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Cyborgs in Pop Culture and Reality: What have we already become?

In our society today, there are numerous examples of ever-changing technology and advancements that simultaneously happen alongside it. Technology is something that is becoming extremely prominent in the lives of individuals all over the world. We carry our cell phones, laptops, iPods, iPads, biometric technologies and other technological devices with us whenever and wherever we go. Try to find a young twenty-something without their cellular device on them these days – it would be a rare occasion.

We are glued to our personal technologies. So engrossed that often young folks could be the victim of what I like to call “crane neck” (bending their head down all the time like a crane’s neck in order to concentrate on their technological device on hand). So when does technology become an integrated part of human beings? Examples of this hybrid mix within popular culture and reality are apparent all around us. Two examples include, “Iron Man” in the Avengers movie, as well as a real life example of embedded technologies within individuals. This brings into question the technological condition of being human and the ideas behind morphing these individuals to have an integrated technological aspect of their being.

Iron Man is seen in several of the Marvel movies including Iron Man I and Iron Man II, Iron Man III, as well as The Avengers. Iron Man is not deemed a cyborg because he is not, “a fusion of living tissue and synthetic components. However, I understand how this isn’t deemed a “cyborg,” but Iron Man does have a chest piece that’s embedded in his body. The device is supposed to function in order to save his life, but is also capable of interacting with the armor he wears over his exterior. Within The Avengers movie, he is shown being stripped of all of his armor after he comes back from a trip, and the chest piece still remains in his body. This body-machine/computer-human combination allows him to have technological powers such as super strength, supersonic-flight capabilities and access to energy-based weapons including Stark’s repulsor-ray technology. Furthermore, Stark/ Iron Man is the one who cybernetically controls the The suit and operating system when he wears it. Below is a scene that proves his technologically embedded chest piece to be what helps him control his abilities and direct the Iron Man suit to assist him.

Watch Movie Sequence of Iron Man Suit Up

Iron Man

This creates fear in the citizens even within the movie at times because of the complex power Stark/Iron Man possesses within one being of an individual (even though that individual is a combination of human and technological processes). The idea is that this combination is unique to Iron Man because of the various super-human functions this human-machine combination provides. Within films and in reality, the unknown of this realm of technology instills a type of fear in individuals. Freud’s terminology of “Uncanny” fits this well: “a concept of an instance where something can be both familiar yet alien at the same time, resulting in a feeling of it being uncomfortably strange.” What is seen in movies as super-human and almost virtually impossible to many is actually brewing in many of the minds of scientist and tech individuals alike. This is ‘uncomfortably strange’ for many humans in today’s society.

The ways that “body-machine” and “computer-human” combinations are represented and imagined reach far into the future. An example of a technology coming to light is an embedded technology within the human body that enables the energy from a human to be transferred in order to power the technology. For example, The Energy Starved Electronics Program (partnership of the government and MIT) allows for this human energy to possibly translate into generating the power needed to make embedded technologies work.

Ideas for technologies include contact lenses that function as computer screens (University of Washington research team has already developed a prototype lens fitted with a small radio that can receive data and LED for displaying this data to the wearer). This lens within the eye has been prompted for comparison to the eyes of the cyborg in the Terminator films.

In theory, the device would convert electronic signals into information that would be displayed onto the contact lens and visible to the user or wearer. “If wirelessly connected to, say, a smartphone with voice-recognition software, a hearing-impaired person wearing such lenses might see a speaker’s words translated into captions.”


This is a comparison and the essence of hybrids of machine and organism. In a way we have already all began to become cyborgs. This technology gives us cultural pathways as well as our politics in life. It fuels our capitalism as well as the yearning to advance and simplify our actions. Many of the day to day realizations come from the innovations in technology and the consistent attachments we create to this technology. The cyborg is a condensed image of both imagination and material reality (Haraway).  This technology is progress. We are putting our thoughts and creations into machine that in turn, will twist the world as we know it in terms of cultural configuration: now and in technological advancements to come.

Steven Feiner, professor of computer science at Columbia University, says by 2050 embedded devices will allow us to immerse ourselves in a sea of computer-generated sounds and sensations (when I hear this I think of MIT’s Kismet). “‘However, I think that most people will instead have the system filter what they see,’ he says. ‘While on a walk in the woods, some folks might want to see overlaid species names.” Then again, he adds, “others will just want to turn it all off.'”


Works Cited

Belfiore, Michael. “History, Travel, Arts, Science, People, Places | Smithsonian.” History, Travel, Arts, Science, People, Places | Smithsonian. N.p., Aug. 2010. Web. 15 Apr. 2014. <>.

IMDb., 2008. Web. 15 Apr. 2014. <>.

“Uncanny.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 04 Aug. 2014. Web. 15 Apr. 2014. <>.

Copyright Abolition & Cultural Progression: Emphasis on Political Campaigns

Copyright issues have arisen since our society has continued to become ever more technical upon our approach to law, life, and ownership. “Authorship” and “works” have been slowly but surely redefined in today’s society in many legal and social situations. These terms are becoming more public than ever with the invention of the internet and are allowing access of many works to individuals (especially young generations) across international borders. In turn, this is affecting and changing our culture as we know it, effecting many spectrums of our society including political campaigns.

Larry Lessig describes the change of copyright and says that today, digital technology is the revival of read-write user innovated content, a culture where people produce for the love of what they are doing not the money, and become available to new business endeavors. in the 2008 campaign, McCain decided he wanted to use Jackson Browne’s song, “Running On Empty,” because it complimented the strategy of his political campaign. Browne tried to sue McCain for copyright issues, claiming that he never gave McCain permission of his use.

(More information can be found here: Full Story)

It was a challenge to put art before politics when Browne is a supporter of the far left, opposite of McCain’s views. Browne’s argument was that McCain unlawfully used his music material without permission throughout the campaign. Therefore, because of this, it gave the people of the United States the impression that Browne was supporting McCain in his political endeavors. Browne claimed voice misappropriation. Browne’s lawyer also mentioned that copyright is in the constitution. McCain’s defense mostly represented the fact that his campaign – a marketing effort that includes many creative endeavors (and McCain made sure to emphasize the fact that he doesn’t make all the decisions based upon the marketing and campaign of his presidential aspirations).

So what’s to be done? Young individuals are at fault of using music for this kind of thing all the time without proper citation within music, photography, clips of films, etc. So where does this situate us in today’s society? Lessig mentions that today, legal philosophy can accommodate the state of remix culture; there needs to be a mix of proper commercial rights and allowed use in common culture.

Within every culture today there is the ability to take the work of others and use it to integrate and create something new. There is a growing “copyright abolitionism.” This is because of the Internet and newer innovations: they have given younger generations and thriving professionals like those running the McCain campaign, the means to reach a new potential; to create works and marketing techniques as well as art that is an appropriation and hybridization of previous works. Lessig mentions in a forum presentation, that “We watched TV, they make TV… We listened to music they are making music…” in reference to those avidly using the internet (geared specifically toward young professionals and generations). In order to come to a sensible agreement, we must see the hybrid of past and future laws of copyright.

Many laws will need to be taken into account. A suggestion that could potentially cure some of the lawsuits unraveling at a rapid rate today is the level and definition of success. If an artist mixes say, one of Beyonce’s songs with their own mix, and it becomes “successful” and profitable, then there is potential room for monetary compensation within the realms of copyright to original artists and stakeholders within that particular art. However, the word “success” will need to be carefully defined within each genre of expression (i.e. songs, campaigns, movies, etc.)

In his synopsis, “Digital Technology and Cultural Goods,” by Kieran Healy, he comes to the realization that, “Computer software need not only be used to prevent access to cultural goods. It can also be used to create new goods which cause trouble for existing standards of free speech…In the techno-libertarian vision of the Internet, information wants to be free and, in the long run, no-one can stop it.”

Because of this rapid innovation and unstoppable burst of creativity due to new sociotechnological forms and the Internet, revising these rules of copyright to benefit both the creators and owners of distribution. For example, approval and possible commission for Brown could possibly have put his conscience as ease when it came to McCain’s campaign. His staff picked his song because it worked for McCain’s particular marketing audience and messaging. Because all of this information is becoming more remixed, and universal across international borders (within music, film, art, photography, paintings, marketing, etc.) I think a reform of law is in order to sort out what is truly the “authorship” and “work” of an individual, and under what circumstances. It is beginning to trend into a situational type of law; each case is based upon certain circumstances. A change in culture sometimes requires a change of law as well as a change of attitude. With the innovations in technology, addressing new copyright rules in the imminent future will enable the change within the law that empowers the younger generations and the future of America.

“Barack Obama “Hope” Poster.” Wikipedia. N.p., 2008. Web. 10 Feb. 2014. <>.

Horowitz, Carl. “Jackson Browne Versus John McCain: An Empty Suit.” N.p., 13 Dec. 2008. Web. 10 Feb. 2014. <>.

Kieran Healy, “Digital Technology and Cultural Goods,” Journal of Political Philosophy 10, no. 4 (2002): 478–500.

“Larry Lessig: Laws That Choke Creativity.” YouTube. YouTube, 15 Nov. 2007. Web. 10 Feb. 2014. <>.

Lawrence Lessig, Remix: Making Art and Commerce Thrive in the Hybrid Economy (New York, NY: Penguin Press, 2008).

Plagiarism & Ethical Standards in the Digital Age

Emily Rothkopf

In assessing the state of authorship and creative remix in the digital age, what has become apparent is the lack of a centuries old ethical standard around plagiarism.  Set aside the copyright issues and debate around fair use for a moment – laws will evolve over time and I have no doubt that stakeholders will find new ways to monetize their works.  What I would like to explore is the notion that society has lost a sense of what plagiarism is in this digital age where everything is not only extremely accessible, but extremely transferable.  Perhaps there needs to be a resurgence in education around plagiarism – but with a new spin for the digital age.  Can academia, and thereby society, develop new strategies and processes around citing digital content in remixed works?  And can we educate future generations with an ethical standard around remix, equivalent to that of traditional plagiarism, to ensure these new terms are indoctrinated into society?

Fairey v. The Associated Press

Take Shepard Fairey, an American contemporary artist, who took a published AP photo and appropriated it into the famous Obama “Hope” campaign poster.  After enduring several years of legal turmoil, Fairey ultimately was sentenced to 300 hours of community service and ordered to pay a $25,000 fine – not for infringing on copyright laws, but rather for contempt of court which occurred along the way in a long drawn out legal battle (Wikipedia 2014).  While I agree Fairey’s technique in this instance qualifies as fair use, I wonder if he had, at the least, considered crediting the original photographer.  This case exemplifies today’s cut-and-paste, remix culture and makes me question society’s current value and understanding of plagiarism across all art forms, not just written text.  How simple would it have been for Fairey to somehow cite his source?

Left: Manny Garcia’s 2006 photo for AP. Right: “Hope” by Shepard Fairey; Source:

Plagiarism: A Look Back

If you look at the history of plagiarism you will see that it developed over many centuries into being viewed as one of the worst “non-criminal” acts.  The word plagiarism can be traced back to the 1st century when Roman poet Martial complained that another poet had “kidnapped his verses” (plagiarius translated to kidnapper in Latin).  In the early 1600s the word was introduced into the English language and was applied to anyone guilty of “literary theft” (Wikipedia 2014).  But the idea of original works and recognition was being introduced into all art forms during this time, as exemplified by artists beginning to sign their paintings (McKay 2009).  By the 18th century, the concept of plagiarism had become indoctrinated into society as being immoral; originality was the ideal (Wikipedia 2014).  And from this point forward, being accused of stealing someone else’s words, ideas, works, etc. and passing them off as your own was one of the worst insults imaginable (McKay 2009).

By the late 1800s, we saw the development of a formalized way to cite published sources.  According to Harvard Medical School archives, the origin of the author-date parenthetical reference style is attributed to an 1881 paper by anatomy professor Edward Laurens Mark, which included an author-date citation in parentheses.  This is the first known instance of this style of reference and it is believed that Mark modeled the style on the cataloguing system used by one of Harvard’s libraries (Wikipedia 2014).  What is interesting here is the timeframe from when plagiarism became a notable offense to when the parenthetical citation method started – which is still the popular method of crediting ones sources today.  Hopefully it isn’t another century before we develop an effective citation system for remixed, digital content.

Teaching Ethical Standards

In academia, we are taught that plagiarism is a serious ethical offense – this ethos is ingrained in us from as far back as we can remember being tasked with writing our first paper.  As one advances through the education system, punishments get more severe – ranging from a failing grade to expulsion.  In industries that depend on original writing and public distribution – e.g. journalism – offenses can see even harsher scrutiny and can be career ending.  Regardless of ones field, most individuals would be ashamed to be accused of plagiarism and will take every step necessary to cite or rework an idea.

So what society has agreed on without question is that taking written text from another author and inserting it into your own without a citation, is wrong and shouldn’t be taken lightly.  Why does this harsh ethical standard stop at text?  Why doesn’t this indoctrination wholly transfer over to other art forms?  As the digital age expands and more and more works of all art forms are published online – via the Google Art Project for example, perhaps academia needs to establish a new precedent for citing sources in remixed work, that will then transcend into society as a whole.  And this new precedent needs to match the severity of society’s traditional standards around plagiarism.


Most stakeholders in the fair use debate agree that copyright laws are essential in some form and cultural goods cannot all be available for free (Healy 2002).  What is lacking in the debate is a question of how to uphold basic ethical standards in the digital age.  The offense of plagiarism, a “non-criminal” act, didn’t get so ingrained into our culture overnight.  Nor did the invention and practice of citing published text sources.  Part of the solution lies in our education system’s ability to establish and enforce new norms and procedures for remix the digital age.  And then, in conjunction with effective and efficient laws, perhaps individuals can avoid suffering the legal turmoil Shepard Fairey endured.

Today, Fairey is much more careful about attribution and appropriation: “He has begun a project on American pioneers in art, music, and culture, starting with Rauschenberg associate Jasper Johns — thus saluting some of the figures others have accused him of stealing from.  On his website, he carefully notes the Johns image is by photographer Michael Tighe,” (McDonnell 2010).

Works Cited

Healy, Kieran. “Digital Technology and Cultural Goods.” The Journal of Political Philosophy 10.4 (2002): 478-500. Web. 09 Feb. 2014.

McDonnell, Evelyn, and Henry Jenkins. “Never Mind the Bollocks: Shepard Fairey’s Fight for Appropriation, Fair Use, and Free Cultre (Part Two).” Confessions of an AcaFan. N.p., 15 Jan. 2010. Web. 09 Feb. 2014.

McKay, John J. “Archy: A Very Brief History of Plagiarism.” Archy: A Very Brief History of Plagiarism. N.p., 2 Mar. 2009. Web. 09 Feb. 2014.

“Parenthetical Citation.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 02 Feb. 2014. Web. 09 Feb. 2014.

“Plagiarism.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 28 Jan. 2014. Web. 06 Feb. 2014.

“Shepard Fairey.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 25 Jan. 2014. Web. 07 Feb. 2014.

Photography and Questions of Authorship

Layan Jawdat

The question of redefining “authorship” and “work” in ways that correspond with the realities of collective remix culture is certainly a difficult one. Balancing commercial rights of artists with the status of works as inspiration or objects that can be remixes seems to me to be a delicate process, but one that certainly requires a move away from the idea of authorship that seems to assume that works of art or creative expression are born out of cultural and artistic vacuums.

Photography is a particularly interesting and complicated domain in which we can debate these issues. The Rogers vs Koons, analyzed in the Peter Jaszi essay “On the Author Effect: Contemporary Copyright and Collective Creativity” case is one example that really shows the complexity of photographs as an art form to begin with, and also the issues around using photos as inspiration, or re-interpreting them. It is clear that Koons created a totally different work in his sculpture, but that it was some sort of re-interpretation of Rogers’ photograph. As Scott Bellum explains, paraphrasing Fairey, in “Lawrence Lessig & Shepard Fairey on Art, Commerce and Corruption,” “he saw that message was more potent when it drew upon other known references” and “spoofs only give more value to the original.” This argument points to the importance of recognizing the interplay between different works of art or cultural production–not only does the newer work of art draw upon the power of reference to an older work, but it also calls attention to the older work. I think this was also obvious from the example Nicholas presented in class a couple weeks ago, of Big Pimpin and the Egyptian song from which Timbaland sampled. The song’s popularity certainly brought attention to the Egyptian song “Khosara Khosara” to an audience that otherwise would have probably never heard of it.

Moving back to photography, it is particularly interesting to me to think about the role of the photographer in creating a work of art. While the photographer’s unique perspective and artistic touch often lies in the process of enframing, photographers are typically taking images that already exist (nature, people, things arranged a certain way, for example), snapping a photo, and then claiming it as his/her own. While I’m not arguing that the photographer has a role in this process, it seems absurd to keep photographs protected from inspiring other works of art when they themselves are drawing upon things that already exist (they are not always fully responsible for the contents of the images). Perhaps I am wondering what constitutes  something original or without referent. Jaszi eloquently describes the conundrum we face today legally, especially in an environment dominated by  Internet use, and increasingly “collective creativity”(Jaszi 55): “the idea of Romantic ‘authorship..’ has greater potential to mislead than to guide this new and promising communications technology”(Jaszi 56).


Works Cited

 Ballum, Scott. “Lawrence Lessig & Shepard Fairey on Art, Commerce and Corruption – PSFK.” PSFK. N.p., 07 Feb. 2009. Web. 08 Feb. 2014. <>.

Jaszi, Peter. “On the Author Effect: Contemporary Copyright and Collective Creativity,” in The Construction of Authorship: Textual Appropriation in Law and Literature, ed. Martha Woodmansee and Peter Jaszi (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1994), 29–56.

Copyright Enforcement “Downfall”

da Silva and Garcia (2012) describe an interesting case of copyright enforcement on YouTube, regarding Constantin Films and the “Downfall meme,” where Internet users remixed a scene of the studio’s film Der Untergang with different subtitles, thereby juxtaposing a crucial emotional climax of the film regarding Hitler’s downfall in World War II with silly or mundane circumstances. Thomas and Pan (2010) counted a collection of 2,930 such parody videos on YouTube alone in an informal July 2010 survey with the five most popular totaling over 10 million hits in April of that same year. 

According to, the earliest known parody was uploaded to YouTube in 2006 by user DReaperF4. Subbed in Spanish, the video shows a belligerent Hitler seething over the paucity of new features in the demo version of Microsoft’s Flight Simulator X (KnowYourMeme, 2007). In response to viewers, DReaperF4 later uploaded a version of  “Sim Heil: Der untersim” in English, only to see the original video deleted upon copyright claim by the film studio on December 26, 2009 (YouTomb, 2009).

Originally, director Oliver Hirschbiegel was supportive of the parodies, “The point of the film was to kick these terrible people off the throne that made them demons, making them real and their actions into reality. We think it’s only fair if now it’s taken as part of our history, and used for whatever purposes people like” (Klang and Nolin 2012, p. 173). Constantin thus began a purge of all perceived copyright violators, demanding YouTube remove the parodies, and per Google policy, these actions were taken without debate or reprieve. Gilbert (2013) notes that “Two days after Constantin’s initiative began, at least 68 versions remained on YouTube and others were posted to sister sites” (p. 419). A protest video from user hitlerrantsparodies was uploaded not long after and featured the copyright message sent by Constantin with angry subtitles criticizing the company’s tact. “Six months later, the same user posted on a ‘‘Downfall Parodies Forum’’: ‘‘It seems Constantin Film may now be finally allowing parodies on YouTube, they are now placing ads on some of my parodies instead of blocking them.’’ Constantin, it seems, had given up its witch-hunt” (p. 419).

These videos were actually restored to YouTube not when the witch-hunt ended, but when Constantin understood a choice could be made to monetize these parody efforts: “As far as we can ascertain, most of videos which were made inaccessible in April 2010 have since been restored to YouTube, with added advertising – Constantin Film changed their strategy from blocking to monetising and tracking.” (da Silva and Garcia 2012, p. 90-91). The most popular Downfall video, “Hitler Gets Banned from XBox Live,” was taken down after Constantin Films received a complaint from Microsoft (da Silva & Garcia, 2012, p. 91), demonstrating how complicated copyright complaints can be on YouTube. “By embedding a machine readable licence into their content, Constantin films could make it clear how their content can be used, the terms of attribution, how they are willing to share advertising revenues which accrue from reuse of their content in mashups, and any other terms they wish to attach” (Thomas and Pan, 2010, p. 2). Any video that breaks these rules can be instantly ferreted and removed per an agreement with YouTube and other content aggregators, all while “valid reused content” can be exploited for revenues by the copyright holders, namely Constantin FIlms.

What do the actions of Constantin Films and other studio content creators inform scholars regarding remixes from film? Gregory joins the scholarly chorus warning us “the witch-hunt that should give us pause” (p. 419) as James Boyle, Lawrence Lessig, Kembrew McLeod, among others have shown the danger of “Big Media’s” protective policies dictating ownership and authenticity. Most interestingly considering the Downfall example is that many YouTubers (users active in the YouTube community) held YouTube in contempt for betraying them to Big Media. Posted defiantly on YouTube, “Hitler reacts to the Hitler parodies being removed from YouTube” places heavy criticism on the film studio, on YouTube’s acceptance of the copyright claim, and on the subsequent automatic take-down” (da Silva and Garcia, 2012, 100-1).


While YouTube has a negotiated relationship with copyright holders of video remixes, little attention has been paid to the creators and viewers of these remixes and their consideration of copyright issues. It is unclear how large of a concern these issues are for individual creators and viewers is at all. Until the gap in scholarship is filled, the hurt feelings and angry responses from users like DReaperF4 and hitlerrantsparodies are likely to continue.


da Silva, P.D. & Garcia, J.L. (2012). YouTubers as satirists: Humour and remix in online video. Journal of e-Democracy, 4, 89-114.

Downfall/Hitler reacts. (2013). Know Your Meme. Retrieved from

DReaperF4. (2006). Sim Heil. (English version). YouTomb. Retrieved from

Gilbert, C. J. (12/2013).  Playing With Hitler: and Its Ludic Uptake. Critical studies in media communication. ,  30 (5), p. 407 – 424.

Klang, M., & Nolin, J. (2012). Tolerance is Law: Remixing Homage Parodying Plagiarism. ScriptED9(2).

Plankhead. (2010). Hitler reacts to the Hitler parodies being removed from YouTube. YouTube. Retrieved from

Thomas, E., & Pan, J. Z. (2010). Semantic Advertising Using Linked and Embedded Metadata. Proceedings of Digital Futures ’10, October 11-12, 2010.  Retrieved from

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