The concept of appropriation is central to the production of video essays, and to the history of art (most notably twentieth century art) in general. The term refers to the artistic practice of using (or re-using) pre-existing images, objects, artworks or parts thereof. Those original elements are not altered in any significant way, but are put in a new context in order to create a new work. Marcel Duchamp’s readymades may well be the most cited examples of artistic appropriation.
Obviously, video essayists are fervent fans of appropriation. The very essence of their audiovisual practice consists of repurposing existing moving images to suit their didactic or poetic purposes. But this is also the cause of the occasional run-in that video essay producers have with copyright laws – see Fair Use.
Filmmaker and lecturer Richard Misek has authored an insightful article on appropriation, titled Trespassing Hollywood: Property, Space, and the “Appropriation Film”. It was published in the October magazine and can be freely accessed online.