PALEY CENTER FOR MEDIA, THE: DOCFEST 2009: RIP: A REMIX MANIFESTO {LETTERBOX}

Summary

A documentary about the art of “remixing” and the modern applications of copyright law and intellectual property. The film details a growing conflict between “remixers,” i.e. artists who sample selections of preexisting works of art to varying degrees and recombine or reinvent them into a new form or mode of art, and the corporate entities which control modern media outlets. Brett Gaylor, the film’s director, describes his personal attachment to the subject and details how he and other “remixers” around the globe have devised what he terms the “Remixer’s Manifesto,” a set of maxims which outlines the “remixers’” struggle and goals. The maxims are: “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.” These maxims are examined and elaborated upon as the film progresses. Gaylor details the lives of several individuals involved in this conflict, such as remix musician Gregg Michael Gillis, better known by his stage name Girl Talk. Girl Talk digitally creates songs entirely composed of samples from other musical works. By day, he works as a biomedical engineer, studying the human body’s reactions to electronic stimuli and analyzing the ensuing data. Girl Talk compares his music to his job in that he believes science should be a more collaborative effort than the patent-oriented structure now employed. He has quickly gained fame and now appears alongside some of the very artists he samples. Gaylor discovers that if copyright law in its current form was employed to sue Girl Talk for his sampling, he could be fined several million dollars for his work. Upon speaking with Mary Beth Peters, the United States Registrar of Copyrights, Gaylor finds that the copyright status of Girl Talk’s music is uncertain. The epilogue notes that Girl Talk quit his job to pursue music full-time. Gaylor also details some of the history behind the current state of copyright law. The first copyright law, the Statute of Anne, was passed in 1710, giving authors exclusive rights to their work and allowing fourteen years to pass before their work fell into the public domain. Time went on and improvements in technology produced better and better mediums for disseminating information, until the creation of the internet service Napster in 1998. Napster was the first peer-to-peer music-sharing service, meaning that information was no longer broadcast, but passed directly from one user to another, removing much of the control that companies had over their product. Napster users were sued by these companies for digital piracy, and Napster itself was sued by artists such as the band Metallica. Napster was shut down in 2001, but digital piracy continued. The film also examines Lawrence Lessig, an activist who fights for the rights of media users against corporate control. Lessig was the originator of the “Remixer’s Manifesto” and is a firm believer in the rights of digital media users to be not only consumers but contributors to the world of art and media. He travels the world to places like Beijing in order to spread awareness of the American copyright problem, knowing that other countries are adopting the American copyright model and believing that such a model is unsustainable. He argues for the application of a “Creative Commons” to allow artists to give permission to users to sample their work. The film discusses the concept of intellectual property and public domain, noting that the public domain has been limited in recent years. Gaylor notes that the song “Happy Birthday” is not in the public domain, and that its rights are owned by one of the largest media corporations in America, Warner/Chappell. He also discusses the application of “Fair Use,” a legal definition whereby media creators can sample miniscule amounts of other material in a work in order to make an argument. “Fair Use” can be used as part of a legal defense against copyright infringement. To help prove his point, Gaylor created the website Open Source Cinema, where the raw footage of the film was posted on the internet and “remixed” by its users, in effect creating a “mashup documentary.” The film uses Walt Disney as an example of a sort of “remixer” in that his animated features built on folklore and old stories and presented them in new and unforeseen ways. However, Disney’s death resulted in his company changing their outlook on their property, excluding other artists from building upon it. One of these artists was Dan O’Neill; he and his “air pirates” published comic books featuring iconic Disney character Mickey Mouse in stories with themes totally subversive to Disney’s original intent. O’Neill was sued by the Disney Corporation but continued to publish, forming the “Mouse Liberation Front” as a stand against what he saw as corporate tyranny, encouraging other artists to follow his example. Disney’s litigation finally worked and O’Neill was stopped. In 1998, copyright law was changed and the Disney Corporation was given indefinite control of Mickey Mouse. The term of copyright was extended to seventy years after the death of the author, and the public domain was set at anything before 1923, a severe cut from what it was before. After Napster, companies devised Digital Rights Management, or DRM, as a method of protecting their products. DRM prevented unauthorized copying of files and limited the use of such files. Software to override DRM exists, but is illegal and can result in fines. The film recounts the story of Jammie Thomas, a woman who was fined over $200,000 for downloading 24 songs off the internet. The ensuing court case forced Thomas to pay a part of her wages in order to pay for the infringed property. The definition of “intellectual property” is growing to encompass more than simply films and songs. In 1980, the United States Supreme Court ruled that living organisms could be patented. Soon afterwards, the plant Ayahuasca, an Amazon Rainforest plant used for generations by indigenous peoples for medicinal purposes, was patented by an American corporation. In 1990, Bruce Lehman was appointed as the United States Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property. In that capacity, he worked to outsource low-wage American jobs overseas and put in effect policies which forced those foreign countries to obey American copyright law in an attempt to boost the American economy. However, it had the opposite effect: United States deficit tripled in the years since the inception of this policy. This new international copyright law has been opposed by some countries, notably Brazil. For instance, Brazil violated scientific copyright laws in order to distribute HIV medicine among its people. Brazil has embraced the art of remixing, to the point where they have created “Baile Funk,” an entire musical style based on remix. Brazilians believe heavily in the continuity of art and embrace remixing as part of their cultural evolution.

Details

  • NETWORK: Documentary
  • DATE: October 26, 2009 6:30 PM
  • RUNNING TIME: 1:26:22
  • COLOR/B&W: Color
  • CATALOG ID: 103130
  • GENRE: Public affairs/Documentaries
  • SUBJECT HEADING: Public affairs/Documentaries
  • SERIES RUN:
  • COMMERCIALS:

CREDITS

    • Mila Aung-Thwin … Executive Producer, Producer
    • Daniel Cross … Executive Producer
    • Ravida Din … Executive Producer
    • Sally Bochner … Executive Producer
    • Kat Baulu … Producer
    • Germaine Ying-Gee Wong … Producer
    • Brett Gaylor … Associate Producer, Director, Writer
    • Olivier Alary (See also: O-Ensemble) … Music by
    • Gregg Michael Gillis (See Also: Girl Talk) … Cast
    • Mary Beth Peters … Cast
    • Cory Doctorow … Cast
    • Don Smith … Cast
    • Lawrence Lessig … Cast
    • Dan O'Neill … Cast
    • Mark Hosler … Cast
    • Charlie Angus … Cast
    • Rick Cairns … Cast
    • Jammie Thomas … Cast
    • Bruce Lehman … Cast
    • Gilberto Gil … Cast
    • Sergio Reis Silva (See also: DJ Sany Pitbull) … Cast
    • Fernando Luiz Mattos da Matta (See also: DJ Marlboro) … Cast
    • David Gruebel … Cast
    • Elisa Gruebel … Cast
    • Raej Schwartz … Cast
    • Patti Sant Angelo … Cast
    • Robert Crane … Cast
    • AmpLive
    • Chuck D
    • Walt Disney
    • Lars Ulrich