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Past work on cooperative communications has indicated substantial improvements in channel reliability through cooperative transmission strategies. To exploit cooperation benefits for multimedia transmission over slow fading channels, we propose to jointly allocate bits among source coding, channel coding and cooperation to minimize the expected distortion of the reconstructed signal at the receiver. Recognizing that, not all source bits are equally important in terms of the end-to-end distortion, we further propose to protect the more important bits through user cooperation. We compare four modes of transmission that differ in their compression and error protection strategies (single layer or multiple layer source coding with unequal error protection, with versus without cooperation). Our study includes an i.i.d. Gaussian source as well as a video source employing an H.263+ codec. We present an information theoretic analysis for the Gaussian source to investigate the effects of the modulation scheme, bandwidth ratio (number of channel uses per source sample), and average link signal-to-noise ratios on the end-to-end distortion of the four modes studied. The information theoretic observations are validated using practical channel coding simulations. Our study for video considers error propagation in decoded video due to temporal prediction and jointly optimizes a source coding parameter that controls error propagation, in addition to bits for source coding, channel coding and cooperation. The results show that cooperation can significantly reduce the expected end-to-end distortion for both types of source and that layered cooperation provides further improvements and extends the benefits to a wider range of channel qualities.