Tuesday, June 1

rip! A Remix Manifesto

A movie create through the support of the NFB  written and created by Brett Gaylor, Rip! A Remix Manifesto is an dissection and questioning of the development of copyright laws over the course of the past 20 years.  Boring you may think.  I have not yet mentioned the rave music, sweaty bodies, questions to the money makers, analysis of choices, clips of the famous, effects on many industries, and the exceptionally cute acting by a young Brazilian girl as the finale.  So much more than a simple documentary.

This is the most interesting or important information that my stream of consciousness tapped into while I watched.  You may have heard and responded to different ideas.  Feel free to share your thoughts with me.

Brett Gaylor and those who want to protect the public domain have created a manifesto:

A 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.

“Whoever wins gets to decide if the ideas will be determined by the public domain or private corporations, in science, industry, medicine, our entire culture.”

Culture Always Builds on the Past

The two sides Gaylor identifies and labels:
Copyright:  People of the past.  They do not see a great library or an information highway, they saw a supermarket and they wanted to get paid.  Ideas are intellectual property locked up until purchase.  They use infinite money, coporate lobbies and lawsuits to protect their property.
Copyleft:  The creative process became more important the product, because comsumers were now creators making the folk art of the future.  They want to share ideas and protect the public domain to ensure the free exchange of ideas and the future of art and culture.

Example Copyright movie quote: "You can't argue your creativity when its based on other people's stuff."

The Music Industry

Gaylor quotes that by 1998 the music industry was a 13 billion US dollar industry, the year that Napster was created.  This is when we all started hearing about the internet and copyright with regards to this new global phenomenon: the internet.

Napster woke up both sides of the Copy people and the copylefts began to push the boundaries of creating new music from recorded artists.  Take in point the first guest feature in the movie, an amazing mash-up master called Girl Talk (Greg Gillis), a young man who is an engineer by day and a DJ researcher through remixed music by night.  Gaylor reinforces his point by playing a game of the development and evolution a song sung in the cotton fields by slaves of the American south, to it being rewritten and repeated by several artists over the few decased, until one modern wealthy artist sued a single person for use of the song.  The viewer is then asked to think about a few questions: If artists build on the work that came before them does this contribute to a healthy public domain or is it stealing music?  Is a public domain essential to creativity?  Is this work of evolutionary process?

Copyright was created so that each work of art and each invention could be built upon by generations that followed.  As ideas spread more quickly throughout the globe, how could a creator profit from his or her efforts? Annae Reginae (Statute of Anne): a copyright law meant to give creators exclusive rights to their work but it was also a balance between the right of authors and that of the public, as the creator's rights expired after 14 years then became part of the public domain.   

2.      The Past Always Tries to Control the Future

Cory Doctorow, a UK science fiction writer, says that the idea that most people do not download illegally or infringe on copyright is like pretending that in the Victorian era most of the population did not masturbate.  Or what I learned while I was in Egypt in February 2010, that most girls are expected to be virgins when they marry, but if they aren’t there is an operation to sew up a broken hymen and it is inexpensive, accessible to all.  Everyone is pretending.  What sense does it make to continue to pretend?

He discussing ‘Fair use’ with Lawrence Lessig, a touring copyright lawyer believes that there should be a balance but that copyright restrictions in the US is out of control.  Briefly ‘fair use’ is being able to use a small portion of someone else’s ideas to create a story or formulate your own argument.  One can still be sued but you have a defence, fair use.  Think about the papers you wrote in college or university, footnoting, dropping authors names within the text, referring to a profession, etc.

Gaylor, to proves that he truly believes in the public domain by creating Opensource Cinema, a place where anyone can take his rip! movie and do something creative with it.  One group of university students even animated it.  

Gaylor's social beliefs are then countered with the actions of corporations as they begin suing individuals who begin reproducing their copyright ideas, even if their copyrights control ideas were not their original creation.  Including Disney suing people like Dan O’Neill over his use of an old version of Mickey Mouse to promote social messages.

3.       Our Future is Becoming Less Free

On Mickey Mouse’s 60th birthday, 1998, American Copyright law changed in order to give this fictitious character a special birthday gift: Disney has control of Mickey Mouse indefinitely, a copyright is now given to the author / creator until death + 70 years, and to corporations 95 years.  This means that if you want to remix any art, music or works from the public domain you have to reach into the past, earlier than 1923.

Movie Question: "Is it more important to protect your own ideas or is it more beneficial to share your ideas?"

The viewer learns about terms such as Culture jamming (check out a Culture Jam film), Digital Rights Management  (DRM or the Urinary Tract Infection Business Model), DNA patents and see here too, Mouse Liberation Front.

Americans even came in my lovely homeland, Canada, to tell our government which laws are not strict enough and how they should be changed.  Less free.  My questions: What do we do when copyright laws from different countries clash on the international law stage?  Should there be the dominant law maker?  Can laws be compromised to balance the authors and the public domain?

4.       To Build Free Societies You Must Limit the Control of the Past

Several countries and their people are trying to create a more balanced space between that which is individually created and owned, and that which can be used in a public space with little harm done.  Research Brazil’s choice with regards to their copyright laws: retaliation against the US attempt to control copyright; medical access to patented HIV medication across Brazil to all its citizens.

More people and ideas the movie shares:  Creative Commons, Gilberto Gil (in Portuguese), Pensando Juntos, DJ Sany Pitbull, and DJ Marlboro.

Quoting from the movie’s narrative: “Brazil is leading us into the digital age.  Here’s a country fighting to overcome a legacy of  violence, corruption and inequality through innovation based on universal access to human knowledge and the freedom to build with it, with a balanced view of intellectual property and its relation to the public domain.  What could humanity accomplish of we all played the game like Brazil?  What diseases could be cured?  What voices might be heard?  What songs could we sing?  Given the chance this could be what the whole world looked like.” 

Movie quote: “The rules of the game are actually up to you...This world is made up of collaborators, we can create and share, change laws, we can act.”

This is remix, this is not piracy.  I love watching movies that leave my brain a little bit smarter.  I now understand one side of the argument as the public sees more and more of the private sector becoming less accessible.  I shall now try to find some information that supports copyright so that I can further develop my own ideas of the balance between personal property and public access.  At the end of this entertaining and intelligent movie, turn the sound up during the credits and shake your bootie while you laugh hysterically!!!

Anyone want to go to a Girl Talk party with me?

Check these out for more interesting thoughts:

Radiohead – check out how they blasted through copyright laws  

Cory Doctorow – best selling UK Science Fiction writer


  1. My friend Doran sent me this link to a TED lecture, which extends the idea of little to no copyright within an industry, the fashion industry.

    Johanna Blakely: Lessons from Fashion's Free Culture

    She asks questions including who owns a look, how can an industry have so many knock-offs, what can we learn from this non-copyrighted industry, what is utilitarian, and she lists other industries where copyright is low. Interesting extension of rip! the movie.

  2. Check out readytoshare.org as well, care of the Norman Lear Centre.