A vigorous broadside against the perceived corporate control of contempo copyright legislation, and an impassioned plea in support of elastic fair-use laws, “RiP! A Remix Manifesto” was made to provoke and certainly does that. Aimed squarely at a younger aud yet hefty enough to trigger debate in any demographic, the pic is making its way around the world and is in fact available for free online, with viewers invited to participate by re-editing the footage and adding their own. The question is, has anyone at the MPAA or RIAA seen it yet?
“Let’s play a game,” affable Canuck helmer Brett Gaylor says early on in his ubiquitous narration, and for much of the pic, he seems to be treating these serious issues as just that. Defining sides as the copy right and the copy left — get it? — Gaylor offers a chain of evidence in the form of a manifesto inspired by influential Stanford lawyer and culture thinker Lawrence Lessig: 1) culture always builds on the past; 2) the past always tries to control the future; 3) our future is becoming less free; and 4) to build free societies, you must limit control of the past.
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To prove this, he traces the provenance of such songs as Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love” and the Verve’s “Bittersweet Symphony” to prove that everyone steals from everything that’s come before, so the mash-ups — appropriations of pre-existing works to create a familiar but essentially new song — created by DJ Girl Talk (aka Gregg Gillis) should be legal. Should be legal, but aren’t, as Gillis’ parents are shown fretting that he could be arrested at any time.
Gaynor claims Walt Disney to be the first mash-up artist for appropriating such public-domain fairy tales as “Alice in Wonderland,” “Cinderella” and “Pinocchio” for his own animated versions. On a lighter note, sci-fi author and digital-culture critic Cory Doctorow points out that in the face of new consumer technology, “this world in which we pretend we’re not all copyright criminals is like the Victorians, who pretend that they didn’t all masturbate.”
Others shown to be activists on the copyright issue, some reluctantly and some enthusiastically, include cartoonist and Mouse Liberation Front founder Dan O’Neill, Negativland frontman Mark Hosler, convicted downloader and bewildered Minnesota mom Jammie Thomas, Clinton White House intellectual property czar Bruce Lehman and Brazilian musician/former culture minister Gilberto Gil.
By the time Gaylor gets to South America, he’s losing focus somewhat; though his exploration of intellectual property vs. public domain is thorough, the point has long since been made.
Tech package is imaginative yet overly caffeinated, to the pic’s detriment. Closing credits assert that “no artists were harmed in the making of this motion picture,” which, in the bigger picture, is a substantial part of the debate.