Remix culture, sometimes read-write culture, is a society that allows and encourages derivative works by combining or editing existing materials to produce a new creative work or product. A remix culture would be, by default, permissive of efforts to improve upon, change, integrate, or otherwise remix the work of copyright holders. While a common practice of artists of all domains throughout human history, the growth of exclusive copyright restrictions in the last several decades limits this practice more and more by the legal chilling effect. As reaction Harvard law professor Lawrence Lessig, who considers remixing a desirable concept for human creativity, works since the early 2000s on a transfer of the remixing concept into the digital age. Lessig founded the Creative Commons in 2001 which released Licenses as tools to enable remix culture again, as remixing is legally prevented by the default exclusivecopyright regime applied currently on intellectual property. The remix culture for cultural works is related to and inspired by the earlier Free and open source software for software movement, which encourages the reuse and remixing of software works.
Lawrence Lessig described the Remix culture in his 2008 book Remix in comparison to the default media culture of the 20th century under usage of computer technology terminology as Read/Write culture (RW) vs. Read Only culture (RO).
In the usual Read Only media culture, the culture is consumed more or less passively. The information or product is provided by a 'professional' source, the content industry, that possesses an authority on that particular product/information. There is a one-way flow only of creative content and ideas due to a clear role separation between content producer and content consumer. The emergence of Analog mass production and duplication technologies (pre-Digital revolution and internet like radio broad-casting) inherently enabled the RO culture's business model of production and distribution and limited the role of the consumer to consumption of media.
Digital technology does not have the 'natural' constraints of the analog that preceded it. RO culture had to be recoded in order to compete with the "free" distribution made possible by the Internet. This is primarily done in the form of Digital Rights Management (DRM), which imposes largely arbitrary restrictions on usage. Regardless, DRM has proven largely ineffective in enforcing the constraints of analog media.
As opposed to RO culture, Read/Write culture has a reciprocal relationship between the producer and the consumer. Taking works, such as songs, and appropriating them in private circles is exemplary of RW culture, which was considered to be the 'popular' culture before the advent of reproduction technologies. The technologies and copyright laws that soon followed, however, changed the dynamics of popular culture. As it became professionalized, people were taught to defer production to the professionals.
Digital technologies provide the tools for reviving RW culture and democratizing production, sometimes referred to as Web 2.0. Blogs explain the three layers of this democratization. Blogs have redefined our relationship to the content industry as they allowed access to non-professional, user-generated content. The 'comments' feature that soon followed provided a space for readers to have a dialogue with the amateur contributors. 'Tagging' of the blogs by users based on the content provided the necessary layer for users to filter the sea of content according to their interest. The third layer added bots that analyzed the relationship between various websites by counting the clicks between them and, thus, organizing a database of preferences. The three layers working together established an ecosystem of reputation that served to guide users through the blogosphere. While there is no doubt many amateur online publications cannot compete with the validity of professional sources, the democratization of digital RW culture and the ecosystem of reputation provides a space for many talented voices to be heard that was not available in the pre-digital RO model.
Intertwining of media cultures
For remix culture to survive, it must be shared and created, or "remixed" by contributors. This is where Participatory culture comes into play, because consumers start participating by becoming contributors, especially the many teens growing up with these media cultures. A book was published in 2013 by Henry Jenkins called "Reading in a Participatory Culture" which focuses on his technique of remixing the original story Moby Dick to make it a new and fresh experience for students. This form of teaching enforces the correlation between participatory and remix culture while highlighting its importance in evolving literature. Since media culture consumers start to look at art and content as something that can be repurposed or recreated therefore making them the producer.
Effects on artists
Remix culture has created an environment that is nearly impossible for artists to have or own "original work". Media and the internet have made art so public that it leaves the work up for other interpretation and, in return, remixing. A major example of this in the 21st century is the idea of memes. Once one is put into cyberspace it is automatically assumed that someone else can come along and remix the picture. For example, the 1974 self-portrait created by artist Rene Magritte, "Le Fils De L'Homme", was remixed and recreated by street artist Ron English in his piece "Stereo Magritte".
Domains of remixing
Folklore and vocal traditions
- Folklore existed long before any copyright law. All folk tales, folk songs, folk art, folk poetry, etc. was revised constantly through the folk process. According to Ramsay Wood, the oldest known example of remix culture is the Panchatantra, an ancient Indian collection of interrelated animal fables in verse and prose, arranged within a frame story. The original Sanskrit work is believed to be composed around the 3rd century BCE, based on older oral traditions, including "animal fables that are as old as we are able to imagine". The Panchatantra was reinterpreted in the following 2300 years at least 200 times in 50 different languages all around the world.
- Cooking recipes might be among the oldest knowledge of the mankind which was inherited further and shared unrestricted for adaption and improvement. A recent example is the Free Beer project of Superflex which has recipe and label artwork under a creative commons license, actively encouraging free adaption and reuse.
- Parodies are a form of satire that adapt another work of art in order to ridicule it. Parodies date back at least to ancient Greek times. Parody exists in all art media, including literature, music and cinema.
Graphics and images
- Graffiti is an example of read/write culture where the participants interact with their surroundings and environment. In much the same way that advertisements decorate walls, graffiti allows the public to choose the images to have displayed on their buildings. By using spray paint, or other mediums, the artists essentially remix and change the wall or other surface to display their twist or critique. As example, Banksy is a notable contemporary English graffiti artist.
Books and other information
- Wikipedia is an example of a written remix, where the public is encouraged to add their knowledge in an encyclopedia. The wiki-based website essentially allows a user to remix the information presented. Amazon.com called Wikipedia "the world's most exhaustive and up-to-date encyclopedia" because it is edited and produced by such a large pool of people.
- Scanlations are fan-madetranslations of comics from a language into another language.
- Book mashups, combining multiple books, received attention in 2009 with Seth Grahame-Smith's Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.
- The OpenStreetMap project creates a free editable map of the world, with over two million registered users who collect data using manual surveys, GPS devices, aerial photography, and other free sources.
- The Wikimedia Commons is digital data repository open for free content contribution from the public. The content, mostly images and sound files, is licensed under Creative Commons licenses enabling free reuse and remixing by anyone. Another examples are the collaborative image hosting sites Flickr and Deviantart who offer Creative commons license options.
Software and other digital goods
Software as digital good is well suited for adaption and remixing.
- Pre-internet Public domain software of the 1960s and 1970s was software which was shared, edited and improved constantly as type-in programs. The Free and open source software movement can be seen as a kind of successor to those programs.
- In the Free and open source software culture, established in the 1990s as opposition to the "Read-only" proprietary software, sharing, forking and reusing are natural parts of the development model. For instance, the Linuxoperating system, with its commercial offspring Android and ChromeOS, is a highly successful result of a software "remix culture".
- The arrival of Internet facing software repositories helped the remix software development model enormously in the 2000s. GitHub helped since 2008 further the collaborative software development in remix style, especially web development.
- Fangames are video gamesmade by fans based on one or more established video games, often acting as a sequel when no official sequel exists.Dōjin soft is the Japanese-specific variant, and homebrew typically for proprietary hardware consoles.
- OverClocked ReMix is a community dedicated to preserving and paying tribute to video game music through non-commercial re-arranging and re-interpreting the songs.
- Video game modding is the creative adaption of a released video game. In the 2000s the video game industry noticed the potential and supports often mod makers actively with modding kits. Special cases are fan patches, server emulators and Fan translation of video games who made by fans to alleviate bugs or shortcomings.
- Machinimas are fan-made videos "remixed" from and with video games, going far beyond the original scope and intend.
- Retrocomputing and computer and digital preservation activities as emulation and reverse engineering were described as aspects of the remixing culture.
- Household 3D printing heavily relies on remixing as this allows users to repurpose existing designs. Several academic studies have highlighted the importance of remixing for the 3D printing community.Thingiverse is a 3D printing community that allows its users to create, share, and access a broad range of printable digital models. The possibility to remix existing models is the core of this platform. In 2016 Microsoft started Remix3D.com, a community that is also dedicated to 3D printing models.
- DJing is the act of live rearranging and remixing of pre-recorded music material to new compositions. From this music, the term remix spread to other domains.
- Sampling in music making is an example of reuse and remix to produce a new work. Sampling is widely popular within hip-hop culture. Grandmaster Flash and Afrika Bambaataa were some of the earliest hip-hop artists to employ the practice of sampling. This practice can also be traced to artists such as Led Zeppelin, who interpolated substantial portions of music by many acts including Willie Dixon, Howlin' Wolf, Jake Holmes, and Spirit. By taking a small clip of an existing song, changing different parameters such as pitch, and incorporating it into a new piece, the artist can make it their own.
- Music mashups are blends of existing music tracks. The 2004 album dj BC presents The Beastles received acclaim and was featured in Newsweek and Rolling Stone. A second album named Let It Beast with cover art by cartoonist Josh Neufeld was produced in 2006.
- Arrangements involve taking an already existing melody and reconceptualizing them into a new song. In dance and popular music, remixes can be considered arrangements. Some popular albums are dedicated exclusively to remixes, with notable examples being Michael Jackson's Blood on the Dance Floor: HIStory in the Mix and Linkin Park's Reanimation.
In film, remixing is often done and happens in many forms.
- Most new movies are adaptations of comics, graphic novels, books, or other forms of media. The majority of other Hollywood cinema works are typically genre films that follow strict generic plots. These forms of movies hardly appear original and creative, but rather rely on adapting material from previous works or genre formulas, which is a form of remix. A prime example is the film Kill Bill which takes many techniques and scene templates from other films (predating all this were The Magnificent Seven, an official remake of The Seven Samurai, and Sergio Leone's A Fistful Of Dollars).
- Video mashups combine multiple pre-existing video sources with no discernible relation with each other into a unified video. Examples of mashup videos include movie trailerremixes, vids, YouTube Poop, and supercuts.
- Vidding is the fan labor practice in media fandom of creating music videos from the footage of one or more visual media sources, thereby exploring the source itself in a new way. The specialized form for animation shows is called Anime music videos, also made by fans.
- VJing, similar to DJing, is the real-time manipulation of imagery through technological mediation and for an audience, in synchronization to music.
- Fandubs and Fansubs are reworks of fans on released film material.
- Walt Disney works are important company remixing examples, for instance Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, Frozen. These remixes are based on earlier public domain works (although Disney films altered from their original sources). Lawrence Lessig called therefore Walt Disney a "remixer extraordinaire" and praised him as ideal of the remix culture in 2010. Some journalists report that Disney tolerates fan remixes (Fan art) more than in earlier times.
GIFs are another example of remix culture. They are illustrations and small clips from films used for personal expressions in online conversations. GIFs are commonly taken from an online video form such as film, T.V. or YouTube videos. Each clip usually lasts for about 3 seconds and is "looped, extended and repeated." GIFs take a mass media sample and reimagines, or remixes, its meaning from the original context to use it as a form of personal expression in a different context. They are used throughout various media platforms but are most popular in Tumblr where they are used to articulate a punch line.
Remixing in religion
Throughout history remix culture has been truthful not only in exchange of oral stories but also through the bible.Eugene H. Peterson reinterpreted bible stories in his 2002 book "The Message// Remix" which makes the bible more simple for readers to interpret. An idea of remixing dated back to the Quakers who would interpret the scripture and create a biblical narrative by using their own voices, which went against the "read-only" practice that was more common.
Remixing was always a part of the human culture. US media scholar Professor Henry Jenkins argued that “the story of American arts in the 19th century might be told in terms of the mixing, matching and merging of folk traditions taken from various indigenous and immigrant populations.” Another historical example of remixing is Cento, a literary genre popular in Medieval Europe consisting mainly of verses or extracts directly borrowed from the works of other authors and arranged in a new form or order.
The balance between creation and consumption shifted with the technological progress on media recording and reproduction. Notable events are the invention of book printing press and the analog Sound recording and reproduction leading to severe cultural and legal changes.
In the beginning of the 20th century, on the dawn of the analog Sound recording and reproduction revolution, John Philip Sousa, an American composer and conductor of the late Romantic era, warned in 1906 in a congressional hearing on a negative change of the musical culture by the now available "canned music".
"These talking machines are going to ruin the artistic development of music in this country. When I was a boy...in front of every house in the summer evenings, you would find young people together singing the songs of the day or old songs. Today you hear these infernal machines going night and day. We will not have a vocal cord left. The vocal cord will be eliminated by a process of evolution, as was the tail of man when he came from the ape."
Specialized, expensive creation devices ("read-write") and specialized cheap consumption ("read-only") devices allowed a centralized production by few and decentralized consumption by many. Analog devices for consumers for low prices, lacking the capability of writing and creating, spread out fast: Newspapers, Jukebox, radio, television. This new business model, an Industrial information economy, demanded and resulted in the strengthening of the exclusivecopyright and a weakening of the remix culture and the Public domain in throughout the 19th and 20th century.
Analog creation devices were expensive and also limited in their editing and rearranging capability. An analog copy of a work (e.g. an audio tape) cannot be edited, copied and worked on infinite often as the quality continuously worsens. Despite that, a creative remixing culture survived to some limited degree. For instance composer John Oswaldcoined in 1985 the Plunderphonics term in his essayPlunderphonics, or Audio Piracy as a Compositional Prerogative for sound collages based on existing audio recordings and altering them in some way to make a new composition.
Remixing as digital age phenomena
Technology changed fundamentally with the digital revolution. Digital information could be reproduced and edited infinitely, often without quality loss. Still, in the 1960s the first digital general computing devices with such capabilities were meant only for specialists and professionals and were extremely expensive; the first consumer oriented devices like video game consoles inherently lacked RW capability. But in the 1980s, the arrival of the home computer and especially the IBM personal computer brought a digital prosumer device, a device usable for production and consumption at the same time, to the masses for an affordable price. Similarly for software, in the 1990s the free and open source software movement implemented a software ecosystem based on the idea of edit-ability by anyone.
Internet and web 2.0
The arrival of the Internet in the late 1990s and early 2000s created a highly effective way to re-implement a "remix culture" in all domains of art, technology and society. Unlike TV and radio, with a unidirectional information transport (producer to consumer), the Internet is inherently bidirectional, enabling a peer-to-peer dynamic. This accelerated with Web 2.0 and more user-generated content due to Commons-based peer production possibilities. Remixes of songs, videos, and photos are easily distributed and created. There is a constant revision to what is being created, which is done on both a professional and amateur scale. The availability of various end-user oriented software such as GarageBand and Adobe Photoshop makes it easy to remix. The Internet allows distribution of remixes to the masses. Internet memes are Internet-specific creative content which are created, filtered and transformed by the viral spreading process made possible by the web and its users.
Foundation of the Creative Commons
As a response to a more restrictive copyright system (Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension, DMCA), which started to limit the blooming sharing and remixing activities of the web, Lawrence Lessig founded the Creative Commons in 2001. In 2002 the Creative Commons released a set of licenses as tools to enable remix culture, by allowing a balanced, fair enabling release of creative works, "some rights reserved" instead of the usual "all rights reserved". Several companies and governmental organizations adapted this approach and licenses in the following years, for instance flickr, DeviantART and Europeana using or offering CC license options which allow remixing. There are several webpages addressing this remix culture, for instance ccMixter founded 2004.
The 2008 open-source film by Brett GaylorRiP!: A Remix Manifesto documents "the changing concept of copyright".
In 2012 Canada's Copyright Modernization Act explicitly added a new exemption which allows non-commercial remixing. In 2013 the US court ruling Lenz v. Universal Music Corp. acknowledged that amateur remixing might fall under fair use and copyright holders are requested to check and respect fair use before doing DMCA take down notices.
Main article: Copyright reform movement
Under copyright laws of many countries, anyone with the intent to remix an existing work is liable for lawsuit because the laws protect the intellectual property of the work. However, current copyright laws are proving to be ineffective at preventing sampling of content. On the other hand, fair-use does not address a wide enough range of use-cases and its borders are not well established and defined, making usage under "fair use" legally risky. Lessig argues that there needs to be a change in the current state of copyright laws to legalize remix culture, especially for fair-use cases. He states that "outdated copyright laws have turned our children into criminals." One proposition is to adopt the system of citation used with book references. The artist would cite the intellectual property she sampled which would give the original creator the credit, as is common with literature references. As tools for doing so Lawrence Lessig proposed the Creative Commons licenses which demand for instance Attribution without restricting the general use of a creative work. One step further is the Free content movement, which proposes that creative content should be released under free licenses. The Copyright reform movement tries to tackle the problem by cutting for instance the excessive long copyright terms, as it was debated by scholar Rufus Pollock.
Other (copyright) scholars, such as Yochai Benkler and Erez Reuveni, promulgate ideas that are closely related to remix culture in 2007. Some scholars argue that the academic and legal institutions must change with the culture towards one that is remix based.
Reception and impact
In his 2006 book Cult of the Amateur.",Web 2.0 critic Andrew Keen criticizes Free and Read-Write Culture.
In February 2010 Cato Institute's Julian Sanchez praised the remix activities for its social value, "for performing social realities" and remarked that copyright should be evaluated regarding the "level of control permitted to be exercised over our social realities".
According to Kirby Ferguson in 2011 and his popular TED talk series, everything is a remix, and that all original material builds off of and remixes previously existing material. He argues if all intellectual property is influenced by other pieces of work, copyright laws would be unnecessary.
In 2011 UC Davis professor Thomas W. Joo criticized remix culture for romanticizing free culture, Terry Hart had a similar line of criticism in 2012.
In June 2015 a WIPO article named "Remix Culture and Amateur Creativity: A Copyright Dilemma" acknowledged the "age of remixing" and the need for a copyright reform.
- ^downloads on creativecommons.org "The building blocks icon used to represent “to remix” is derived from the FreeCulture.org logo."
- ^Remixing Culture And Why The Art Of The Mash-Up Matters on Crunch Network by Ben Murray (Mar 22, 2015)
- ^Ferguson, Kirby. "Everything Is A Remix". Retrieved 2011-05-01.
- ^ abcRostama, Guilda (June 1, 2015). "Remix Culture and Amateur Creativity: A Copyright Dilemma". WIPO. Retrieved 2016-03-14.
- ^ abcdLarry Lessig (2007-03-01). "Larry Lessig says the law is strangling creativity". TEDx. ted.com. Retrieved 2016-02-26.
- ^"Remix Is a Cultural Right, Lessig Says". law.virginia.edu. 2004-11-18. Retrieved 2016-02-27.
- ^Lessig on OSCON 2002
- ^Download Lessig’s Remix, Then Remix It on wired.com (May 2009)
- ^Remix on lessig.org
- ^A New Deal for Copyright on Locus Magazine by Cory Doctorow (2015)
- ^The Role of Scientific and Technical Data and Information in the Public Domain: Proceedings of a Symposium. on National Academies Press (US); 15. The Challenge of Digital Rights Management Technologies by Julie Cohen (2003)
- ^"57% of Teen Internet Users Create, Remix or Share Content Online". Pew Research Center: Internet, Science & Tech. 2005-11-02. Retrieved 2016-11-26.
- ^"There She Blows! Reading in a Participatory Culture and Flows of Reading Launch Today". henryjenkins.org. Retrieved 2016-11-27.
- ^Jenkins, Henry; Kelley, Wyn; Clinton, Katie; McWilliams, Jenna; Pitts-Wiley, Ricardo (2013-01-01). Reading in a Participatory Culture: Remixing Moby-Dick in the English Classroom. Teachers College Press. ISBN 9780807754016.
- ^maddysulla (2014-04-07). "Remix Culture: Its Own Art Form or the Death of Creativity?". Digital Media & Cyberculture. Retrieved 2016-11-27.
- ^Memes in Digital Culture by Limor Shifman published by MIT Press (2012)
- ^"Remixed Masterpieces: When Artists Pay Homage to Other Artists". Flavorwire. 2011-07-07. Retrieved 2016-12-09.
- ^ abJacobs 1888, Introduction, page xv; Ryder 1925, Translator's introduction, quoting Hertel: "the original work was composed in Kashmir, about 200 B.C. At this date, however, many of the individual stories were already ancient."
- ^ abDoris Lessing, Problems, Myths and Stories, London: Institute for Cultural Research Monograph Series No. 36, 1999, p 13
- ^See page 262 of Kalila and Dimna, Selected fables of Bidpai [Vol 1], retold by Ramsay Wood, Knopf, New York, 1980; and the Afterword of Medina's 2011 Fables of Conflict and Intrigue (Vol 2)
- ^Introduction, Olivelle 2006, quoting Edgerton 1924.
- ^Ryder 1925, Translator's introduction: "The Panchatantra contains the most widely known stories in the world. If it were further declared that the Panchatantra is the best collection of stories in the world, the assertion could hardly be disproved, and would probably command the assent of those possessing the knowledge for a judgment."
- ^Edgerton 1924, p. 3. "reacht" and "workt" have been changed to conventional spelling: '"...there are recorded over two hundred different versions known to exist in more than fifty languages, and three-quarters of these languages are extra-Indian. As early as the eleventh century this work reached Europe, and before 1600 it existed in Greek, Latin, Spanish, Italian, German, English, Old Slavonic, Czech, and perhaps other Slavonic languages. Its range has extended from Java to Iceland... [In India,] it has been worked over and over again, expanded, abstracted, turned into verse, retold in prose, translated into medieval and modern vernaculars, and retranslated into Sanskrit. And most of the stories contained in it have "gone down" into the folklore of the story-loving Hindus, whence they reappear in the collections of oral tales gathered by modern students of folk-stories."
- ^"Kindle 3G Wireless Reading Device". Amazon.com. 2010-08-04. Archived from the original on 2010-08-04.
- ^Lardinois, Frederic (9 August 2014). "For the Love of Mapping Data". TechCrunch.
- ^Neis, Pascal,; Zipf, Alexander, (2012), "Analyzing the Contributor Activity of a Volunteered Geographic Information Project — The Case of OpenStreetMap", ISPRS Int. J. Geo-Inf., 1 (2): 146–165, doi:10.3390/ijgi1020146
- ^Puts a Portal Gun in Super Mario Bros on Kotaku (2012)
- ^Rainer Sigl (February 1, 2015). "Lieblingsspiele 2.0: Die bewundernswerte Kunst der Fan-Remakes". Der Standard.
- ^Computer game mods, modders, modding, and the mod scene by Walt Scacchi on First Monday Volume 15, Number 5 (3 May 2010)
- ^You're in charge! - From vital patches to game cancellations, players are often intimately involved. by Christian Donlan on Eurogamer"Supreme Commander fans released Forged Alliance Forever and gave the game the online client it could otherwise only dream of. I haven't played it much, but I still got a tear in my eye when I read about the extents these coders had gone to. There's nothing quite so wonderful to witness as love, and this is surely love of the very purest order. [...] SupCom guys resurrect a series whose publisher had just gone under." (2013-11-02)
- ^Yuri Takhteyev, Quinn DuPont (2013). "Retrocomputing as Preservation and Remix"(PDF). iConference 2013 Proceedings (pp. 422-432). doi:10.9776/13230. University of Toronto. Retrieved 2016-03-26.
- ^Flath, C.M.; Friesike, S.; Wirth, M.; Thiesse, F. (2017). "Copy, transform, combine: exploring the remix as a form of innovation". Journal of Information Technology. doi:10.1057/s41265-017-0043-9.
- ^Kyriakou, H.; Nickerson, J.V.; Sabnis, G. (2017). "Knowledge Reuse for Customization: Metamodels in an Open Design Community for 3D Printing". MIS Quarterly. 41 (1): 315–332.
The DVD for Brett Gaylor's documentary/essay on copyright and culture, RiP! A Remix Manifesto, is a curious artifact. Not only is the film available for download, with user-determined pricing, but it is also free to be remixed at Open Source Cinema. All of which leads one to ask, “Why would you need the disc?”
One answer is to consider the “manifesto” that structures the film.
- Culture always builds on the past.
- The past always tries to control the future.
- Our future is becoming less free.
- To build free societies you must limit the control of the past
Running through these four statements is an ethic of accessibility, for viewing, for creating, that points to the cultural logic behind producing a DVD for sale and rental, even while economically it seems to make no sense (and that assumption, it can be noted, may not be true if other recent experiments, like Radiohead's In Rainbows, continue to bear themselves out).
Simply put, not everyone can, or wants, to view films on a computer. And for public screenings a DVD offers advantages in portability and stability over digital downloads. As Nina Paley, writer-director of Sita Sings The Blues (2009), another 'free culture' film, remarked in an interview with Lance Weiler for The Workbook Project, people will pay to get content in certain kinds of “containers” for a variety of reasons, including to support the artist and their project. For example, having DVDs on shelves, and for sale, may help to promote a work in ways that a file on a computer cannot.
Regardless of how you access Gaylor's film, you will see an entertaining, thoughtful, and politically committed articulation of what the filmmaker dubs the “copyLEFT”, that is, those who support a copyright regime that favors openness and access to cultural product – music, films, books – rather than exclusive rights for the commercial owners of such product, which is labelled the “copyRIGHT”. The copyRIGHT currently dominates intellectual property law in the US.
Musical remix artist Girl Talk, AKA Gregg Gillis, is Gaylor's entry into this discussion. Girl Talk's music, for which his computer and song library are the primary instrument, helps to raise a host of questions related to the existing system of copyright in the US. What constitutes 'fair use'? What does it mean to own a piece of music? Is anything ever wholly original in the sense of having no references or debts to other creators?
What happens to the vitality of a culture when content can be locked down, essentially, for perpetuity? What kinds of options for creativity, for distribution, are opening up for artists in the emerging digital/remix culture? Are organizations like the Recording Industry Association of America and the Motion Picture Association of America defenders of creator rights or dinosaurs gasping their last breaths?
Despite Gaylor's clear advocacy for openness and accessibility, his film does not offer entirely simple answers to these questions. Most involve striking a balance between the immediate needs and desires of a creator and/or owner of intellectual property and those of future creators, while recognizing the significance of changing media for how any of the key questions are addressed. Indeed, one of the documentary's consistent arguments is that copyright law needs to make sense for the times, and specifically for the practical ways in which people actually ‘do’ culture.
A scene that deftly works to make the filmmaker’s argument in favor of openness, while also acknowledging the complexities of cultural ownership, is placed early in the documentary, just following the introduction of Girl Talk and the “Remix Manifesto”, and featuring Marybeth Peters, the U.S. Register of Copyrights.
Peters marks herself from the beginning as a digital outsider, stating that she doesn’t have a computer at home and that she has never downloaded a song, let alone done a mashup. Gaylor invites her to watch Girl Talk at work as he creates a piece of music from sampling. The scene moves between the writer-director and Peters watching the artist at work and the actual footage being screened in the Register’s office.
It would be easy for a figure like Peters to be treated as a defender of the old order, yelling, “Theft!”, and carrying the water for corporations like Disney, but here she appears to be fascinated by Girl Talk and the music he makes. You almost expect her to exclaim, “That is so cool!” She doesn’t, of course.
Neither does she absolve him of violating copyright simply because she can see the artistic value and skill in what he does. She doesn’t proclaim him guilty either. Instead, she indicates that whether Girl Talk’s music violates copyright law or not largely “depends”, especially on who it is that ends up feeling violated and to what degree.
This response subtly, and indirectly, makes the point that the current system is stacked in favor of ‘owners’ but without turning Peters into the big bad. Ultimately, both she and Girl Talk are working in a transition between sets of cultural norms, and Gaylor is smart enough to see them equally in that light.
The most notable weakness in RiP is that the reasons for focusing on US copyright law is not made clear until the next to last act where efforts to export the American system to the rest of the world are discussed. This is only hinted at earlier, during the introduction of law professor and Creative Commons founder Lawrence Lessig. On the other hand, the positioning of this section does make for a good lead-in to the final act, which focuses on Brazil, a country that Gaylor styles as the original ‘remix culture’.
I will also mention that the quality of the video does not always hold up on DVD. A number of shots, particularly those involving movement or low light, show signs of wear from transfer to disc, notably in the appearance of horizontal lines that break up the image.
The Disinformation Company DVD includes additional footage and interviews, including a Lessig talk on the meaning and politics of “Free Culture”. There is also a collection of video mashups from Open Source Cinema, some which are excerpted in the film.
Gaylor models his own ideals in the film, taking liberal advantage of fair use to make RiP. This meta-commentary works as well as anything else in the documentary to underline the essential point that culture is made, not owned. Having the movie available in a ‘hard’ format also extends this point, widening the potential audience, and maybe inspiring people to move in favor of cultures that are free to be developed over ones that are preserved in commodified amber.
Rip: A Remix ManifestoDirector: Brett Gaylor
Cast: Girl Talk, Lawrence Lessig, Cory Doctorow
Rated: not rated
US DVD release date: 2009-06-30