CAPSULE: This is an 86-minute documentary protesting our current very restrictive copyright laws. Canadian Brett Gaylor writes and directs this film documentary looking at the act of creating popular music by mashup--taking samples from many works of art--some copyrighted--and recombining them. The film explores the question of music, movies, stories, etc., being sampled and becoming a part of a new piece of art. The issues are complex and the approaches to the solution are even more so. This film makes it hard to agree with either side. Rating: high +1 (-4 to +4) or 6/10
[This is a documentary on a controversial issue. I will try to review the film as objectively as I can. Also I will interpret the film, but none of what I say will have any legal merit. If you want to copy, remix, or remash, any pre-existing work of art you should probably talk to a lawyer first. I'm a film reviewer, not a lawyer.]
We have to start with some basic definitions.
Intellectual property: Anything created using the intellect. This includes ideas, melodies, or mechanical devices.
Copyright: The right to copy and use a piece of intellectual property. Copyright is a commodity that can be bought, rented, or borrowed. It can also be illegally usurped.
Public Domain: The set of all intellectual property that is not controlled by copyright.
Mix-Ups: A new pieces of art made from sampled bits of old pieces of art. Sometimes there are thousands of sampled pieces in a new mix-up.
Mash-Up: A new piece of art made in part or in whole from ideas of old pieces of art.
Re-mix: A new piece of art made in part or in whole from old pieces of art.
The latter three definitions are different but closely related concepts. People are currently taking bits from pre-existing material and mixing them and electronically altering them so they may be unrecognizable and combining them to make new music. The problem is that what is being sampled is copyright material. The copyright owners are complaining that this is a form of infringement. Given the degree of modification one might ask why not start with public domain sounds? Unfortunately writer/director Brett Gaylor never examines this possibility. Gaylor is an admitted fan of re-mix artist, a male who goes by the name Girl Talk but whose real name is Gregg Gilles.
RIP! A REMIX MANIFESTO tells the history of copyright law, which has been extended and made more monstrous over time. Current copyright laws say that a work of art does not fall into public domain until seventy years after the original artist is dead. Due to intricacies of the law, some characters apparently do not fall into public domain even though the copyright has long run out on the initial works creating the character. Tarzan and Mickey Mouse are prime examples. The Disney Corporation has been particularly aggressive and egregious in fighting to extend copyrights on its intellectual property.
Gaylor brings in expert testimony from Stanford professor and political activist Larry Lessig and from science fiction writer Cory Doctorow. Still, all to often as a viewer I wanted to stop the proceedings and argue with the screen, as there were obvious problems with the case being made. It is suggested that the copyright laws should be eased because "everybody" infringes on copyright, and making plagiarism illegal will only create a generation of lawbreakers. But even Gaylor admits that the copyright law is there to protect artists. While he argues that all art should be legal to copy, he does not look at the effects of such a decision. Gaylor takes a first step by saying his own film is copyright free and he invites people to copy it. It is, however, not clear there is much in the film that would be of value for others to take. But in addition, it is not clear that even his film is really as free from copyright as he claims. [See the note at the end of the review.]
Watching this documentary can be a little too much like trying to read "Wired" magazine. The format is supposed to be hip but very much gets in the way of understanding the case being made. And the case being made seems ill considered. The film raises good questions, but does not answer them. Gaylor intentionally makes a good case that there are serious flaws with current United States Copyright law and unintentionally makes just as good a case that he and his buddies are not the ones to straighten it out. I rate this film a low +1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 5/10. RIP! A REMIX MANIFESTO will be released to DVD on June 30, 2009.
Note: It should be noted that while the film itself labels itself in the credits a "Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike"--I think that is a noun phrase--and suggests a desperately needed web site to visit for an explanation. The web site says, "Page not found; The page you are trying to reach is nowhere to be found. Someone on the staff is to blame for this! Rest assured, the proper person will get the proper amount of blame and humiliation dealt to them." That page also seems to have links to remixes. The DVD package labeling has signs saying it is a "Creative Commons"--probably a noun phrase--rather than being copyright material. However, the DVD case also contains labeling for a 2009 copyright for SteelEyeFilm and for the National Film Board of Canada. In plain, simple English this all means that you can reproduce the film, remix it, and/or remash it, as Brett Gaylor suggests you can do in the text of the film, or perhaps you can't. Specifically the creative commons rights given to you shows up in the case labeling symbology as "BY" with a men's room symbol and "ND" with an equals sign. However, the initials DRM show up in a circle with a slash through it, meaning that DRM, which may or may not mean "Digital Rights Management" is not allowed. But you do not have a right to copy the material because even though Brett Gaylor grants you that right in the text of the film, people other than him hold a copyright on the film, among others the National Film Board of Canada who are, of course, an arm of the Canadian Government. The above is purely interpretive on my part and is in no way legally binding. In the words of Lou Costello, "I don't even know what I'm talking about." Before sampling, re-mixing, or re-mashing any of this the material in the film, legal counsel is strongly recommended.
Film Credits: http://us.imdb.com/title/tt1397511/
Mark R. Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Copyright 2009 Mark R. Leeper