“A free culture is one where everyone thinks of themselves as a voice in a huge choir, whose power and beauty comes from its size and diversity—where the many don’t bow to the few and the few aren’t responsible for the many.”
- A definition embraced by the Free Culture Movement
This lesson will explore creativity and self-expression and the ways online culture has created new forms of artistic expression. Sharing and using online content in creative and new formats raises numerous ethical dilemmas regarding conditions and permissions, making it a ripe topic for classroom conversations. Through the lens of the free culture movement (sometimes identified as the open source movement or remix or hacker culture), students will explore how freely sharing music and other kinds of art on the Internet works with the notion that new art emerges from collaboration and iteration. Specifically, in the example of this film, an original song written and published on YouTube by Samantha “Princess Shaw” Montgomery is built upon by Israeli sound artist Ophir “Kutiman” Kutiel to create something new and different that is then shared and celebrated around the world.
One 50-minute class period, plus homework
By the end of this lesson, students will be able to:
● Articulate their ideas about the ethics and implications of freely sharing information online and using others’ online content to create something different and new.
● Discuss the intention and meaning of the free culture movement, including its advantages and potential risks.
● Create original pieces of art using material posted on the Internet by other artists.
● Film clips from Presenting Princess Shaw and equipment on which to show them
● Display method (varies by school) for showing the entire class online video clips and website resources
● Computers with access to the Internet for student creative work
ACTIVITY: Creating Art Online
Consider the intention and ethics of sharing original art online in comparison to creating art using what others have shared.
View Clip 1: “Chasing Rainbows” (3:10 min.)
Reflect in writing on these questions:
● Why do you think Princess Shaw decides to share her songs online?
● What does she risk in doing so?
● What does she gain?
View Clip 2: “Kutiman Orchestra” (2:15 min.)
Organize students into small discussion groups to complete each round of the lesson together. Ask each group of students to select a facilitator, a scribe and a reporter to record and synthesize the main ideas from the group’s discussion.
Round 1: Meeting Princess Shaw and Kutiman
• What was your initial reaction to Kutiman using Princess Shaw’s song without her consent?
• Do you think Kutiman’s use of other artists’ materials to make something new is acceptable? Why or why not?
• How do you decide when it’s acceptable to use or build on a song, an image, a joke or a line from a poem you’ve seen without crediting its source and/or creator?
• When is it unacceptable to use another’s art or work?
Round 2: Discuss and Define Free Culture
Read the passage below and ask students individually to draft definitions of free culture based on their understanding.
"In the 1990s, as the Internet developed, some of the original software developers and coders created what would come to be called the “free culture movement.” Their idea was that everyone would benefit if the new intellectual ideas they were creating were all freely available rather than bought and sold and that this kind of culture would foster better ideas."
Distribute or project the following quotes and explanations suggesting different viewpoints and perspectives on free culture for the working group to read and understand.
"A free culture is one where everyone thinks of themselves as a voice in a huge choir, whose power and beauty comes from its size and diversity—where the many don’t bow to the few and the few aren’t responsible for the many."
- Free Culture Movement, quoted in the film Presenting Princess Shaw
“[T]here’s a related myth—that innovation comes primarily from the profit motive, from the competitive pressures of a market society. If you look at history, innovation doesn’t come just from giving people incentives; it comes from creating environments where their ideas can connect.” - Steven Johnson, author of Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation
“The musician Brian Eno invented a wonderful word to describe this phenomenon: scenius. We normally think of innovators as independent geniuses, but Eno’s point is that innovation comes from social scenes, from passionate and connected groups of people.” - Kevin Kelly, author of What Technology Wants
“[W]e come from a tradition of ‘free culture’—not ‘free’ as in ‘free beer’ (to borrow a phrase from the founder of the free-software movement), but ‘free’ as in ‘free speech,’ ‘free markets,’ ‘free trade,’ ‘free enterprise,’ ‘free will,’ and ‘free elections.’” - Lawrence Lessig, one of the founders of the free culture movement and the author of Free Culture: How Big Media Uses Technology and the Law to Lock Down Culture and Control Creativity
“Copy, transform and combine. It’s who we are, it’s how we live and of course, it’s how we create. Our new ideas evolve from the old ones. But our system of law doesn’t acknowledge the derivative nature of creativity. Instead, ideas are regarded as property, as unique and original lots with distinct boundaries. But ideas aren’t so tidy. They’re layered, they’re interwoven, they’re tangled. And when the system conflicts with the reality... the system starts to fail.” - Kirby Ferguson, filmmaker, writer and speaker
Have students revise their working definitions of free culture based upon these selections and then take a moment to share within their groups.
Round 3: The Legal Considerations of Creating Art from Art
View Clip 3: “This Is My Song” (8:40 min.)
“There are so many people with so much talent, original thinking and unique voices. Most of them weren’t born with the ‘right cards in their hand’ and don’t really have the access or ability to break into the often exclusive realms of music, art and culture. What are the chances that we will hear about them?”
- Ido Haar, director of Presenting Princess Shaw
Round 4: Small Group Discussion
• Do you think Princess Shaw would have “made it” without Kutiman? Why or why not?
• Who owns Kutiman’s version of the song?
• Who do you think should get the proceeds for the live performance of the song in Tel Aviv?
Ask students to research the legal concepts of copyright and intellectual property and discuss their understanding of what the two laws share and how they differ when it comes to protecting individuals such as artists. (Review media literacy strategies for identifying credible and legitimate sources for this research step.)
Discuss copyright and intellectual property rights in relation to the free culture movement and have students consider how current laws might influence creativity.
Discuss the following prompts to spark discussion:
• Do copyright law and the idea that art is property hinder creativity?
• What is property? Is intellectual property the same as other kinds of property? Is physical property the same as digital property? Is music property?
• How has the Internet changed intellectual property?
• If copyright and intellectual property laws make money central to art, how does that influence the way people may think about what to create?
HOMEWORK: Create Art from Art
Some students may be very familiar with YouTube, and some may already be posting their own videos online. Others may not be as fluent, so it is important to reassure students that you are open to considering a range of work .
Ask students to explore a variety of YouTube vocal, performing, literary or other genres of art that have been posted by independent artists. In the spirit of Kutiman, students can complete the homework using these parameters:
• Compile and curate the work of up to three but no more than five artists online and create their own original pieces of video art and post them online using a private YouTube channel that you will create for the class.
• Create a visual collage using art posted online by other artists and write artists’ statements describing your pieces.
• Write short essays, each analyzing the work of one or more artists’ use of previous artists’ styles or techniques in their work. For example, see how Cubism and abstract artists such as Pablo Picasso borrowed from and were inspired by African art.
Kutiman creates new art by using bits and pieces of others’ art that he finds posted on YouTube. While he does not ask for permission, he does include links to and the names of the artists he borrows from to create his songs.
Hip hop is another recent example of a modern creative genre where people “borrow” or “sample” from one another. Hip hop music was, in part, born out of mixing existing songs together in new ways.
Use sampling in hip hop to examine a potential risk of free culture, meaning some profit financially and others don’t.
• Power imbalance: If a big name star samples music from a little known performer and sells 1 million records, making substantial royalties, one could argue that money was taken from the “little guy.”
Have students respond to these questions in short essay format:
• In what ways does the history of hip-hop remind you of the argument for free culture?
• Who benefits from free culture? In what ways do they benefit?
• Who benefits from music and art being owned and bought and sold? In what ways?
Power and Privilege and Fame: Whose Voice Is Valued in the Entertainment Industry as It Exists?
• How do you discover new music that you like?
• Who chooses the songs that play on the radio?
• Why might an artist like Princess Shaw be considered a “risk” for a program like The Voice, where she once auditioned?
• How might the free culture movement democratize music?
Opinion Essay: Ownership Versus Free Culture
Study the definitions of copyright and free culture and write essays about the approaches you think are best for art and society.
How Money Influences Art
Read this article by Anup Shah about advertising’s influence on the entertainment industry:
Project: Look at the listings for movies in the theater this week and guess which people are most likely to see the film. Here are some suggested guiding questions:
• How do you know who the audience is? Prompts: What do the ads look like? What do the people in the film look like? What is the film about?
• Who is missing from your list of audiences? Think in terms of race, nation of origin, religion, language, education, physical ability, sexual orientation, gender identity and other categories.
• Why do you think some audiences are targeted more than others?
• What are films on your list that stand out as different? Study the companies that create these films and their philosophies and outlooks. Talk about independent versus corporate movies.