Memory Maker... a remix showcase

We ran the 'Coming Home' Memory Maker campaign to demonstrate what is possible when content providers ‘free up’ selected public cultural content for people to remix with permission; and used the remix editor to deliver the content to users.

The remix editor (developed by Ideum) lets people mix together and recombine video, audio, text, music, and graphic content to create their own 60 second online video that can be saved and shared (by sending a link, or embedding a link to it on another website, just like a YouTube video). We used it to help us crack open the issues around rights and licensing that prevent New Zealanders from being active participants in the creation of digital heritage experiences.

Like our first search showcase, we filled the Memory Maker with content relating to celebrations for the 90th anniversary of Armistice Day on 11 November 2008. We've been delighted to watch as schools and other web users make their own commemorative videos out of New Zealand digital content - not by stealing it, but because they know they are allowed to and we made it easy for them.

Getting content from contributors

Following a difficult search for New Zealand content that we were clearly allowed to remix (few NZ search tools letting us filter by licence, and many confusing or downright scary rights statements), we put a call out to National Digital Forum members and other organisations.

We asked these content providers to help us find content relating to the return of troops from World War I, including the devastating flu epidemic that came after. More importantly, we asked for content that could be released for people to use, adapt, and mix up with other content legally – either because it was out of copyright or in copyright but licensed for remix under Creative Commons.

“No known copyright restrictions”

A lot of content in cultural institutions is out of copyright, which means you cannot license it using Creative Commons. Also, not everyone realises that if you make a simple digital copy (like a photocopy) of an item, such as a picture or sound recording, you are unlikely to create new copyright because the copy lacks originality.

We encouraged content providers to identify content with “no known copyright restrictions” to participate in the Memory Maker campaign, a similar approach to that taken by Flickr: The Commons. You can read about what “no known copyright” means on the Kete Digital New Zealand rights and permissions page, a repository we use to put content licensed (or free) for remix into. You are welcome to borrow from this page to modify your own rights and use pages.

Creative Commons licensing

Where content providers held, or administered, copyright in digital content we encouraged them to license it under one of the New Zealand Creative Commons licences that allows people to share, remix and reuse legally:

Because users of the Memory Maker are able to crop, overprint, blend and merge the content, we stayed away from content licensed under Attribution-Non-commercial-No Derivative Works (BY-NC-ND). Sometimes we also had to modify the content to fit it into the landscape orientation of the Memory Maker and make it useful at a smaller resolution, so decided to play it safe - advice we provided to our content providers as well.

What has been learnt?

Our greatest learning was probably that we, and our content providers, have lots more to learn about digital rights, permissions, and licences. We're proud to have begun to chip away at this barrier to use of New Zealand content, but we've stil got a long way to go. Nonetheless, on the basis of our small foray, we can say that:

  • Creative Commons is not always the right answer, especially in the cultural heritage sector. You can’t licence what you don’t hold copyright in.
  • It can be difficult for content providers to be certain if an item is out of copyright - information is not always forthcoming. We advise ‘if in doubt, leave it out’ for now – but we also have a fast take down policy.
  • Convincing content providers to pre-approve heritage content for change is difficult when you can’t predict how the content might be used. We were glad some were willing to take a leap of faith with us.
  • Content providers often need advice on how to use New Zealand Creative Commons licenses appropriately before being willing to adopt them.

What's next

We were amazed at the generosity of the content providers who tested the waters with us and freed up even just a small amount of content for remix. But having to ask them to tell us what we could and couldn't do with their digital content before we used it in the Memory Maker was not ideal.

Just think how great the web would be if everyone took on the task of enabling users to know when they can (and can't) copy and re-use digital content legally. It's not hard to put this information in your metadata or content once you know how. The hard bit is deciding what licence or rights statement to use.

What do you think? Are you willing to step up to the challenge and start addressing the rights issues that make it difficult for New Zealanders to interact with digital New Zealand content? Perhaps you are doing this already and are willing to share your knowledge and expertise - either here or on a Creative Commons forum? Or maybe you need some advice?

We'd like to run more remix campaigns. Maybe one day we won't have to ask - we could just use the DigitalNZ search and browse by rights!