Culture | Of mash-ups and remixes

Documentary charts the struggle over copyright

In this technologically advanced age, the Internet has put the world at our fingertips. It is difficult to imagine not being able to access almost any type of media fathomable. However, as Brett Gaylor’s documentary, RiP: A Remix Manifesto, makes very clear, American media conglomerates would prefer to keep media access limited, even at the expense of creativity: fostering creativity doesn’t always result in the greatest possible profit.

RiP explores the culture of remix artists and the copyright issues that they constantly face. Gaylor’s documentary follows his favourite mash-up musician, Girl Talk, who creates songs with samples from copyrighted works, sometimes using up to 20 pieces in a three-minute song.

Gaylor’s innovative documentary is itself a mash-up of footage. In fact, he takes it to the next level, giving fans the opportunity to remix parts of his film themselves at his web site, opensourcecinema.org. Gaylor then incorporates this new work into the documentary for its next showing. By allowing this interaction, he gestures to a collaborative model of artistic creation, which allows individuals to share their work and build upon others’ creativity.

The film is copyrighted by non-profit organization Creative Commons, which allows the artist to choose how restricted the rights to their work will be. As Mila Aung-Thwin, one of the producers of the film, explains, “we won’t give a blanket license to people [to use the film]. You’re allowed to use it for non-commercial purposes, [but] if you want to use it for commercial reasons, you would just have to come to an agreement with us.”

Gaylor does a fabulous job of combining education with entertainment in this documentary. He mentions Walt Disney – who’s referred to as the greatest mash-up artist of the twentieth century – and the hypocrisy of the Disney Company. While Disney drew heavily from previous works of fiction and art in his own work, today the company ironically copyrights everything he created.

Gaylor also spotlights the ridiculous lawsuits brought against individuals by the Recording Industry Association of America for downloading songs illegally, and the thousands of dollars people pay to settle out of court. He also includes a hilarious remixed interview between Stephen Colbert and Lawrence Lessig, the major legal force behind the fight against copyrighting corporate maniacs.

Girl Talk, however, is the focus of the documentary. Known offstage as Greg Gillis, he worked as a biomedical engineer before quitting his job to focus on music full-time. The issue of copyright is huge in the medical industry because every new discovery is patented, even the genetic codes of plants and animals. As Gillis says in the film, the cure for cancer could be just around the corner, but research is so heavily restricted that no one besides the original discoverer can build on the progress already made.

At times, RiP feels like a comic book, with the big media conglomerates playing the evil villains, and the superhero artists and activists fighting for Creative Commons. You’ll leave with the desire to get drunk and dance to Girl Talk, but with any luck you’ll also leave thinking about the film’s issues, and perhaps be inspired enough to do something about it.

RiP: A Remix Manifesto is still playing at Cinema du Parc and AMC Forum.


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