Saturday, May 9, 2009

RiP: A Remix Manifesto

Brett Gaylor has created an inspiring and informative film about the subject of Copyrights. Or, as his film energetically demonstrates, what have become Copywrongs.

The most public contemporary debates about the subject of copyright infringement, fair use, and "the public good" have not gone outside of the entertainment industry. RiP takes the topic out of the courtroom and to the streets and this makes it one of the best documents I've seen on the subject. 

The film is thorough, though I was surprised to see no reference to John Oswald's Plunderphonics project or Chumbawamba's Jesus H Christ album, but Gaylor more than makes up for these exclusions by providing an historical analysis which goes back to before the Gutenberg Bible yet also returns to the present by discussing not only new content creation by artists like Girl Talk and culture jammers such as Negativland, but also life and death matters illuminated by Brazil's renegade stance regarding the production of generic HIV pharmaceuticals they legally had no right to produce. By including this last topic within his debate he demonstrates the need to weigh the issue of private ownership rights–which have really become corporate ownership rights–against the damage too tight control can have on the lives of individuals.

One of the best segments of the film traces Walt Disney's creative dependence on art created as far back as the 1600s. As one of the main forces behind the revision of the Copyright Act in the 90's, the Disney Corporation receives an appropriately large amount of Gaylor's attention, including numerous examples of their egregious behavior provided by someone who loves Disney enough to maintain a Season's Pass to Disneyland and be a member of the Mickey Mouse Club. 

Throughout the film Gaylor reminds the audience that what he is including on screen, but more so in the audio track, subjects both him and the audience to punitive judgments. He also digs deep enough to show the complicity of the United States government in a deliberate plan to separate intellectual activity from production, an action which has woefully backfired. The result of this plan to "elevate" the United States above production by outsourcing those services to developing nations has helped to amplify the current economic damages to both parties: the developing nations who are required to adopt American copyright laws and enforcement practices in order to import to this country and an American nation which has so abstracted its contributions to international exchange as to become entirely dependent upon those developing nations to provide its most basic needs.

Gaylor keeps the film amazingly focused and incisive considering how far reaching his topics go. He accomplishes this by repeatedly returning to the impact of decisions made in the 80's and 90's upon contemporary lives but, perhaps even more effectively, by framing the discussion within the framework of attempts to control and criminalize the general population and how those populations refuse to be controlled. Heady stuff, but delivered with panache and great wit.

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