Remixing or Plagiarism?

The New York Times reports on a case about plagiarism in literature. In her novel Axolotl Roadkill, German author Helene Hegemann has taken large portions of her text from a previously, lesser known novel, Strobo. In an interview with German publication, The Local, Hegemann claims that her work challenges our previous ideas regarding originality and that it is about the “displacement of this whole copyright excess through the laws on copying and transforming.” Hegemann also states that:

I myself don’t feel it is stealing, because I put all the material into a completely different and unique context and from the outset consistently promoted the fact that none of that is actually by me.

I’m not certain of the veracity of that claim given that she also claims that she did not understand the protocol for appropriate attribution of sources. Not having read the novel, I don’t know if this was somewhere within the text or not. Unless of course she was referring to this line by one of her characters: “Berlin is here to mix everything with everything.” Ironically this claim is also taken verbatim, and without attribution, from the blog written by Strobo‘s author, Arien.

While I am a proponent of remixing and sampling in the context of multimedia, I also believe in using appropriate attribution in those contexts. In addition, the remixing of a single work or sampling from a variety of works to create something new (like a mashup) should serve a specific rhetorical purpose and be presenting in a context that is not identical to the original work. In my own practice and in my teaching, I follow the standards for fair use as defined by The Center for Social Media at American University in their publication Documentary Filmmakers Statement of Best Practices in Fair Use. Their video Remix Culture is a great representation and follows their Code of Best Practices for Fair Use in Online Video.

Check out the  Remix Culture video here: