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Digital Rhetoric

In Larry Lessig’s Speech, How Creativity is Being Strangled by the Law, Larry Lessig explains his perspectives on the nature of copyright laws and how they effect modern day creators of digital content. Lessig’s basic argument is that common sense would dictate that digital technologies are different from traditional media and that traditional copyright laws turn creative minds into criminals by not adapting to current artistic trends as expressed on sites such as YouTube.com, where rhetoric has become digitized.

While Lessig’s Speech was not born as digital content (rather, it was a live recorded speech) it was reedited for digital consumption. And in it’s digital form presents information differently than it could have in it’s analogue form.

As a multimodal composition the piece communicates concepts through the use of audio recordings, including speech and music; Visual interactions including live footage, still images, video, and text; as well as a semiotic elements. Most integral to understanding how the digital product differs from the analogue, in communication of its agenda, is the visual output.

The analogue product was originally intended for a live audience and thus would not have transferred efficiently had the digital audience only had access to a video recording of the speech. Camera angles that would have initially been directed toward Lessig during his speech would have provided poor images and sound quality had they been relied upon to provide the visual experience that was, during analogue recording, projected onto a screen for the live audience. Instead the digital product, incorporates direct footage edited into the speech. By doing so the piece focuses the attentions of the audience on a given concept directly circumventing distraction by a potentially shaken camera or other visual interference.

The attentions of the audience are thus captured in order for Lessig to better show a digital audience concepts that can be imbibed on several levels. Specifically there are three instances when this is most important, and these stand out because of they are illustrative of the way in which Larry Lessig uses images, video, and music to strengthen his arguments. The first is when Lessig uses static images while explaining the historical context of ownership and creativity. The second instance is when Lessig utilizes video footage to communicate the concept of mixing content as opposed to copying content. And the third Instance can be found during Lessig’s closing argument were the audio recording of Lessig’s speech is accompanied by dynamic text and visual footage that incorporates Semiotic visualizations as well as traditional film footage.

The first use of direct footage in Lessig’s speech can be characterized as still images incorporated to assist in the visualization of the historical context of modern day copyright law. In this segment Lessig uses images in addition to his speech in order to develop hierarchies of meaning. This is similar to the use of image described by Bateman and Delin only chronological placement takes the place of physical orientation. While Bateman and Delin use an example of images placed on a web page and the orientation of smaller images relative to a larger central image to instruct the page reader of the importance of the images and the information they represent, Lessig’s Layout follows similar to an outline. Primary Images Identified by speech designate, through chronological order, the pertinence of subsequent images to the primary image.

In this segment the primary images are, for point one the image of Sousa followed by subsequent images illustrating further points for Lessig’s argument, such as a map of the U.S. with lights dwindling to illustrate the amount of creative content being used.

Sousa

Sousa

Sousa's hated talking machine.

Sousa's hated talking machine.

The primary Image of the second Argument is a picture of a field used to illustrate the the subject of land law, an early form of ownership law. This picture of land is followed by a portrait of Lord Blackstone (1723-1780) accompanied Blackstone’s definition of the protection of land ownership through trespass law. Lessig juxtaposes video of airplanes next to still images of land, and land related ownerships, to illustrate the decision of the supreme court, concerning transcontinental flight over land, which stated that “doctrine protecting land all the way to the sky have no place in the modern world.” In this use of imagery Lessig shows the archaic nature of land laws compared to the modern world influenced by technological needs.

Land

Land

Lord Blackstone

Planes, a modern concern

Planes, a modern concern

In Lessig’s third opening argument the mention of the internet is accompanied by an illustration of the universe, followed immediately by an image of a radio tower, situated amid old Romanesque buildings. Here we see the primacy given to the internet as an ultimately connected force, compared to the old regime of radio technology. In this way Lessig illustrates his argument that the old regime of radio was constricting to creativity and commerce as until later changes in practice forced a greater degree of freedom.

Internet/Universe

Internet/Universe

The Old Ragime

The Old Ragime

The second part of Lessig’s talk moves into the new “user created content” of the web. the visual elements, used at this point, are video clips of YouTube content. In this segment of his speech Lessig utilizes three pieces that illustrate the use of older, more recognizable, material, and the use of newer, less familiar, material, to illustrate a return to Sousa’s world of “…young people together singing the songs of the day or the old songs.” The three video’s also illustrate the point that such content does not copy previously made media, but, rather, reedits it, thus giving it new meaning

Anime and Muppet Songs

Anime and Muppet Songs

Jesus Survives...

Jesus Survives...

Bush+Blair=Love

Bush+Blair=Love

The third Segment of Lessig’s speech incorporates speech, text, video and Semiotic elements to strengthen his closing argument. The final segment of the speech is first accompanied by images familiar to a working professional age demographic to illustrate the homogenizing effect of pre-internet culture. The next portion of the segment shows an edited video, incorporating an old black and white film with fitting music juxtaposed against computer assisted effect that folds the image over itself. The effect itself changes the meaning of the footage used by illustrating the reeditive nature of the new product. The effect creates a further meaning by the form in which it causes the footage to fold over itself creating imagery that strengthens Lessig’s point of the older traditions of copyright constraining and criminalizing creativity.

Folding Over/Boxing in

Folding Over/Boxing in

3 Comments
  1. cheryl permalink

    Hi Andrew.

    I have a few questions about your analysis. This statement struck me as leading to a potential argument — “Specifically there are three instances when this [Lessig (trying) to better show a digital audience concepts that can be imbibed on several levels] is most important;” — but I couldn’t find an answer to the question of why (and how) those three instances were the most important for Lessig to make his point. Or maybe the question is: Is that really the argument you want to make? (I’m not sure either way, yet.)

    I do appreciate how you started with a bigger picture and then narrowed down to focus on Lessig’s replacement (in the editing process) of images and video instead of him as a talking head, but I was still wondering at the end: why these illustrations in your analysis? why these particular screenshots? (Some aren’t identified and/or are hard to trace back to the original mention in your paragraphs, which made understanding their placement and meaning difficult.)

    Your analysis v1.0 approximates a 5-paragraph theme, which is a good place to start when in unfamiliar territory, but the academic language sometimes gets in your way, it seems. However, I can sense that you are determined to get us there, which I also appreciate. If you were to take this idea further, for your pitch proposal, the main question that I might ask of you is this:

    How do readers understand particular images as corresponding in meaning to particular oral or written phrases in digital media texts?

    That’s a pretty broad question, but I relate it back to your particular analysis through the following questions: What do *these particular images* (or are there better ones from the video you could have chosen?) do to get us as readers of Lessig’s TED piece better understand his argument about creativity? (The remixing part of copyright is clear, but the creativity part is not yet clear in the above argument. So another question might be: What angle of Lessig’s talk do you most want to explore? And how do images/which images will best convey that in collaboration with written text?)

    When thinking about your pitch proposal, imagine a project that your classmates might be interested in also pursuing as well as who your readers of Kairos might be interested in reading about. What “big picture” idea can you offer that the Lessig talk is an example of? Your analysis takes you part-way there, but it needs a shored-up argument.

  2. cheryl permalink

    And, then, also… You mentioned in your reflection post that you were worried about length/depth, which makes sense now that I remember that point. 20 minutes is a loooong piece to analyze, so I see your need to cover it in breadth instead of one part in depth. That’s prolly why I had questions about the argument in relation to the particular screenshots. Makes more sense now…you were trying to connect it all together. Excellent motive! :)

  3. delvana permalink

    Ah…Larry Lessig! It’s funny, but this was one I considered purposing as well. In my application to the English major, I called him the Thomas Paine of our time. In fact, he even calls the issues he discusses in this video a matter of common sense. He is one of the few I have encountered who seem to realistically address the issues of copyright (or copyleft) in the 21st century. I first encountered his philosophies over a summer of exploring digital copyright (I’m a nerd) and was most inspired by Creative Commons. Check out his book, Free Culture. You can access it as a PDF:

    http://www.free-culture.cc/

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