Alex Due

RiP!: A Remix Manifesto” is a 2008 documentary film about copyright in music in past, present and future. It tells many interesting stories surrounding the evolution of music as we know it today and the part copyright plays in that process.

The director Brett Gaylor bases his film on four assumptions:

  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 you must limit the control of the past

It starts telling the story of Girl Talk an American musician who creates his music solely by sampling other music. This is against the current copyright laws because he uses copyrighted material of other musicians without permission. So Girl Talk is someone who builds on the past. But Gaylor shows that music was always built on the past. He tracks the traditional folk song “This May Be The Last Time“, recorded by The Staple Singers in 1959, to The Rolling Stones “The Last Time” from 1965, to an instrumental version by Andrew Oldham Orchestra in 1966, to “Bitter Sweet Symphony” by The Verve in 1997. The Verve was sued by The Rolling Stones’ publishers and Keith Richards and Mick Jagger took all writing credits.

Lawrence Lessig, a founding board member of the Creative Commons, says that you can’t stop people from using technology to remix culture. You can only criminalize them. He argues that similar to quoting text in an essay one should be allowed to also “quote” film and music to create a new work.

Cory Doctorow, a blogger, journalist and author, who releases his novels under Creative Commons licenses, talks about how business models are changing over time. In the times before radio and record people could only make money from making music by playing it live. The musician had to be charismatic for that to work. With records and radio the need for live performances to earn money from music was gone. From his point of view today large corporations try to save their business models, which are based on selling records. But maybe we reached a point in history where selling records has lost it’s potential to make money. Maybe today the musician has again to perform live to make a living. Why should these companies be allowed to stop these changes from happening? Should the musicians some decades ago have stopped companies from selling records and destroying their business model of live performances?

The film can be watched online in full length (1:26:25) on the website of the National Film Board of Canada in HD. You can also download the film and pay what you want (even nothing at all) on the film’s website.

Here’s the trailer: