Last night, I went to see RiP: A Remix Manifesto, which was a really well-done exploration of the rights issues surrounding remixing other artists’ work. It was also a kind of love letter to Girl Talk, whose art frames the narrative of this documentary. As an aside, NYT covered copyright and Girl Talk last year in an article found here.
Being of my particular generation, remix culture is something that I’ve come to realise that I’ve been taking for granted. I assume access to other people’s work, and I willingly provide access to mine under distribution/attribution licenses. Having known life before the Internet, I’m loving what that has meant in terms of access to other people’s work, and re-interpretations of art. It’s hard to come up with an original idea these days, and originality has to be defined by new re-combinations and contexts. As part of the hip hop generation, I pay tribute to the samples that have helped to create the music that has defined my soundtrack.
I understand, to an extent, copyright laws. The limitations of my understanding lie when protecting copyright becomes about protecting profit, rather than an artist’s right to recognition.
As someone who identifies as Other, I cannot support the fact that copyright protection is only one-way. Having constantly seen art and culture from other places consistently being ripped off and appropriated, the hypocrisy surrounding the issues of rightful ownership blow my mind.
In RiP, the filmmaker briefly touches on the extent of how copyright laws can affect progress in fields other than visual art and music. Girl Talk delves into his other identity as a biomedical engineer (his day job at the time the documentary was made), and the issues of how patent laws restrict scientific and technical developments because companies hoard patents and prevent multifaceted solutions from being explored. When you think about the implications of that, it can be rather frightening to know that solutions for a large number of complex issues probably exist out there somewhere, locked away safely in vaults to stop others from potentially profiting.
In addition to being an exploration of remix and rights, RiP! could very well be seen as Mash-Up Culture 101. The film outlined remix culture, briefly skipped in and out of its history, and had a great soundtrack. Interviews with Lessig and Gilberto Gil were really interesting, and an overview of Brazilian culture as the future of remix culture was positively heartwarming to watch (on a side note: what is it with white Canadians, handicams, and favelas? Going to Brazil and shooting a documentary seems to be an obligatory rite-of-passage for the under-30s suburban Canadian male.)
My criticisms of the film would probably lie on the side of trying to cover too much, and as a result of that not being able to do everything. Amplive and the Radiohead remixes were mentioned, but there was no mention of any of the very significant precedents (e.g. Grey Tuesday). The clips grabbed from the Napster debate between Chuck D and Lars Ulrich seemed to be sadly outdated in the context of the film (the debate took place in 2000, and the video for the entire thing if you don’t remember it is available here).