Last Thursday night, Catherine, Becca, and myself decided to check out Brett Gaylor’s Rip! A Remix Manifesto, a film that was being shown at Museum London. Although we were a part of an extremely small audience, the film turned out to be amazing and prompted me to really think about the issues of open source and copyright that we’ve been discussing lately in digital history.
Rip! A Remix Manifesto is a film that discusses copyright, explores its origins, questions the manipulations of copyright laws, and uses everyday people to illustrate the consequences that all these laws have in all our lives. Narrated in a soothing Michael Moore-like voice, Gaylor refers to the two opposing sides as the copyright and the copyleft, and states that there’s an ongoing war of ideas, with the Internet as the battleground. He explains to viewers who controls copyright laws, and provides examples of people who are working hard to fight them, such as lawyer Lawrence Lessig.
Gaylor provides viewers with the Remixer’s Manifesto, a list that he uses to make his arguments, and in my opinion, does so with success.
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 control of the past.
Throughout the film, Gaylor uses the example of Girl Talk, a remixer named Gregg Gillis who uses the music of thousands of different artists to create mash-up songs. The controversy with Girl Talk is that although he is breaching copyright laws, the songs he creates through his mash-ups sound so different from the originals, that listeners would be hard pressed to identify all the original songs he used. Gaylor refers to this as evolution; artists merely building on the works before them, and he even gives the example of the Rolling Stones as doing so. If Gregg Gillis were to pay for every snippet of sound borrowed from other artists in making his own album, it would amount to over $4.2 million! This is a crazy amount of money that is absolutely ridiculous to even conceivably ask someone to pay for borrowing a few seconds of audio.
In his film, Gaylor found numerous people who are, or have been, prosecuted in the US for their illegal downloading of music. The person who stood out the most to me was a single mom who was sued for downloading the equivalent of two CDs. What made her stand out was the fact that she had not settled the lawsuit, unlike the countless other people who had settled instead of going through the trial process. Even settling outside of court has huge consequences for everyday people. The legal fees alone add up, but in settling, each person prosecuted had to pay a certain amount of money per song they illegally downloaded, which in some cases ended up being tens of thousands of dollars! But the real kicker was this: they weren’t being sued by the artists themselves, they were being sued by record companies who owned the rights to the music. Furthermore, Gaylor showed viewers that all record companies, production companies, movie companies, etc. are all owned by two major companies at the top of the chain.
This is so wrong! These two companies who own every other imaginable company in the US are incredibly rich, yet they try to make examples of ordinary people for illegally downloading music, all the while putting them so deep in debt just for the sake of a few songs. Can it really be considered stealing when so many people are doing it? And wouldn’t record companies rather people steal music, grow to love a band, and then rope them in with concerts and merchandise? It ends up being way more money in the long run.
I found this film to be very relatable in terms of downloading music and the copyright problems that arise from it. I hate to hear downloading music deemed to be “illegal downloading,” just because it’s an absolutely ridiculous concept to me. What I want to say is that it shouldn’t be illegal because so many people are doing it, but I know that is an extremely flawed argument. What I will say is that artists should be grateful and flattered that so many people are downloading their music. It’s unrealistic for a music lover like myself to buy the music of every band I like; that would be tens of thousands of dollars that could be better spent on other things. This film made me realize that quite often it’s not the artists themselves who are starting lawsuits, it the companies above them. I wish these executive companies could realize that the more people listen to an artist’s music, the more loyal fans they become, thus buying overpriced concert tickets and other band-related paraphernalia. If everyone paid for every song they ever listened to, why would anyone ever listen to any new music? I think I would be afraid to spend money on a CD of a band whose music I’d never heard; I would worry that I might hate it and then never listen to it again, thus wasting my $10 or $15 (or however much it is that CDs cost these days).
All in all, Rip! A Remix Manifesto was awesome. I’d recommend it to anyone looking for a good movie to watch that will provoke some interesting discussions. He tackles so many relevant issues to people today and makes some very compelling arguments. Here’s the link to a related website that Gaylor created, it’s pretty interesting. One more really cool thing: Gaylor encourages the use and remixes of his film, something you won’t hear many artists say!