The New Work of Composing

mothers and daughters of digital invention

        history stanley digital creation digital dangers conclusions bibliography introduction
sidebar image  


Toward a Progressive, Digital, Feminist Agenda

At the same time that control and ownership over women’s bodies, voices, and representations must be addressed, we can’t—nor should we—commit all of our energy to critiques and warnings. To enact a progressive feminist agenda in digital spaces, especially where intellectual property issues are concerned, it’s crucial that scholars and researchers also adopt an approach where attention is paid to fissures in the digital intellectual property regime, and how women multimedia authors are exploiting those fissures.

The Flickr and Facebook examples presented previously are revealing of the potentially chilly climate of digital spaces. In the following page, I want to turn now to two examples of women laying claim over digital materials and fighting back against the larger copyright regime.

Women Resisting the Intellectual Property Regime

YouTube has been under significant IP pressure since it launched in 2005, and that pressure has continued to grow because users are deploying in their videos copyright-protected work without release or permission. In the recent past, YouTube would forcibly remove video content that received DMCA interventions through YouTube. In more recent situations, YouTube has removed the audio from the videos. Although we might celebrate YouTube’s negotiations on behalf of the creators, clearly, for multimodal composers, the removal of a carefully scripted, timed, and included audio piece can erode the purpose and goals of a piece.

An example of YouTube hijacking that gained a great deal of attention was the case of Stephanie Lenz. In early 2007, Lenz posted to her YouTube channel a 29-second recording of her two children playing in the kitchen. In the short video, her daughter pushes a stroller around the linoleum floor, squealing with glee, while her son, propped up behind a wheeled toy cart, bounces up and down to the Prince song "Let's Go Crazy.” The song is almost unrecognizable under the giggling of the children and the noise they’re making. The video is poorly done—it’s clearly handheld, choppy, blurry, and low-quality—none of which, of course, negates the vibrancy of this scene of family life and childhood play.

In June 2007, YouTube informed Lenz that it had taken control of and removed her video from its website after Universal Music Publishing Group claimed that the recording infringed a copyright controlled by the music company. That is, Lenz did not have permission to reproduce and distribute the Prince song. The Electronic Frontier Foundation stepped in, and filed a counter-suit. An EFF lawyer noted that copyright abuse—that is, excessive copyright patrolling and policing on the part of companies—“can shut down online artists, political analysts, or—as in this case—ordinary families who simply want to share snippets of their day-to-day lives” ("Lenz v. Universal," n.d., n.p.).

In one interview related to the case, Lenz said "the idea that putting a little video of your kid up on YouTube can mean you have to go to court, and maybe declare bankruptcy and lose your house, is just wrong … I don't like being made to feel afraid, and I don't like being bullied" (qtd. in Rampell, 2007, n.p.). Lenz is one of the rare women (aside from lawyers and scholars) I’ve found who is entering into the public discourse about owned content and fighting back against copyright regimes.

A second example is law professor Wendy Seltzer, who conducted research for a class she was teaching by posting (as her very first YouTube video) the copyright warning from the SuperBowl 2007 broadcast. She hoped to have an example of how far copyright claimants exaggerate their rights, and she struck a goldmine. Five days after she posted the NFL’s own copyright notice, the NFL sent YouTube a DMCA takedown notice, which YouTube forwarded onto Seltzer, noting that her account might be suspended temporarily or permanently, or that YouTube itself might remove the video if she did not comply in removing it.

Seltzer responded with a counter-notice, to which an NFL spokesperson responded: “The fact that we got a copy of the counter-notice asserting the professor’s fair use argument does not make it illegal for us to send another notice” (Yen, 2007, n.p.). This is a compelling example of the chilling effects of the overprotection of copyrighted work and an example of a fantastic teaching moment.

Seltzer is the founder of the Chilling Effects Clearinghouse—which, along with the Berkman Center for Internet & Society and the Electronic Frontier Foundation—is one of the most helpful IP resource sites online. The site offers information for individuals who have received cease and desist letters, and champions the public domain existence and fair use of digital content.

A matter of interest is that it is possible on YouTube to view the National Football League ID from a range of channels, some of which include the copyright claim, but all include the default voiceover "[CHANNEL] welcomes you to the following presentation of the National Football League."





(Admittedly, there are many reasons why this might be the case. For instance, these clips may be from non-Super Bowl broadcasts, and thus not as tightly or highly protected. Also, these channels and the NFL itself may not pursue copyright claim over these clips because they are, essentially, advertisements for the channels and for the NFL.)

Composing Ourselves into Digital Spaces

Admittedly, these examples—that of Lenz and Seltzer—are not explicitly feminist examples. The argument can obviously be made that men face the same sorts of copyright constraints in digital spaces. These are, however, examples that I think require the attention of feminist scholars interested in intellectual property issues, and, more broadly, the ways in which women are composing themselves in digital spaces. It’s important that we call attention to the perils and dangers of digital space and the potential chilling effects of representation and distribution online. It is equally important that we pay attention to and deeply interrogate the ways in which women are creating, composing, sharing, and—especially for the purposes of this webtext—arguing back against copyright regimes.


index | introduction | history | stanley | digital(creation) |
| ip resistance | conclusions | bibliography


dànielle nicole devoss |



Dànielle Nicole DeVoss
Michigan State University