Vimeo seems to have a split personality when it comes to remixers. On the one hand, Vimeo’s community guidelines tell us that remixes are forbidden. The rules state that “you must own or hold all necessary rights (copyrights, etc.) to the videos” that you upload, and that “public domain videos are also prohibited.” This rule would be a problem for the bulk of remixers, who typically don’t own the copyright to the footage they use. And in case there was any doubt, Vimeo explicitly names “fan vids” in their list of banned content — right up there with hate speech and sexually explicit material.
On the other hand, Vimeo has a “remix” category in their annual awards, and they’ve included remixers Wreck and Salvage on their payroll. They’ve even encouraged users to “Recycle, Remix and Re-use” with a feature that lets people assign Creative Commons licenses to their uploads.
This two-faced attitude to remixing is not exclusive to Vimeo, although theirs might be the most explicit case. It reflects a larger “have your cake and eat it too” approach that can be found on many corporate video sharing websites. It allows video sharing sites to benefit from the increased traffic, participation, paid subscriptions, and ad revenues that can be generated by remixers, while preserving the right to arbitrarily kick remix videos off the site (as Vimeo did to this remixer, and this one, and this one). It’s a way to keep promising an extensive degree of control to possible corporate partners whose content is being remixed, while still tolerating enough “user generated content” to keep people visiting the site. This experience will be familiar to Youtube users who encounter arbitrary automated takedowns with scarce support from Youtube for defending their rights.
Last November, the OTW and EFF won a substantial victory for remixers by successfully petitioning the U.S. Library of Congress to grant a “noncommercial remix” exemption for the DMCA’s anti-circumvention provisions. But there’s a risk that these kinds of victories could be undermined as major content companies collude to an increasing extent with the companies who run video sharing platforms. The future of remix could remain an eternal “grey area,” where remix is tolerated but not allowed, where remixers have to worry about vaguely defined legal “risks” to posting their work, and where remix functions as a sort of second-class cultural form – just another kind of unpaid digital labor that functions to draw eyeballs to the advertisements.
The kind of offhand, contradictory treatment of remixers that we see today on sites like Vimeo should remind us that any support that these for-profit companies show for remix is incidental. Until a non-profit alternative shows up, we will have to continuously pressure the Vimeos and Youtubes of the internet to cut out the opportunistic games they play with remixers and other video producers. Removing the “fan vids” ban from Vimeo’s guidelines would be a good start.