“….and what if Madonna was your mum?”

I’ve written that on a few of the reports handed in by my pupils in the last week or so. A little unusual I know, but the remark has come in the context of a module of work that I have been doing with my fourth year groups (aged 15-16) that has had the title of Remix in Art and Culture. Part of the module has involved taking a look at the world of copyright protection and how it works, and doesn’t work in the cultural world. Pupils have visited an exhibition by the Dutch artist Gijs Frieling whose work there involves a painted remix installation that touches on any number of his artistic and cultural references and favourites.


We have also watched the excellent and entertaining film RIP A Remix Manifesto, made by Brett Gaylor to give a broader picture of remix in culture and the way in which copyright is tangled up in it.

The pupils themselves have produced their own music remixes and examples of mash-up graphic design work to help them see and understand the role of creativity even when the artist seems to be ‘borrowing’ work from others.

It’s been a successful project and the pupils have certainly enjoyed it, especialy the practical activities. So what prompted the Madonna comment. Well, as with many such projects, the final part is a little reflection, and one of the questions I put to the class is as follows; if we are going to protect artists’ creative work with some sort of copyright law, how long should this be for? They have see in Gaylor’s film that in many countries protection runs for the life of the artist plus seventy years.

Some pupils are quite clear and outspoken, they think that the whole copyright law is completely unsustainable in our digital world and should be scrapped, or at least radically rewritten. Others though are more unsure and are clearly perplexed by the seventy year rule. Why on earth should someone have copyright protection after they have died? “They can’t benefit from it then can they?” they write.   I suspect that ‘if Madonna was your mum…..’ you might actually be able to work out why copyright protection extends in this way, and you might also be very in favour of it! Otherwise you, and, in this case your mother’s estate is going to be missing a lot of royalties.

Part of the aim of this cultural reflection subject that I teach is to develop the pupils cultural opinions. Teenagers are in general pretty good at opinions, however for my purposes, opinions do of course have to be thought through and explained. This second step of thinking through the consequences of an opinion can be surprisingly difficult and worth a post some other time.

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