Helene Hegemann

A week ago, the New York Times ran an article about the curious case of Helene Hegemann, a seventeen-year-old author whose first book, Axolotl Roadkill, landed at number five on Der Spiegal’s best-seller list and was a finalist for the Leipzig Book Fair fiction prize, which comes with a $20,000 prize purse.

It’s now been revealed that sections of Axolotl Roadkill were copied from other published sources, most notable a novel, Strobo,” by Airen. But (dramatic twist!), it appears that the judges panel for the Leipzig Book Fair had been informed of the plagiarism charges before Hegemann’s book was selected as a finalist and decided they didn’t matter.

When these accusations surfaced in the press, Hegemann did not duck, but acknowledged that copying had taken place. However, she claimed she didn’t see the problem, after all, she was “mixing” the work of others, not copying it, “putting it in a different context,” and “[t]here’s no such thing as originality anyway, just authenticity.”

Hegemann’s defense leaves a bad taste in my mouth. On the one hand, she claims the shield of remix and appropriative culture, while with the other she waives away the responsibility of the remixer to acknowledge original sources by claiming ignorance of citation practices. For me, this case is troubling but clear cut. Sources must be cited OR MUST BE OTHERWISE OBVIOUS (as in the case of an image of Mickey Mouse or a corporate logo). Especially if you are pulling verbatim text from an identifiable author, you must cite. To not cite is not to remix, but to attempt to pass off another’s work as your own, which *is* intellectual theft. (and for the purposes of this blog, I am talking only about verbatim copying, which is alleged, and substantiated in this case. We can talk about stuff like hyper-referentiality later.)

One of the defenses she offers is that of recontextualization. How could she have been copying when she was placing the material in a new context? However, due to the lack of proper citations, there is no recontextualization actually happening in this case! If the audience cannot recognize what has been borrowed, then they cannot recognize when it has been recontextualized. This argument relies on the recognizability of what is being borrowed, which was not apparent in this case.

And then there is that last quote, “There’s no such thing as originality anyway…”

Hegemann obviously completely misunderstands the arguments made against the cult of complete originality and the canonization of the Inspired Artist. Regardless of the relative quality of her book, she does herself, and the remixing generation she claims to represent, a disservice by denigrating the authors’ she borrowed from, because to not acknowledge them is to cut them out of the creative equation. You have destroyed the social and cultural value of remix if you refuse to involve those creators you have pulled from.

There was a video released a few weeks ago by normative, which examined the art of remix from just this social perspective. The social phenomenon of remix is just as important as the artistic creations it allows to be created. To remove a work of remix from its social web of influences and referents is to deny that it is an act of remix, and instead condemn it to being merely intellectual theft.

The New York Times: Author Says it’s ‘Mixing’
The Independent: Publish and Be Damned

Dennis Loy Johnson: Dern Copyright

Remixing Leftovers

In Bucks County, our fridge was full of two things: condiments and leftovers; a taxonomy of mustards and chutneys and bar-b-que sauces competing for space with stacks of white china bowls wrapped in plastic and filled with this or that congealing something or other. And then there was the freezer, crammed with icebergs that now only vaguely resembled chili or soup anymore

Leftovers are a staple in my house. There’s no time to cook during the week, so weekends I take over the kitchen and make huge quantities of something, most of which will be frozen and remade and remixed over the next fortnight.

This has been a week of odds and ends. The Great Cabbage Roll Assemblage left me with a couple cups of chopped cabbage, carrots, onions and most of a bag of Bulgar wheat. Half a bowl of mashed potatoes sat quietly congealing in the back. A container of chili in the freezer had been glowering at me for a few weeks and needed something done with it.

The art of leftovers is the art of reinvention. Yes, you could just reheat and serve them again (and again and again, like dinner in syndication) but that would be boring and make you bad person. But dinner is no longer dinner once it goes back in the fridge. Now it’s an ingredient.

So the chili ended up the base for a spicy tomato and papaya sauce, served with Israeli-poached eggs over quinoa. Last night in a fit of procrastination, the cabbage, mashed potatoes, Bulgar and vegetable leavings became a colcannon derivative, swimming in milk, butter and sour cream.

(Disclaimer: There are always safety concerns when cooking with leftovers. Cooked food spoils faster than raw, so if you’ve no plans to reuse something immediately, freeze it. Use common sense. Don’t eat anything that’s acquired a fur coat, become discolored, etc, etc, blah, blah, blah. Behave like the reasonable adults I know some of you are.)

By changing a few words and references here and there, what I’ve written here so far could easily be transformed from a minor primer on the awesomeness of leftovers into an essay on remix and appropriation in popular culture. At the heart of it is the idea that there is nothing final about the final presentation of something, be it a meal or a movie. If something has further utility, it should be used, creatively and well.

This applies to recipes as well as an actual fridge full of leftovers. The art of cooking and communities built around it embrace remix and open source philosophies naturally. The comment threads of popular recipe blogs and websites are filled with additions, edits, remixes, versions and suggestions from the audience/user/consumer. The Rombauers have yet to pelt me with DMCA take-downs, though most of the recipes I post are re-visionings of ones that appear in The Joy of Cooking. Cooking’s open-source (for what is a recipe but source code for food), sharing and teaching-based philosophy works to everyone’s advantage. When a recipe or technique gets released into the wild (either online, in a book, or by word of mouth), it not only improves the skills of the people who encounter and use it, but the recipe itself gets better. Those pages of comments, all those different versions of creamed spinach or pumpkin curry make the original recipe more valuable and useful; the most valuable recipes are the ones that get used the most, that have collected the most input from the community.

I have slightly idealized the prevalent cookery culture with regards to IP law. But the focus of the community has and continues to be on attribution when it comes to the use and reuse of existing recipes, not payment and control. Cooking communities encourage derivative and appropriative creativity and knowledge sharing as good creative practice. It’s all just so damn intuitive, isn’t it?

So, to paraphrase a t-shirt I wish I had: Get excited and make things out of other things.

Poached Eggs with Papaya-Chili-Tomato Sauce and Quinoa

Leftover chili/tomato sauce
dried whole chili peppers (not necessary if you’re a spiciness wuss)
dried fruit (I used papaya and raisins, but I’ve used apricots before with equally delicious results
one can diced tomatoes
six large eggs (two per person)

Combine your leftover base in a heavy bottomed pot with the diced tomatoes, chopped fruit, and chili peppers and bring to a healthy simmer. Crack in your eggs, reduce the heat and cover. Stir gently and occasionally to prevent the eggs sticking to the bottom of the pot and burning, but otherwise, ignore until the eggs are set.

When eggs are set, spoon them out with a healthy portion of sauce and serve over quinoa. Discard the chili peppers.

Pseudo Colcannon

chopped cabbage (because this was leftover from making cabbage rolls, what I had was already cooked. You may want to blanche yours.)
mashed potatoes
one small onion, chopped
(this is where the pseudo comes in. Traditional Irish colcannon contains cabbage, potatoes, leeks and cream. But I was more concerned with using up my vegetable stash than with historical verisimilitude. So, for the purists, not real real colcannon. Real pseudo colcannon.)
chopped carrots
frozen peas
Bulgar wheat (I had less mashed potatoes than I originally thought, so I added the Bulgar wheat to give the dish more body. The added vegetables made it unnecessary, though, and I’ll omit it next time.)
whole milk
sour cream
salt, pepper, thyme

Basically, combine all the above in a pot, simmer, stir and serve. Add the sour cream, salt, pepper and thyme last, to taste. Peter insists on eating this topped with cheddar cheese, but then again that’s how he eats damn near everything.

IP Linkdump

Before I get back to work, here’s a collection of IP-related links from the past week.

First, the good news:
White House sides with disability rights in WIPO negotiations. Yippee!

Feeling good? Excellent. Lets crush those warm fuzzies with the rest of the links:
New Zealand reintroduces Three Strikes! It’s still awful!
Capitol Records/EMI filed suit against Vimeo for really delightful “Flagpole Sitta” lip-dub viedo.
North Face filing suit against “The South Butt,” a parody clothing company created and run by an 18 year old college kid.
A Vancouver art gallery has been ordered to remove an “anti-Olympics” mural from its front wall.
And, finally, the owner of a record store in Ottawa plead guilty to violating Canadian copyright law when he sold rare and import recordings not licensed for sale in Canada.


If you’ve been around me for any appreciable length of time in the past few weeks, chances are I started ranting about ACTA at some point, with little noticeable provocation. The phrase, “worst thing in the history of ever” might have crossed my lips.

Well, now you too can have ACTA completely ruin your social viability for the next several weeks! Michael Geist (Canadian academic and IP scholar) has posted a clear, complete, and very pretty ACTA Timeline, complete with links to news articles and leaked documents. It goes all the way back to April of 2004, when ACTA was first proposed at the First Global Congress to Combat Counterfeiting in Brussels.

Get angry.
Make noise.

my immediate future is exciting and cramped

Big day tomorrow. First, TEDxUniPittsburgh. I’ll be presenting a talk on the C/cultural C/commons and thinking about culture with a long term, sustainability view, rather than through a short term ownership or production lens. I won’t call it an anti-copyright stance, though I’m sure someone there will. Look for the video here soon.

Then, Jonathan Coulton live at the Rex Theater. ::cue squeeee!::

Then then, back to work on my long long list of deadlines. It isn’t getting any longer, thank god, but it also doesn’t seem to be getting any shorter.

My bootleg download of “The Fame Monster” has the curses blanked out. (It sounds like GaGa is saying, “I’m a free bint, baby,” which is arguably worse than “free bitch.”) That’ll teach me, I guess.

And, finally, a dispatch from the Land of Duh, via the BBC. It seems that children who use technology are ‘better writers.’

But, frankly, if patronizing articles like this lead to serious pedagogical attention being paid to the benefits digital connectivity has to offer the academy, I’ll bite my tongue and take it.

Brackenridge Lecture

Here is the lecture (slightly edited) I gave earlier in the summer about intellectual property law and participatory culture. I’ve removed most of my media exhibits from this recording, though all can be found online easily and for free.
At break between Part 1 and Part 2 I originally screened a Red vs Blue episode. So it’s not a strictly organic break, but it’s as close to the middle as I could get.
Altogether (with questions) this lecture runs for nearly an hour and a half. Listen while you fold you laundry.

Part 1
Part 2

I’ve also included my slide deck, though it is not strictly necessary to follow the lecture. It is pretty, though.

fact checker’s note: Queen Anne was born in 1665, but ruled from 1702 to 1707.