Version classiqueVersion mobile

Whose Book Is it Anyway?

Janis Jefferies
Sarah Kember

Part II. Views from Elsewhere

14. Redefining Reader and Writer, Remixing Copyright: Experimental Publishing at if:book Australia

Simon Groth

Note de l’auteur

Organisational and funding changes since if:book Australia’s final projects in 2016 led to its online assets, data and projects being deleted. Though many of the websites mentioned in this chapter are no longer active, elements of their data have been preserved at the Internet Archive. It is a bitter irony that, more than eight years on from its bold charge to explore and investigate how technology was set to expand our conception of the book, if:book Australia’s legacy is a collection of printed, bound pages.

Texte intégral

Remixing Clarke

‘Lines of text gradually blur until almost illegible.’
Notes for the designer from the manuscript for Hunted Down and Other Tales

1Even at first blush, Hunted Down and Other Tales by Marcus Clarke is anything but an ordinary book. It is a slim volume, barely one hundred pages, in a small form factor. It declares its price of ‘one shilling’ directly on the front and fills its back cover with breathless descriptions of recently published books (with illustrations, available from the low price of 9d.). Its first few pages are filled with advertisements: an oyster saloon bar, a shipping insurance broker, a brewery and ‘wine merchant’, and more. Though part of an experimental literary remix project, at this point, Hunted Down and Other Tales is nothing more than pitch-perfect mimicry and a loving paean to books first published in the 1870s in colonial Australia. Even the ads are genuine, lifted from a contemporary edition for Queensland Figaro and Punch from 1872.

Fig. 14.1 Proof copy of Hunted Down and Other Tales (ISBN: 9780994471925) alongside an original copy of Clarke’s 1871 title Holiday Peak and Other Tales.

2A literary remix modifies its source material in a way that seeks to bring a new artistic perspective and creates a new co-authored work in the process. In the case of Hunted Down, it is not until the third story — ‘How the Circus Came to Bullocktown’ — that the twenty-first century begins to disrupt the nineteenth.

3In my original manuscript, every page is littered with notes, instructions and asides intended for the book’s designer George Saad. In the quote above, I suggest a design to accompany a section of the story in which the entire populace of Bullocktown gets uproariously drunk. My initial instinct was to modify the printed page in the way that is only possible from a digital source, with an eye to taking the reader more deeply into story. The modifications in ‘Bullocktown’ come thick and fast: Clarke’s text is divided into eight shorter sections, each of which is variously annotated, flanked by posters and advertisements, formed into textual puzzles, faded to grey, and so on.

4In the example above, rather than follow my design suggestion, George took the ‘drunk’ narrative and stretched and squashed it into a wobbling, nauseous block of text that, by its conclusion, stumbles off the page altogether. This is typesetting that would have been unimaginable in the 1870s and is today possible only with a battery of digital tools.

Fig. 14.2 The ‘drunk’ text from Hunted Down and Other Tales mirrors the narrative as its characters become increasingly intoxicated.

5In Hunted Down and Other Tales, these tools are applied in the service of introducing to a contemporary audience a lesser-known work from an author widely regarded as one of the finest our nation has produced. It is also a work that challenges underlying assumptions of original work, copyright, and intellectual property. It is as good an introduction as any to if:book Australia’s often heady blend of art, design, and narrative: technologies and techniques that acknowledge the rich heritage of literature’s past while challenging the assumptions of the present in the interests of leaning into the future.

if:book Australia

6Based in Brisbane and linked to an international fellowship of organisations exploring book futures, if:book Australia (the Institute for the Future of the Book) explored new forms of digital literature and investigated the changing relationship between writer and reader. Its explorations at the intersection of technology and publishing took the form of writing, teaching, and experimenting. From 2010 to 2016, if:book Australia published tens of thousands of words from some of the nation’s best writers and thinkers on book futures, delivered workshops from Perth to Canberra to Alice Springs, helped authors create live writing inspired by an audience, and remixed lost nineteenth-century Australian fiction. Working at the blurred boundaries of what qualifies as ‘the book’, if:book made fascinating and instructive observations on how writers and readers interact and what kind of stories can be told.

7If we remove the medium altogether and define the book as a type of interaction, a relationship, between reader and writer, then we can ask a series of pertinent questions:

  • What is the purpose of the book in a connected, participatory reading and writing culture?
  • What are the new forms that continue to emerge that take advantage of how ideas and stories are discovered and shared?
  • How can the technologies for old and new media interact to create new work?
  • What does that mean for how that work might be read?
  • What changes when we change the book and what remains the same?

8Though not addressed directly in the organisation’s brief, assumptions around copyright and intellectual property were regularly questioned and challenged by if:book’s experimental projects.

Copyright and Medium

  • 1 Quoted in Matthew Rimmer, Digital Copyright and the Consumer Revolution (Cheltenham, UK: Edward El (...)

9Copyright law, in the words of Jonathan Zittrain, Harvard Professor of Internet Law, ‘was written with a particular form of industry in mind,’1 specifically publishing through the medium of print. Indeed, the publishing industry’s long history and recent disruption at the hands of digital media makes the book a particularly apt lens through which to observe the challenges of copyright to a form of intellectual property that until relatively recently existed only in physical media. Although copyright today covers a range of rights and licensing laws beyond a set of rules that govern the ability to make copies of a given work, the notion of the ‘copy’ and the assumptions that underlie it remain central to the disruption of traditional copyright at the hands of digital media.

10To make an unauthorised copy of a printed book takes dedication, resources, time, and money. Even to plagiarise from a print work requires a certain amount of intellectual and physical labour. For these labours and costs to be worthwhile, the act of copying is assumed to be accompanied by some kind of benefit: credit for the plagiarist and profit for the pirate. In a world of print media, the path of least resistance to obtain a work for most readers is to purchase or borrow through established and legal means. Even with modern home scanning and printing technology, the process of making a copy of even a modestly sized novel, for example, would be interminable and unlikely to deliver a reading experience that matches the original. The effort one must go to in order to copy a print book is prohibitive without a means of profiting from it.

11Things are very different in the networked world of ones and zeros. One of the early touted benefits of electronic digital media was its capacity to effortlessly create perfect copies of content. Entire digital files can be replicated with drag-and-drop ease. Similarly, the content within those files can be copied and pasted, replicating it perfectly into a new file. Operating systems and software such as word processors have made such ease a virtue: keyboard shortcuts for cut, copy and paste appeared as early as 1983 on Apple’s Lisa and Macintosh systems before becoming computing standards.

  • 2 Cory Doctorow, About Little Brother (2008),

12With the Internet, that ease of data replication becomes linked to a vast distribution network in which ‘copying’ content has become second nature, to the point of being invisible to the end user. To view a single page of web content, a reader requests data from a remote server. On its way from server to user, each packet of that data passes through a series of routers, which not only direct Internet traffic but which also make temporary copies of everything that passes through. When the transmitted data is reassembled into content on the viewer’s screen, the web browser automatically copies information from the page to a local cache on the reader’s device. Calling up a browser page necessarily requires making a copy of its content. Another example is the case of email. The humble act of sending an email attachment results in a bloom of copies: dragging a document from the file system to the mail client saves a copy in the local messages system; another copy is uploaded and stored on the sender’s IMAP server; another is stored at the receiver’s mail server, which is then downloaded to their mail client, and which they may then save to a specific location in their own file system. Of course, many of us access messages on a number of devices (each of which stores another copy). In both of these examples, much of this copying takes place without the intervention or even awareness of the individual user or reader. One of the reasons the Internet can be thought of as, in the words of Cory Doctorow, ‘the world’ s most efficient copying machine’2is that accurate and automated copying is an essential part of its machinery. In a world of digital media on interconnected devices, making a copy of any given set of data is not just easy; it’s as natural and as unconscious as taking a breath.

13It is here that the digital disruption of copyright is at its starkest. Original works should certainly be protected from individuals who seek to benefit from them without fair compensation to the creator. But an underlying assumption of copyright law — that the act of copying is difficult and must therefore be accompanied by a profit motive or intent for intellectual deception — cannot be applied universally to digital media on networked devices.

14A set of rules that govern property in the physical world has proven an awkward fit for the digital environment and has often led to overreach by rights holders: artificial geoblocks or punitive restrictions on how content can be stored and accessed (restrictions that have no parallel in the physical world). Equating unauthorised copying of intellectual property with theft and shoplifting strains credulity and the frequently heavy-handed responses of rights holders treat their audience as criminals first and audience second.

15Indeed, audiences are well aware that digital media is fundamentally different to physical media. After observing the shortcomings of existing copyright law, Professor Zittrain continued: ‘the flourishing of information technology gives amateurs and home-recording artists powerful tools to build and share interesting, transformative, and socially valuable art drawn from pieces of popular cultures. There’s no place to plug such an important cultural sea change into the current legal regime.’

16While audiences have demonstrated little sympathy for corporate ‘rights holders’, the community regularly expresses support for artists, authors, and other creative people and the work they produce. For an audience steeped in digital media, this love for a creative work is not a passive experience. The logical extension of that love then is the ability to copy and paste, to quote, sometimes to absorb, adapt and modify, and most importantly to share. if:book’s experimental work around the future of the book and the nexus of technology and publishing has actively sought new ways to define the central relationship between writer and reader, to blur their roles, and to examine models of copyright that embrace rather than resist the capabilities and culture of digital media.

Lifting the Veil, Inviting Contributions

17Revealing the process of writing and opening it up to the scrutiny of readers has been a major component of many if:book projects.

18The ‘24-Hour Book’ was a live writing event that brought a team of writers, editors, designers, and technologies together to complete the production of a book in both print and digital formats — from concept to finished product — within a single twenty-four-hour period. The book was written using an online book production tool, Pressbooks, to expedite writing and editing and to handle typesetting for print and coding for digital. Created in if:book’s office in Brisbane, Australia, the first copy of the project’s resulting book, Willow Pattern, rolled off an Espresso Book Machine in Brooklyn, NY approximately twenty-three hours and forty minutes after commencement.

Fig. 14.3 The authors meet to discuss progress during the 24-Hour Book (left), Bronwen Blaney of On Demand Books presents the first copy of Willow Pattern (ISBN: 9780987251435) from an Espresso Book Machine (right).

19During the live event, the project’s nine authors published their work in progress online. Readers were encouraged to follow the stories throughout the day and to interact with the writers and each other via comments and social media. This created a dynamic in which the reader was not only able to observe the creative process in action (for better and for worse) but also potentially to influence the writing that emerged. A number of authors played up to this dynamic, directly soliciting ideas and contributions from readers, some of which made their way into the final text. It was this dynamic that led to the creation of another if:book project based around live writing.

20‘Memory Makes Us’ is an event that challenges writers to create a new work using as their inspiration memories collected from the general public. Where the live component of the ‘24-Hour Book’ was primarily an online reading experience, ‘Memory Makes Us’ happens both online and in a physical space. Over the last three years, the project has taken place at writers’ festivals throughout Australia and in the US. At each event, up to three writers occupy a public space at a festival or other event to create a new work live before the audience. The writers work at notebook computers connected both to a display monitor at the venue and fed live to the project website. From a predetermined theme, each writer invites contributions and inspiration from audience members in the form of ‘memories’. Memory texts can be recorded in one of two ways: by filling in a form on the project website or by using one of the manual typewriters provided at the venue.

Fig. 14.4 Writer Kate Pullinger (left) and participants recording memories (right) at the first Memory Makes Us event in Brisbane, 2013.

21As the number of collected contributions grows throughout the day, each typewritten ‘memory’ is attached to the authors’ table, eventually reaching the floor and ‘flowing’ out towards the audience, both marker of progress and visual flourish. This is writing as a performance, but one distinct from other performative aspects of literature: it is not a reading of a prepared work, nor is it freestyle poetry or ‘improv’. It is improvisation not with speech but with text and the tools of contemporary writing: keyboard and cut-and-paste.

22It is also a project that deliberately blurs the roles of reader and writer, in which the audience contributes to a singularly authored work, and in which permission to co-opt memories and emotions is consciously granted.

Grappling with the Remix as a Literary Act

23Alongside open demonstrations of the creative process and blurring the roles of artist and audience, if:book has run a series of projects that explore the remix as a distinct literary art form. ‘Remix’ is an umbrella term for a range of forms and techniques that use existing creative work as source material to be modified in a way that seeks to bring a new artistic perspective.

24The term itself originates from its more familiar use in popular music. Though its antecedents are as old as artistic expression itself — from the collages and ‘readymades’ of Dadaists that played with the malleability of meaning all the way back to the limitlessly fluid oral storytelling tradition — the distinguishing feature of remixing is that it presupposes a recorded source work that can be divided into smaller components capable of manipulation, manoeuvring, and recombination. It also relies on technologies and tools to enable this.

25In this sense, remix can be considered a digital art form.

26In music, the remix is distinct from the ‘cover version’ or reinterpretation. The advent of editable magnetic tape and multitrack recording — in which individual instruments and sounds can be isolated from the whole — first enabled the concept of remixing. More recent digital recording tools and techniques offer a greater palette for sound manipulation than traditional analogue tapes.

27Use of the specific term ‘remix’ in relation to literature is a relatively recent phenomenon (see Mark Amerika’s ‘Remix the Book’ from 2011). As with music, the literary remix relies on and benefits from an increasing sophistication in digital tools. Where the typewriter breaks literature into smaller components, the word processor and its twin concepts of the software ‘document’ and cut, copy and paste make the movement and recombination of text blocks an essential skill for contemporary writers. In the remix, cut-and-paste becomes a transformative act, a performance, something magnified by the plethora of Internet-based digital tools and the real-time distribution it enables.

28An important distinction to make, especially in literature, is between a remix and an edit. An edit seeks to strengthen and clarify the original author’s intention. A remix is made with the understanding that the remixer will intentionally change the original work as a creative act. Remixing is also an inherently critical act. The choices made by a remixer — the choices of what to keep and what to change — necessarily counter the original author’s vision for the work. Several authors who have participated in if:book’s remixing projects have struggled with the thought that they might be making value judgements on the quality of the source material. But, unlike an edit, a remix need not be considered an improvement or detraction from the original. A remix does not replace its source material, but exists as a distinct entity, linked but independent: a new version.

Early Experiments with Remix

29The first of if:book’s remix projects grew directly from the ‘24-Hour Book’. The primary motivation to adopt the online publishing system, Pressbooks, was to find a convenient way to reach readers during the writing and to speed up the process of typesetting and internal design. Pressbooks is based on the open source Wordpress blogging tool and its writing and editing backend created an opportunity to extend the ‘24-Hour Book’ beyond its initial scope. As well as providing a platform on which the authors and editors could work, Pressbooks also created an extensive database of backups: every time an author or editor saved their work in progress (and at regular intervals in between) the system stored a complete snapshot of the text, including metadata such as the login details of the person making the save and a time stamp. What emerged at the end of the initial project was a database that recorded the complete creation of a book, from the first word to the final edit.

30Throughout 2013 and 2014, if:book opened that database to public scrutiny, creating an interface at that enables readers to browse, search, and download the complete editing data. The project also turned the editing data over to four Australian poets for the purpose of creating new works of remix to be published on the project website. Their responses varied from meticulously referenced cento poetry to a video-based work that reproduces, once, all the words used throughout the entire the project.

Fig. 14.5 Home page of book database (left), and a still from I Will Say This Only Once, a database remix by Pascalle Burton.

31The project explored the relationship between narrative and data and the artistic responses of the project were based on the story of how the ‘24-Hour Book’ was made, rather than on the stories contained within it.

32The next stage in exploring the literary remix combined cut-and-paste transformation with the personal and intimate craft of memoir. ‘Lost in Track Changes’ was a project that asked five writers to create a short piece of memoir, a vignette. Each of these pieces was passed on to another author within the group tasked with remixing it into a new work. The remixes would then be passed along to another author and again and again until each of the pieces had been remixed by all five authors in series. In the background, if:book tracked all the changes between each of these transformations.

33Featuring the talents of Cate Kennedy, Ryan O’Neill, Krissy Kneen, Robert Hoge, and Fiona Capp, the result is a curious artefact produced for print and digital media: frequently subtle and nuanced in its treatment of source material, but peppered by lurching shifts in style, form, and perspective. In just one series of stories a heartfelt recollection of growing up becomes dystopian sci-fi which becomes a dictionary entry which becomes a poem in requiem for an imaginary writer.

34Unlike remixes from the ‘24-Hour Book’, the source material for ‘Lost in Track Changes’ was written specifically with its subsequent transformation in mind. The effect on its authors varied: for Ryan O’Neill, well versed in the postmodern short story, the most difficult part of the project was writing the initial memoir piece; Fiona Capp’s writing represented a progression from subtle, editorial-style changes for the first remix to wholesale rewriting and a change of narrator in the project’s final ‘round’.

35The print title created by the project actively encourages its reader to continue modifying the work within, both directly in its introductory text and, more subtly, in its design cues. The pages are laid out with wide margins and line spacing and the book itself is wire bound in the style of a notepad.

Fig. 14.6 Pages from Lost in Track Changes (ISBN: 9780992373733) showing wide margins, ‘track changes’ layout, and remixed story layout.

Rumours of my Death

36Where ‘Lost in Track Changes’ commissioned new short-form works for the specific purpose of remixing, the follow up project, ‘Rumours of My Death’ targeted established long-form literary works as its source material to create extended works of remix. Again borrowing the parlance of popular music, such extended works of remix are called ‘mashups’. The project challenged three Australian authors — Mez Breeze, Christopher Currie, and myself — to each select a lesser-known work from the public domain and, using it as source material, to create a new remixed work for a range of contemporary media. Where prior popular literary mashups blend seemingly incompatible genres for comic effect, ‘Rumours of My Death’ was intended as an exploration of Australian times and culture and to highlight works and authors that had fallen into relative obscurity.

37‘Rumours of My Death’ consists of three distinct works.

38A [[Non]] Guardian Age was written by Mez Breeze and based on The Guardian: A Tale, an 1838 novel by Anna Maria Bunn. Despite being both the first Australian novel published on mainland Australia and the first by a female author, Bunn’s only literary work is not widely known. It is an unusual novel that itself ‘mashes’ gothic romance with comedy of errors in an awkward and uneven story. Shortlisted for the 2016 Western Australian Premier’s Book Awards, A [[Non]] Guardian Age is a web-based book created using mixed media that mashes prose with poetry and code while it ‘refashions’ Bunn’s novel, passing commentary as it goes: on time, on the country, and on the original work itself.

Fig. 14.7 Sample page from A [[Non]] Guardian Age, by Mez Breeze.

39The Tweets of @HenrySavery was written by Christopher Currie and based on Quintus Servinton, by Henry Savery, the first novel published in Australia (in 1830). The piece took place live on Twitter as ‘Savery’ — twice-convicted forger, one-time novelist, gossip columnist, and ne’er-do-well about town — took up a digital residency at the 2015 Brisbane Writers Festival. Via the handle @HenrySavery, the piece tracked the author’s week-long journey from Tasmania’s Isle of the Dead to Brisbane, creating a comic array of characters and situations along the way. Throughout the festival Currie attended events and commented anonymously in character (mimicking and sometimes quoting from Savery’s breathless and dense prose), chatting with the authors and attendees, making observations on contemporary writing and publishing culture, and nursing hangovers.

Fig. 14.8 Tweet from @HenrySavery during the 2015 Brisbane Writers Festival.

40The final work from ‘Rumours of My Death’ is Hunted Down and Other Tales, the print book introduced at the outset of this chapter that collects and remixes three stories by Marcus Clarke. Clarke is the celebrated author of the classic novel His Natural Life, but Hunted Down focuses instead on his lesser-known short fiction. Superficially, the book directly mimics the size and visual style of the short story anthologies Clarke originally published in the 1870s: pocket-size editions of around 100 pages sold from newsstands and were filled with advertisements for local businesses alongside the fiction. It begins with two original stories by Clarke. The title story (which itself directly references Dickens) appears under its original title and in its original length for the first time since its publication in The Australasian newspaper on 6 May 1871. The remixes begin with the third story in the collection. ‘How the Circus Came to Bullocktown’, already a wild and chaotic story, has a toolbox of visual remix techniques thrown at it: the text is annotated, faded almost to the point of deletion, formed into typographic puzzles. Several times, the text ‘breaks out’ from the page and onto a series of paper inserts: flyer, newspaper clipping, business card and beer coaster. The final two stories are remixed versions of the first two: relocating Clarke’s stories to contemporary Australia. The book’s advertisements are also given the remix treatment: actual ads from the 1870s give way to mashups of contemporary products presented in an old-fashioned style to mimicry of online recommendations and customer reviews.

Fig. 14.9 Progression of ‘advertisements’ through Hunted Down and Other Tales, from original nineteenth-century copy to contemporary buyer recommendations and customer reviews.

Audience as Co-Creator: Copyright Status of Audience Contributions

41For a project such as ‘Memory Makes Us’, audience members who contribute do so expressly for the purpose of having their words and images adapted or copied directly into another person’s creative work. The project’s privacy statement states:

By submitting your work to this site, you assert that you own the rights to the material and grant to if:book Australia the non-exclusive right to use this work for the duration of the project Memory Makes Us.

Your text and images may be edited and published to the if:book web site for the duration of the Memory Makes Us project and may also be displayed at events related to the project. If we wish to reproduce your work in other forms, we will ask first. The copyright in all work submitted to Memory Makes Us remains with its author.

42To reinforce the status of audience contributions, the website and the subsequent print edition of the project include the following text in their copyright notices:

Your memories are your own.

43The primary purpose of seeking audience contributions to any if:book project is to create a depth of connection between the ‘writer’ and ‘reader’ that goes beyond the traditional reading experience. The effect can be profound, especially for a project like ‘Memory Makes Us’ in which the personal and private is subtly made public. This is something to which I can attest from my own experience as a contributor: seeing my own words and a memory from my own experience suddenly dropped into someone else’s work and displayed on a giant screen in Melbourne’s Federation Square is not easily forgotten. At the time, I looked up, recognised my words, then watched in mild dismay as author Paddy O’Reilly highlighted and deleted the entire passage, save for a single word: ‘sunscreen’. My private sense of ownership over that word and the pleasure of its presence in the final work is an experience shared by many of the contributors and authors who have participated in the project. It is an experience that relies on a shared understanding and mutual respect between author and contributor.

  • 3 Creative Commons Australia,

44Works published by if:book are licensed under Creative Commons (Attribution, NonCommercial 4.0 International Licence, abbreviated as BY-NC-4.0). Creative Commons describes itself as ‘a worldwide nonprofit organisation that provides copyright owners with free licences allowing them to share, reuse and remix their material, legally.’3 This licence details for an audience in plain language the extent to which a work can be copied, distributed and modified. It reads as follows:

You are free to:

  • Share — copy and redistribute the material in any medium or format
  • Adapt — remix, transform, and build upon the material

The licensor cannot revoke these freedoms as long as you follow the license terms. Under the following terms:

  • Attribution — You must give appropriate credit, provide a link to the license, and indicate if changes were made. You may do so in any reasonable manner, but not in any way that suggests the licensor endorses you or your use.
  • NonCommercial — You may not use the material for commercial purposes.

No additional restrictions — You may not apply legal terms or technological measures that legally restrict others from doing anything the license permits.

45Especially for a project such as ‘Memory Makes Us’, which relies on freely shared public contributions, this licence provides an important acknowledgement to the audience and returns the favour, turning the completed work back to the people who helped create it.

Remix and Copyright Law in Australia

  • 4 Debate is currently underway as to whether Australia should adopt the broader fair use exceptions.
  • 5 Australian Copyright Council, ‘Mashups, Memes, Remixes & Copyright (Information sheet G118v04)’, 2 (...)

46For its various remix projects, if:book has relied on two categories of source material: work commissioned specifically to be remixed and out-of-copyright work drawn from the public domain. In part, this is a choice born from necessity: the organisation chooses to use its limited resources for creative work rather than licensing from publishers or other third-party rights holders. Australian copyright law allows for the use of material that remains under copyright to be used without permission in remix, mashup and even memes under specific circumstances, in particular if the amount of source material used is not ‘substantial’. But the definition of ‘substantial’ is subjective and open to interpretation and challenge. The law also makes special provisions for parody or satire within the concept of ‘fair dealing’ (exceptions under copyright law that differ from the US ‘fair use’ provisions).4 The law also takes into account if the remixed work has no commercial element to its creation or distribution.5 But proceeding with a remix under these provisions means inevitably testing the law’s definitions.

47For an Australian literary remixer to stay within the law, seeking permission for remix purposes may be the most prudent approach. However using material that requires explicit permission and licensing means tracking down current rights holders who may or may not be the actual creator of the work and striking an agreement under a set of rules that are complex, often subjective, and not static over time.

48As a small organisation, the legal costs of exploring the use of fair dealing exceptions are too high to justify expanding the range of works we might use.

49The choice of source material is also stylistic, intended to expand the writer’s craft and to explore wider cultural questions. For the authors of ‘Lost in Track Changes’, the project represented their first experience of writing material in the full knowledge that their work would be modified by others. ‘Rumours of My Death’ made a virtue of restricting its source material, focusing on lesser-known works and using the project to observe and comment on the changes in Australian life and culture since its early days.

  • 6 Australian Copyright Council, ‘Duration of Copyright (Information sheet G023v17)’, 2014, https://w (...)

50Even a focus on out-of-copyright works, though, means addressing complexities in the law and problems of representation and access. Until 1 January 2005, the duration of Australia’s copyright protection was the life of the author plus fifty years. On that date, protection was extended to life plus seventy years, under the terms of a free trade agreement with the US,6 a ruling that effectively means no works published in Australia will enter the public domain until 2025. For now, a rule of thumb for determining the copyright status of a work therefore is to determine the date of publication and date of the author’s death: if both fall prior to 1955, the work is out of copyright. This applies only to published written work, meaning remixers who wish to work with images, sound or film must consider separate provisions.

51In literature, Australia’s public domain contains barely a century’s worth of works and significant biases and omissions. Though printing presses had been established from the earliest days of the colonies, Australian literature took many years to become established. Quintus Servinton, Australia’s first novel, was published in Tasmania in 1830 while The Guardian, the first published on the mainland, did not emerge until 1838. Since copyright relies on works first being published, many important voices, in particular those of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, are absent from the public domain.

52Access to works may also prove problematic. Major resources such as the National Library’s digitisation and search tool Trove and Project Gutenberg provide access to digitised collections (an essential resources for ‘Rumours of My Death’), but coverage is far from universal. The Guardian, for example, has not been digitised in any form and its remix involved transcribing text from a print edition, rather than cut and paste. It is unfortunate that the first novel published on mainland Australia and also the first by a female author is less accessible than other literary works of historical significance, something the project was able to highlight, although this was not part of its original intention.

Remix as an Experiment in Copyright

53Remix shatters the assumption that copying is necessarily a nefarious act, concealed from an audience in order to gain unfair advantage. In best practice, remix happens openly, drawing attention to its process and to the original work from which it is derived. One of the goals for the ‘Rumours of My Death’ project was to specifically draw attention to works that have been largely buried in the public consciousness. Lost in Track Changes and Hunted Down and Other Tales go further, reproducing the source material alongside the remixes.

54One of the governing principles behind all of if:book’s various remix projects is respect: for the source material and its provenance and for the audience. These projects draw a clear distinction between openly using an existing work as a source to create something new and deliberately representing someone else’s work as your own. Though some provisions for remixing have been made, current copyright law remains opaque and complex, largely because of its assumptions regarding the intent behind copying.

55Works of remix contain layers of copyright protection: the rights that apply to the source material and the rights that apply to the act of remixing and any new work generated.

56Prior to any creative engagement, a potential remixer is a member of the audience. Inherent in remix culture then is the notion that audience can become creator; that a remix can in turn become source material for another generation of works. if:book directly explored this chain of remix activity in Lost in Track Changes, in particular in the project’s print edition that encourages further modification of the text. This blurring of the roles between audience/reader and creator/writer is reflected and reinforced by the use of Creative Commons licensing.

57But even when working with material that explicitly permits remix, this layering effect of multiple rights holders creates interesting questions over a work’s provenance and implications for ongoing modification. As demonstrated in our projects, a series of remixes can render a work where nothing remains from the original source. For how many iterations does the obligation to acknowledge the source remain? The consequences of this question are especially important when works are licensed for remixing and where such obligations may not be simply moral but also financial. At present, Australian copyright law provides no clear guidelines for a response to this question.

Remixing the Law

58If a literary remix modifies its source material in a way that seeks to bring a new perspective, then is it possible to apply its techniques to existing copyright law? Can we creatively adapt the source material of copyright to establish a new version of the law that acknowledges the legacy of physical media while recognising the realities of digital media?

59In considering how copyright can adapt to contemporary digital culture, it is worth first reflecting on its purpose.

60One finding from if:book’s experiments with the relationship between writer and reader and with the medium of expression is that copyright viewed through the narrow frame of ‘protection’ for original works is fundamentally at odds with digital culture. By placing a priority on the ‘protection’ of work at the expense of audience access and participation this expression of copyright leads to a restrictive and frustrating experience. At its most egregious, this approach treats the audience as criminals first, through punitive licensing agreements and user-hostile technologies such as digital rights management. Such moves succeed only in antagonising legitimate audiences, since they have proven ineffective against infringement. The expansion of skills, the blurring of traditional roles, and the play with medium that if:book explores would be impossible in a system predicated on protection first. If an artist’s primary goal is the protection of intellectual property from bad actors, then the only sure-fire way to meet it is never to seek an audience nor allow your work to enter the public sphere.

61So, rather than emphasising protection, a remixed copyright system should emphasise mutual understanding between artist and audience about rights and responsibilities for the work, clearly articulated and easily understood. Copyright should ensure that artists are recognised and remunerated appropriately for their work and that audiences can access, discuss, and share that work. While this does not infringe the capacity to buy and sell the rights for individual works, it does regard as ancillary the rights of any third parties.

  • 7 Quoted in Rimmer, Digital Copyright and the Consumer Revolution, p. 137. Higgins found the sample (...)

62Striking an appropriate and equitable balance between the rights of artists and audiences is a delicate, but not impossible task. Indeed, it could be considered a foundational principle of a remixed copyright law and one that applies as readily to physical media as it does to a digital environment where copying content, whether in part or in whole, has become a mechanically trivial act. This is a sentiment echoed by US Judge Thomas A. Higgins in the case Bridgeport Music Inc v Dimension Films Inc, which considered the unauthorised use of a two-second sample in a popular music recording: ‘A balance must be struck between protecting an artist’ s interests and depriving other artists of the building blocks of future works.’7Though conceived with digital media in mind, this approach does not dismiss other media through which creative work is distributed. Attempts to make digital works behave like their physical counterparts (artificially making the act of copying more difficult) in order to better fit existing copyright automatically tips the balance of rights in favour of the artist (or the rights holder) at the expense of the audience, just as wholesale permission to redistribute works without payment unfairly privileges the audience over the artist. Similarly, digital media is not a wholesale replacement for physical media — something Hunted Down and Other Tales as a born-digital print-only publication deliberately reinforces — and the systems and rules already in place for physical media do not need to be discarded.

63Like any good remix, this approach would not necessarily be intended to replace what has come before it, but rather to change its focus and reset its priorities. Placing the relationship between artist and audience at the centre of copyright law makes the medium of that relationship a secondary consideration. It is flexible enough to accommodate ink on paper as readily as pixels on screen.

64It also suggests a series of questions as a kind of litmus test for any proposed changes to the law. How does this change affect the balance of rights and responsibilities between artist and audience? If this change benefits third-party rights holders, does that benefit come at the expense of artist and audience rights?


Works Cited

Australian Copyright Council (2014) ‘Duration of Copyright (Information Sheet G023v17)’,

— (2014) ‘Mashups, Memes, Remixes & Copyright (Information sheet G118v04)’,

Creative Commons Australia (2018) ‘Learn About CC’,

Doctorow, C. (2008) About Little Brother,

Groth, S. (2016) Hunted Down and Other Tales by Marcus Clarke (Brisbane: if:book Australia).

— (ed.) (2015) Memory Makes Us (Brisbane: if:book Australia).

— (ed.) (2014) Lost in Track Changes (Brisbane: if:book Australia).

Rimmer, M. (2007) Digital Copyright and the Consumer Revolution (Cheltenham: Edward Elgar Publishing).

Simon Groth,

Stevenson, K. (ed.) (2012) Willow Pattern (Brisbane: if:book Australia).


1 Quoted in Matthew Rimmer, Digital Copyright and the Consumer Revolution (Cheltenham, UK: Edward Elgar Publishing, 2007).

2 Cory Doctorow, About Little Brother (2008),

3 Creative Commons Australia,

4 Debate is currently underway as to whether Australia should adopt the broader fair use exceptions.

5 Australian Copyright Council, ‘Mashups, Memes, Remixes & Copyright (Information sheet G118v04)’, 2014,

6 Australian Copyright Council, ‘Duration of Copyright (Information sheet G023v17)’, 2014,

7 Quoted in Rimmer, Digital Copyright and the Consumer Revolution, p. 137. Higgins found the sample was not significant enough to be considered an infringement; however, it is worth noting that this finding was rejected on appeal.

Table des illustrations

Légende Fig. 14.1 Proof copy of Hunted Down and Other Tales (ISBN: 9780994471925) alongside an original copy of Clarke’s 1871 title Holiday Peak and Other Tales.
Fichier image/jpeg, 383k
Légende Fig. 14.2 The ‘drunk’ text from Hunted Down and Other Tales mirrors the narrative as its characters become increasingly intoxicated.
Fichier image/jpeg, 203k
Légende Fig. 14.3 The authors meet to discuss progress during the 24-Hour Book (left), Bronwen Blaney of On Demand Books presents the first copy of Willow Pattern (ISBN: 9780987251435) from an Espresso Book Machine (right).
Fichier image/jpeg, 170k
Légende Fig. 14.4 Writer Kate Pullinger (left) and participants recording memories (right) at the first Memory Makes Us event in Brisbane, 2013.
Fichier image/jpeg, 197k
Légende Fig. 14.5 Home page of book database (left), and a still from I Will Say This Only Once, a database remix by Pascalle Burton.
Fichier image/jpeg, 100k
Légende Fig. 14.6 Pages from Lost in Track Changes (ISBN: 9780992373733) showing wide margins, ‘track changes’ layout, and remixed story layout.
Fichier image/jpeg, 157k
Légende Fig. 14.7 Sample page from A [[Non]] Guardian Age, by Mez Breeze.
Fichier image/jpeg, 159k
Légende Fig. 14.8 Tweet from @HenrySavery during the 2015 Brisbane Writers Festival.
Fichier image/jpeg, 227k
Légende Fig. 14.9 Progression of ‘advertisements’ through Hunted Down and Other Tales, from original nineteenth-century copy to contemporary buyer recommendations and customer reviews.
Fichier image/jpeg, 174k


A writer and editor whose works include Off the Record: 25 Years of Music Street Press (with Sean Sennett, 2010), Hunted Down and Other Tales (with Marcus Clarke, 2016), and Infinite Blue (with Darren Groth, 2018). With if:book Australia, Simon created a series of award-winning experimental works including the 24-Hour Book, live writing events at writers festivals around the world, and works of literary remix. His reporting on digital publishing has seen him travel the globe to discuss and explore the challenges and opportunities for writers and readers in a digital world. He is currently an editor at The Writing Platform.


Rechercher dans OpenEdition Search

Vous allez être redirigé vers OpenEdition Search