Friday, April 1, 2011

Hockey Fans and Remix Culture

A remix culture, according to Lawrence Lessig, is one where "people participate in the creation and the re-creation of their culture" (Lessig, 2007). It is one where people can use an existing artifact to create something new and unique. Lessig breaks down culture into two categories: read/write culture and read/only culture. This latter culture is one where "creativity [is] consumed but the consumer is not a creator" (Lessig, 2007). A read/write culture is described as being a symbol of individual freedom and personal expression (Lessig, 2005) while a read/only culture "is top-down...where the vocal chords of the millions have been lost" (Lessig, 2007). With the increase in digitization of original work such as art, music and ideas, the remix culture impacts both the creators as well as the consumers.

Examples of remixed work include music sampling, anime fan art and serviceware mashups (Lankshera & Knobel, 2007). People are able to "mashup" (Fitzgerald & O'Brien, 2006) original content with their own alterations and share it as their own. For instance, street artist Banksy uses structures and buildings from around the world as his canvass to express his thoughts and messages (“Banksy - Outdoors”, n.d.). This could be considered vandalism but the art work has gained acceptance and has even led to a film entry at the Sundance Film Festival (Horn & Lee, 2010).

With the cost of computers reducing and image editing software becoming easier to use, photoshopping has become a popular remixing tool for political statements and individual expression. The act of splicing images from different sources together to create a new message and content on the web reflects the remix culture Lessig (2007) refers to. Because of the freedom remix culture demands, it is fundamentally at odds with older media institutions and practices. As demonstrated by photoshopping, the read/write culture does not conform to established and traditional methods of copyright laws, intellectual property rights and publication methods.


OilersNation, a fan website, recently hosted a photoshop contest that invited readers to submit their edited images inspired by the Edmonton Oilers. Original narratives and themes from movies, television shows and advertising are used with Oiler-related images to create new content. Fans expressed their feelings and thoughts regarding the Oilers season, team managements decisions as well as optimism and support for the clubs future. Based on the comments visitors left on the site, one entry was selected to win a prize.

Photoshopping requires some knowledge and experience with the image editing software as well as the intended audience. Editors had to seamlessly mesh hockey images with familiar, pop culture, items so that an explanation was not required. Contest entrants were sharing their works with a hockey fan community, a niche audience, that had to understand their message easily.

The desire of fans to create new content using copyrighted material such as player images and movie posters is a result of the remix culture that exists today. But as this case study demonstrates, there is a tension between the remix culture that encourages the expression of fans and the read/only practices of traditional media institutions.


Since the images used by fans in the photoshop contest are not owned by them, fans are technically using the images illegally. The photos of the players are owned by the team, private owners or broadcast mediums such as television networks or websites. But since they are available on the Internet, a medium that supports a remix culture, fans are able to copy, save, edit and share the images.

Original images from movies and television shows are valuable to its owners since they took time, resources and capital to create. Yet, franchises such as Star Wars or Bob the Builder do not appear to have received any reimbursement for the images that were used. But in order for fans to express themselves, they need access to these copyrighted images.

The read/only culture that original material owners demand is protected by copyright laws. As Lessig (2007) states, “By default, read/write use violates copyright law. Read/write culture is thus presumptively illegal”. Lessig urges that government legislation must find a balance that allows for creativity but also compensate artists (Lessig & Schlesinger, 2008). In 2001, Creative Commons (Zittrain, 2009) was established to give creators the ability to copyright their material but also allow for certain uses of their work. Their goal is to allow ones “creative, educational, and scientific content [to be] instantly more compatible with the full potential of the internet” (“About - Creative Commons”, n.d.). It remains to be seen if this organization can bridge the ideological differences, regarding copyright issues, between read/write and read/only culture.


When an individual or organization creates content, it is for their own purposes and objectives. For instance, when a movie is set for release to theatres, images from the film are used for movie posters and advertising. Theses images and their intended messages are controlled by the original artists. Investments are made into the original material in the hopes that it will generate revenue for them. Since remix culture allows anyone to use original content to create something new, tension arises between it and the traditional method of content creation and control.

The fans who photoshopped images are using content that was meant for a different purpose. Images of hockey players were not intended to be mashed with a Star Wars poster or to be mocked. Professional sports, being a business, must carefully invest in the creation of original work to generate revenue. Teams are accountable to investors, a board of governors and corporate sponsors. The messages they create must adhere to the goals of their organization, with external stakeholders in mind. When a fan remixes the original content to create a message that does not represent the organization, legal action may be sought for misrepresentation.

Instead of simply consuming the message an organization such as the Edmonton Oilers create, fans are utilizing social media, or web 2.0. applications (O’Reilly, 2005), to create and share their own messages. The barriers to participate and get things done, according to Shirky (2008), have dropped, allowing fans to participate in the creation and control of content. Social media applications such as blogs, Facebook and Twitter provide a voice to fans, making them a source of information; information that traditionally is under the control of the original creators.


The OilersNation photoshop contest demonstrates the evolution of the traditional audience into more of an active community. Instead of being a part of the targeted audience, fans have connected with one another to form a community, which is vital in a remix culture. Without a community to work with and to create content for, there is little motivation for fans to express their thoughts and creativity.

According to Mason (1999), it is the uncertainty of games and player performance that professional sports sells to its audience. Fans in turn buy tickets to events and purchase merchandise. Fans have also demonstrated their desire to not only consume, but to actually do something with the product sold to them by professional sports. Examples include fantasy league pools, where fans select players at the start of the season and collect points to compete with other fans. Phone applications such as Pre Play Sports (“Pre-Play Sports”, n.d.) allow fans to predict events during a live football game and compete with others. Fans have also demonstrated their creative and collaborative abilities by taking the statistics generated by the league and developing their own methods of tracking team and player performance (Staples, 2008). These fans are conducting, what Bruns (2008) describes as, “produsage”, which is the “collaborative and continuous building and extending of existing content in pursuit of further improvement” (p. 15).

The ideologies and characteristics of this participatory culture (Jenkins, 2008) are in stark contrast to those envisioned by creators of original work. The hockey fan community and its remix culture have a different approach to creating content than the read/only audience the Edmonton Oilers may view them as. This leads to tension since the professional sports teams and leagues cannot control how their property is used within this community. It is difficult for them to determine who is using their material and for what purposes. However, In response to the evolution of audiences becoming communities, the Oilers have begun interacting with fans using different social media applications such as Facebook and Twitter. The team can be a part of the fan network, rather than remain as outsiders.


As demonstrated by the OilersNation photoshop contest, a remix culture is fundamentally at odds with traditional media institutions and practices. Copyright issues, message control and the evolution of audiences to active communities demonstrates the ideological differences between remixers and original creators of work. In the future, the way content and its message is controlled over new mediums requires the involvement of the read/write and read/only culture. A balance must be found to protect the work of original creators, but also provide people the freedom and opportunity to become engaged with their culture.


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Horn, J. & Lee, C. (2010, January 24). Sundance 2010: Banksy rocks festival with 'Gift Shop'. LA Times. Retrieved from (2011, March 31).

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Mason, D.S. (1999). What is the sports product and who buys it? The marketing of professional sports leagues. European Journal of Marketing, 33 (3/4). Pp. 402-418.

Fitzgerald, B & O'Brien, D. (2006). Mashups, remixes and copyright law. Internet Law Bulletin 9(2):pp. 17-19. Retrieved from (2011, March 30).

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Pre-Play Sports (n.d.). Retrieved from (2011, March 31).

Rheingold, H. (2002). Smart Mobs: The Next Social Revolution. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Perseus Books.

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Staples, D. (2008, October 14). Frequently Asked Questions About True Plus/Minus [Web log]. Retrieved from (2011, March 31).

Zittrain, J. (2009). How to end the copyright wars. Nature, 457 (7227). Pp. 264-265.


Lessig photo: Wikimedia Commons

Street Art: Banksy

OilersNation photoshop entries: OilersNation

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