Friday, April 6, 2012

Assignment 3 - Remix or Plagiarim?

In 2010, seventeen year old Helene Hegemann captured the hearts and minds of her fellow Germans with her debut novel, Axolotl Roadkill. Hegemann already showed promise at an early age: She debuted her first play, Ariel 15, in Berlin in 2007, and the screenplay she wrote at the age of fourteen was produced, filmed, and shown in European theatres in 2008 (Wikipedia, n.d.). So the fact that her debut novel was nominated and chosen as a finalist for the $20,000 prize at the Leipzig book fair may not come as a great surprise.

What did surprise and shock Hegemann's growing fan base was the allegations of plagiarism that surfaced within weeks of her novel's release. A blogger uncovered numerous passages in Axolotl Roadkill that were almost directly lifted from an earlier obscure novel called Strobo (Kulish, 2010), as well as pieces lifted from the blog of Strobo's author Airen.

Unrepentant, Hegemann defended her book in interview with the Berliner Morgenpost, insisting that the material was not stolen, but was simply not properly acknowledged (The Local, 2010).  In another interview, Hegemann noted  that her generation is used to using and adapting any information they find on the internet for their own creative expression (Paterson, 2010).  As Hegemann said, "There is no such thing as originality anyway, there is just authenticity." (Paterson, 2010)

This case highlighted the deep rift between remix culture and the practices of the older media institutions in their divergent assumptions on intellectual ownership and copyright laws. I used this as a case study to examine the statement "Remix culture is fundamentally at odds with older media institutions and practices" through a series of images hosted on the Prezi platform. Though the assignment requested uploads to Flickr, I found Prezi allowed me more versatility in presenting my thoughts, while adhering to the image requirement.  The file is public and open to copying, and can be viewed here.


Kulish, N. (February 11, 2010). Author, 17, says it's 'mixing', not plagiarism. The New York Times. Retrieved from

Paterson, T. (February 19, 2010). Publish and be damned: Young writer's ego dramatically punctured. The Independent. Retrieved from

The Local (February 9, 2010). Young literary star Hegemann counters plagiarism claim. The Local. Retrieved from

Wikipedia (n.d.). Helene Hegemann. Retrieved from


  1. Theresa, thank you for this thoughtful look at remix, plagiarism, and copyright. In a weird convergence of seemingly unrelated themes, earlier today I read an article about chemical and agri-product giant Monsanto and its aggressive protection of seed patents - which prohibit the ancient farming practice of cleaning and saving seeds for re-use the following season. Small farmers are prosecuted by Monsanto when they re-use Monsanto seed, even unknowingly (such as when seed blows into their fields from neighbouring farms).

    I find an odd parallel between Monsanto's patents and copyright law. It wasn't until late in the 20th C. that organisms such as seeds could be patented, just as it wasn't until the 18th C. that story and song could be copyrighted. In both cases, legal restrictions were developed around ancient practices.

    While Monsanto altered the genetic compounds in seeds so that it could resist its Roundup product, it was building on genetic material that farmers had been cultivating for hundreds or thousands of years. Should that have given Monsanto the right to patent a life form, and to prevent reseeding? While Disney altered Grimm and Andersen tales to create many of its films, it was building on centuries of storytelling. Should it have been able to copyright those films, and prevent others from remixing them?

    Looked at in the span of human history, this kind of intellectual property protection is very recent. The danger ahead of us is that copyright and patent laws may reflect the interests of corporations such as Disney and Monsanto rather than recognizing the fundamental human practices of music, storytelling, and farming.

  2. P.S. - For anyone interested in this tangent, Vanity Fair's article on Monsanto:

  3. I enjoyed the prezi as well, You're right - it's capacity to move through images using text and image brought your ideas together well.


  4. Great presentation Theresa and thanks for the opportunity to copy and share. I'd like to share these perspectives with faculty who teach in the school of media at my college where we are teaching the students who engage in this remix culture.

  5. I really enjoyed your prezi presentation Theresa. As you stated remixing isn't new it has been around for a very long time, "old behaviors amplified by new technology". (Wang, 2012) Copyright and Creative Commons are fairly new concepts that have guided 'ownership' and usage of documents and products, whatever they may be. I find the generational views on plagiarism interesting there seems to be a real divide between Baby Boomers, Gen X and the Millennial generation.

    Helene Hegemann’s view on remixing and plagiarism really drove that concept home for me. On one hand I understand the idea of remixing and borrowing others’ ideas (we do it in painting all the time) but then I also understand the idea of borrowing becoming ‘stealing’ if not properly cited. For myself the medium really affects my ‘is this okay meter’ i.e. the remixed Star Wars clips you used were awesome but chunks of someone else’s text in a book really makes me uncomfortable. I guess that’s part of the argument where is the line drawn. Thanks again.

    Wang, T. (2012). Assignment 3 - Remix Culture [Prezi presentation]. Retreived from