Brett Gaylor’s 2009 film RiP: A Remix Manifesto is an open source documentary about remix culture and copyright laws in the United States. The film takes a stance on the copyright battle that is just beginning to be told, and provides a wealth of information in defense of its position. Following the explosive career of sample based mash-up musician Gregg Gillis (aka Girl Talk) the film explores, among other things, the contentious relationship between the music industry and advocates of copyfight and remix culture. Another major player in the film is Stanford Law Professor Lawrence Lessig, copyfight advocate, and founding board member of Creative Commons.
Ideally, copyright laws are in place to protect the creative integrity of the artist (musician, filmmaker, scientist, whatever), and to encourage creatives to create. What happens more often than not, is that corporate interests and copyright lobbyists are the ones who stand to gain from copyright laws, in stead of creatives. A central motif of the film is the Remixer’s Manifesto:
1. Culture always builds on the past
2. The past always tries to control the future
3. Our future is becoming less free
4. To build free societies you must limit the control of the past
Offered as a jumping off point to expand upon the inherent problems of American copyright legislation, it also provides a good foundation upon which change can be based. It is the opinion of advocates of free culture that copyright laws are stifling the creativity of generations of artists by not allowing them to, ahem, build on the past. A great example used by Lessig, and expounded upon in the film, is the case of Walt Disney. Disney’s creative vision involved taking stories from the public domain and re-making them for new generations to enjoy. Who isn’t familiar with Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, or the Little Mermaid, to name a few? Following the death of Walt Disney, an interesting thing happened: Disney Corporation stepped up to lead the crusade for the extension of copyright laws. Essentially, this means that Disney has built on the past in the creation of new culture, but is aiming to close off this option for future generations.
As online video becomes the media outlet of the future, the reach of copyright laws has come to affect many more than (so it seems) was the initial intent of the law. Example. You want to share a special moment of your life with the world on a video sharing site. Your special moment caught on film happens to contain content under copyright. Under copyright law, YouTube must remove your video from their site, or face potential major consequences. Until now. You might remember a certain YouTube phenomenon called “JK Wedding Procession”? This viral sensation is a live video of an unconventional wedding procession choreographed to Chris Brown’s song “Forever.”
The rapid fire viral spread of this video made YouTube and Sony Music think twice about pulling it from the site for copyright violation. They realized that they could actually capitalize on the success of the video. Instead of deleting “JK Wedding Procession” (that to date has over 26 million views), YouTube placed a popup link on the video to purchase the Chris Brown song from iTunes or Amazon. And what do you know; there was a notable spike in sales. Maybe we can call this a happy medium? The record label continues to make money, and the creativity of video makers the world over is left to flourish.
One avenue of change is non-profit organization Creative Commons. Creative Commons aims to define the spectrum between all rights reserved and no rights reserved. The organization is in place to provide accessible licensing (legally and financially) for artists, and to increase the amount of creative material available in the public domain for the purpose of building culture, remixing, repurposing, and enabling creativity. RiP features segments of a lecture given by Lawrence Lessig on the history of copyright law, the mission of Creative Commons, and its role as an agent of change. The special features of the documentary include a taping of the full lecture, which I would recommend taking the time to watch. Lessig is an eloquent and persuasive speaker…the watch was eye opening.
Not only does Gaylor make a convincing argument with the content of his film, he is also participating in copyfight/remix culture through release and distribution of the film. Gaylor has offered up the film on a ‘pay what you want’ basis*, following in the controversial footsteps of Radiohead, who implemented the same payment structure with the release of their 2007 album In Rainbows. In addition, the film is licensed under Creative Commons. Gaylor is encouraging You (other artists out there) to remix RiP on Open Source Cinema, a video remixing platform founded by Gaylor, or other video sharing sites like YouTube, Flickr, or MySpace. Both the original release of the film and an upcoming extended version re-release will include segments of re-mixed footage. Girl Talk’s fourth release, Feed the Animals (2008), is also licensed under Creative Commons and is available for download at name your price.
Honestly, I could continue on an on about the movie (and the issue of copyright in general)…but better you just watch RiP: A Remix Manifesto for yourselves. You wont be disappointed. Many believe that the Internet will bring about the end of copyright. It is a hot topic, and couldn’t be more relevant to you, the online creative community. Please share your opinions on the issue. What do you think?
Note: If you want more Lessig, and have been following this blog, you might be interested in reading this article from psfk about a panel discussion featuring Lessig and Shepard Fairey on art, commerce, and corruption.