Saturday, August 15, 2009

RIP: A Remix Manifesto

I have been a little slow to write about the film RIP: A Remix Manifesto - it has been available to stream for a short time now but I wanted to get a copy of the film that I could keep before deciding whether or not it might be included in my research.

After some delay in gaining access to the film - Australian's cannot download from iTunes USA nor is it available outside the USA from the official website - I finally got a copy off eBay. (It was advertised as a Region 1 DVD but it turns out it has no region coding at all. I have an old DVD player which I was guessing/gambling would have played the Region 1 DVD anyway).

This is a great film which discusses remix culture and the incredible imposition of copyright law. It primarily focuses on the music remix artist Girl Talk however also discusses mashups of other forms of culture as well as the more open attitude to culture taken in countries such as Brazil. With a number of similarities to the movie GoodCopyBadCopy, this film differs largley in the way that is is made - it itself in parts is a mashup of culture, some old and some new.

Indeed, there are a number of curious aspects to the way the film has been put together. At first I wondered whether these would amount to embarrassing errors - for example, it is specifically stated that this film is about a war over ideas however it is an elementary error to say that copyright law regulates ideas. Copyright law in fact regulates expression and is expressly differentiated from laws that regulate ideas. Other intellectual property law such as patents regulate ideas.

In addition to this, the movie characterises Napster1 as being a decentralised file sharing network when of course it is well known that Napster1 was in fact a centralised file sharing network - it required a centralised server in order to index and pass files from one user to another.

Why would this film state two obvious errors? (perhaps there are more that musicians or remix artists would find that are not obvious to me).

It is my view that this is done deliberately to act as an illustration. By including errors in the film, this film serves as the perfect example as to why we should be entitled to remix. Culture of the past is often imperfect, can be added to, altered or changed in a way that makes it more relevant, useful and (in this case for those of us with a background in law) more enjoyable. It is my belief that the errors in this film are intended to invite discussion as well as corrections. If so, I consider this to be a brave tactical decision and one which enables further promotion of the film, increased relevance in the future, as well as aiding in the wider dissemination of the central messages of the film through ensuring people discuss it. [I also wondered whether it might be to bait IP lawyers to remix it in case the creator is sued and he needs some back up.... :-) ]

Just as music mashed up by GirlTalk in part gains its popularity through the ability of people to relate to the samples of songs they already know, any adaptation of this film would refer to the original at the same time as serving as a new creation. In fact in parts of the film, remixes of this very film are used. Completely displacing the notion that the purchased copy is a finished product, the creator has allowed all of the footage of the film to be uploaded to the internet and openly invites others to remix it.

Indeed the very fact that I was unable to purchase this film except via eBay and only then if it would work in my DVD player serves as a further example of the impossibility of the staggered releases of record labels and other media organisations, as well as the impediments of DRM. Of course I would try to purchase the film from eBay (as I am sure many other people have). The creator appears to be very cleverly demonstrating the futility of trying to close culture when the internet is always on and will always allow people to connect and share regardless of the attempts to prevent this. At present it is not even possible to purchase the film for private use in Australia - I could only view the copy I have because of what American's call the First Sale Doctrine. Had this copy been Region 1 encoded and had I not had an old DVD player my rights would have been lost altogether.

OR MAYBE there are no errors in the film at all and this is a lesson in not buying from the authorised supplier? How do I know I have the 'official' copy? perhaps it is a mashed up pirate version... I doubt it, I checked the sellers reputation and store but it is an interesting aspect to the experience of trying to get a copy of this film and the nature of its subject.

I am in the process of trying to organise a non commercial use license to show this film at the Southern Cross University Mixed Up Reels Flim Club night on 8th September 2009 (I am told the licesend copy of the film will arrive next Monday so ...fingers crossed... )

If you're not nearby - stream it, go along to see it at one of the other screenings, or buy it. You will be impressed by the creativity of the footage, the clarity of the message as well as be inspired to become a creator. Great flick!

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