Review: RiP: A Remix Manifesto

The premier of Brett Gaylor’s film RiP: A Remix Manifesto took place last week at London media club Frontline. The director was present at the screening introducing and taking questions about his film, which addresses the tension that has emerged since downloading music and infringing copyright laws has become mainstream, through Napster.

At Face Youth Lab we’ve already explored how this mainstream download culture created a demand for accessible music, and how brands should aim to discourage it by embracing the technological innovation with attractive, legal alternatives, rather than attempts to shut down the technology itself. This is reiterated in the film by Lawrence Lessig, whom Gaylor’s narration calls “the coolest lawyer on the planet”. Lessig states that the technology providing this copyright infringement “will not go away” and cannot be truly destroyed, and that attempts to stamp it out criminalize the youth of today. Cory Doctorow emphasizes the scale that Napster had in 2001 when it was shut down; it had more users than there were voters in the 2000 U.S. presidential election. He further notes that within its short lifetime Napster’s users had created the biggest library ever known to man, all for free.

Here in lies the main tension of the film. The major creative industries claim that making this copyrighted music freely accessible is detrimental and inherently stifles creativity through not providing a living for budding musicians. Yet the film, with its mashup editing style suggests that a healthy public domain only encourages creativity through access to different culture and ideas. The aesthetic centre-piece of the film is mashup musician Girl Talk, he creates wholly new compositions through cutting up famous hip-hop and pop-songs. Girl Talk embodies this young generation’s desire, now that they have the tools through the technology of the internet, to become producers not merely consumers. Brett Gaylor’s narrations states that if Girl Talk had to pay to use the samples he would have to pay over $45million for a 16 song album running under an hour. The frenzied ecstasy of the concert footage (which itself was crowd-sourced for the film over the internet via concert goers) is testament enough that there is demand for this remix culture. Furthermore, Brett Gaylor noted in the Q&A that neither his film, nor Girl Talk’s albums, had been actually sued yet; the potential of bad publicity has been enough of a deterrent to the authorities thus far. Gaylor mentioned that a third of all the content that youth see currently is created by their friends, a huge statistic when considering how top-down old forms of media were decades ago.

The philosophical centre of the film is the aforementioned Lawrence Lessig who has founded a logical alternative to copyright. Creative Commons, allows a participant to use a work of art which is attributed with a Creative Commons license, freely so long as this use is not for commercial gain. This allows the sharing of culture similarly to how folk art was shared before recorded music was created. The primary manifesto that this rests upon is the note that “culture always builds upon the past”. Walt Disney is referred to as one of the first mashup artists as most, if not all, the films made in his lifetime were updated versions of stories in the public domain, and yet they have become Disney’s classics. This philosophical argument suggests that a large public domain encourages creativity, as “nothing is created in a vacuum”. When Walt Disney died the Disney Corporation were the main lobbyists to extend the copyright laws up to 75 years after the death of the intellectual responsible.

Girl Talk - Mash Up Messiah

While there are some clear arguments suggesting that the stringent nature of current copyright law needs to loosen, Gaylor himself could not answer the question of how budding musicians would make a living, although he did suggest some kind of internet licensing fee with the money then being redistributed directly to the artists. Yet Girl Talk has sold his albums on his website for a ‘pay what you want fee’. A further example of stringent intellectual copyright and patent failings was given. Brazil chose to forgo American copyright laws imposed upon them to make their own cheap versions of AIDS drugs, replacing the expensive versions American patents were forcing. Surely intellectual copyright and patent laws shouldn’t prevent cheap medical drugs from being distributed to the poorest countries in the world? While there is a question of whether medial drugs companies will still create product if they don’t make enough money, this salient example emphasizes the question of whether the time is right to rethink how copyright law is enacted.

The open collaboration that the film embodies is fully enacted by the mashup montage aesthetic that the film has. There was a rotoscoped-animated section, which a group of students who downloaded the rushes of the film from then edited and created themselves. The director noted that there were already 3 or 4 versions of the film already and that the version we had seen would be only be viewed then and there. All of this and the encouragement given to us to remix our own versions of the film at is indicative of the burgeoning 2-way creative, open collaboration that internet technology is instilling in young people today.


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