Brett Gaylor’s RiP! A remix manifesto touches on many themes: corporate control of cultural heritage and media, copyright law, artistic creativity, remixing music. I attended the screening and discussion at RVCQ, and if I had to pick one conclusion from the many that can be made it would be that society is forever re-creating and re-interpreting its culture, media and information.
The film’s central protagonist is Girl Talk (aka Gregg Gillis), a biomedical engineer by day and a remix musician by night. There are some parallel themes to open access publishing explored in the film through Gregg Gillis’ day job. Among the many interesting people in the film are Lawrence Lessig (founder of Creative Commons) and Gilberto Gil (Brazil’s Minister of Culture). There are compelling stories too, like that of the Mouse Liberation Front, or Jammie Thomas and other unfortunate civilian targets of lawsuits by the copyright industry.
The film begins with a discussion of the birth and growth of the Internet, technology that is a foundation for much of the creative dilemmas that are presented – it is this enabling technology that makes digital remix culture possible. The ideas of openness and copyright are certainly not as new as the Internet, Phillip Davis’ recent article (How the Media Frames “Open Access”) points out that the general meaning of “unrestricted admission or access” is documented in Oxford English Dictionary as far back as 1602. However, the Internet is the enabling technology to dramatically increase access to all kinds of cultural objects, from scientific publications, to music and cinema.
Considering the importance of the Internet to the theme, open source software seems like a relevant starting point. I would have liked to see a more thorough coverage of this in the film. Open source software, with its collaborative development model and its General Public License that aims to protect the work from copyright restrictions seems deserving of special mention. The fact that the open source Apache web server, for example, is the most popular web server on the Internet since 1996 is a significant proof of concept of the power of this collaborative model. Some of the media corporations that are mentioned in the film are likely using Apache web servers, and other open source applications such as Berkeley Internet Name Domain (BIND). However, since Brett takes this collaborative concept seriously through hosting public contributions to RiP! a remix manifesto at opensourcecinema.org, I can always submit a remix that includes what I think is missing from the film!
Overall, I think this is an excellent film, and I also appreciate Brett’s ability to explain his point of view in person. He questions the need and implications of having to ask for explicit permission from copyright holders to re-use or remix. The act of pleading for permission implies that the public only has permission to be consumers of media by default. Do publishers ask for permission from the public to post their media all over the city, in the newspapers, on television and the Internet? We are in search of a balance, a path that would allow artists to benefit commercially from their work while at the same time keeping culture and media accessible to more than just consumption – keeping it open to creative reuse.
In my personal opinion, the idea of finding a global and permanent “middle road” solution is seductive, but making anything permanent and compulsory in art could be self-defeating. The discussions over artistic creativity and the objects of culture will continue indefinitely, in my opinion. In the meantime, Brett Gaylor has contributed a remix of a thought provoking manifesto:
|“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 we need to limit the control of the past”
[Photomedia Forum post by T.Neugebauer from Mar 05, 2009]