can also undermine creation.
Q: Are companies today willing to settle outside of court or are they seeking to create legal precedent that will protect them in the future? Also, some of these concepts apply to the fan fiction scene.
DC: I don’t know about the fan fiction side, but I know some remixers (like Pogo’s remixes of Disney) and have not had Disney go after them. But they are lifting up the brand while making money, but if you were pushing back that might be different.
Ethan: Fan-fiction had to go underground to avoid the copyright question, and it was mostly run by young boys that wanted to expand on the lore of their favorite literature. But girls have historically been the majority of fan fiction authors. And it was the Organization of Transformative Works, an all female board organization, who have been trying to figure out how to get fan fiction out of the closet, giving it more visibility.
Q: How frequently do you have to send a clip back for revision after it is reviewed? This seems like it might complicate the scalability of the project.
DC: I love that. Since we launched in October, we have only had five videos submitted, and several were not going to make it and we have not heard back from them after sending notices. We are hoping that people will follow the checklist at the bottom of the how-to page.
We are concerned about scale, communication with users, and not turning users away with delays. We find it’s a lot easier to follow a critique when it’s shorter. I love the idea of a live critique.
Mine: I’m wondering if you hold face to face sessions, or if interaction with users is primarily online? Also, what happens when broken videos themselves perpetuate racism, sexism, etc?
DC: I am currently on a road show to get people interested in the tool, but we also do trainings and offer a curriculum. We had a student who submitted a very homophobic video because it wasn’t critical; what they were doing was defamatory which falls out of the definition of what we call fair use. This became controversial in another setting because they were accused of brainwashing people into thinking only a certain way.
Q: To follow up, has this been used at all in a school setting and how do you get around the issues of censorship in schools, especially around locked access to YouTube?
DC: The reason why we have two libraries, on YouTube and LAMPlatoon, is so that you can still access the content in schools where YouTube is blocked.
Alex: Do you have people outside of the US using your tool?
DC: Not yet, but we have had contributions to the LAMPlatoon outside of the US. We can’t put it up because of international differences in copyright law.
Ethan: You should look into the Digital Media Law Project at the Berkman Center, which could contribute even if you already have your own legal team. Cambridge Community Television would be an obvious local partner; they are an activist media organization that also works with youth. Dan Sawada, a media lab student, is actively working on the input to this. He’s thinking about the case of how he can grab every video about Rob Ford pulled down from 20 channels he is grabbing in real time.
DC: When you upload a video, there are two tracks: video and audio. We want to pursue a third track that is textual and have users interact that way. We have been looking at groups like Rap Genius.
Q: IP holders can have ownership of content in ways that can create challenges for people doing what you do. Do you think that is problematic?
DC: We have several partners that we work with, some license content. We don’t want to have to go the route of licensing the content we work with.
Q: In terms of scale, you might want to introduce some kind of peer review process, so that it is a pyramid not a line. You should also encourage collaboration between breakers so that they could put their ideas into one video that could get the mass amount of views rather than lots of individual videos with fewer views, to maximize the impact.
DC: With regards to peer reviewing, we have been looking at the Wikipedia model, that is mostly peer reviewed.
Q: I would suggest learning from Wikipedia’s mistakes rather than mimicking them. Perhaps there can be a reputation system and a ranking system where the community helps curate content that is worthy of special review.
Q: If I understand this correctly, I can only use the content on your website. But you have censorship and ownership over what I do?
Ethan: Yes, they have ownership in order to protect you from legal action. But the question over censorship and ownership around your work is a good start to a critique.
DC: What we found from testing with educators and students, they would often ask why they couldn’t own the content. We then explained the legal reality, and users were more than happy to have use own that content. We have to constantly push the outer limits of creation, or else we will be in danger of losing certain freedoms in a legal way.
Ethan: Is there a danger to fighting battles over fair use and eventually trademark, and if you start losing, and it never gets out to this gray legal area.
DC: We are more interested in the numbers. Ultimately, this is not valuable if we are not talking to the media creators. We need to show them that there is a large group of young people across the country that are upset about their messages and organizing against it. We ultimately think media are amazing, but we also want to harness critical dialogue around problematic content especially with media making.
Ali: Looking at the Fair Use factors, one of them is about affecting the market value of a product, how do you deal with that if you are criticizing something to impact it’s brand?
Anderson (lawyer on The LAMP’s board): There is established case law protecting fair use in this way. A critique is not necessarily seen as a free alternative to pre-existing content, but can been seen as an alternative.
Q: You made it very clear that you will take ownership of the content. What if I save the content locally and it is not online? Perhaps that can be a way to give people a sense of ownership, and then when they publish on your site, you assume full ownership.
Q: As a follow-up, do you see the goal such that you don’t even need to take ownership because of a change in the media landscape.
DC: We are told that the LAMP owning the videos does not completely protect the original creators from legal action, but it does reduce the fear of breaking copyrighted content. Right now, the key is to reduce the fear thanks to lots of people all doing this and not getting in trouble.
Ethan: For people who are looking at this and excited about, what can we do help it? What is the ask?
DC: Push it out, use it, talk about it. It’s important just to get more people using the term Media Breaker. And we’ve received feedback from some young people that it’s better than Windows Movie Maker, which isn’t great, but it’s better than nothing. We also have t-shirts for sale. And we have bugs in the software. Microsoft asked us if we have an API, which I don’t even know what that is. So we could use tech help.