In 1984, George Orwell wrote, “Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past.” And Brett Gaylor’s “RiP: A Remix Manifesto” agrees.
The documentary mainly follows Girl Talk, but Gaylor doesn’t limit his cast there. Meet Dan O’Neill, an artist and member of the Mouse Liberation Front; Lawrence Lessig, a founder of Creative Commons; Cory Doctorow, co-editor of Boing Boing…and others, all in a tizzy over copyright laws. Or copyRIGHT, as RiP insists.
Gaylor pleads a case for liberalizing copyright laws to encourage sharing, (re)creating, and creative freedom–even going as far as Brazil to show how it could be done. He presents his remixer’s manifesto in four principles:
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.
Of course, Gaylor still operates in the present, so his film takes extra precaution to insist its use of copyrighted material is fair use. How else can you make a documentary about mash-ups and remixes without showing a few? According to his estimates, an average Girl Talk album could cost $4.2 million in royalties. And RiP relies heavily on Girl Talk for its eclectic soundtrack.
Before Jonny Wilson of Eclectic Method started spinning, Gaylor fielded questions from the audience. One attendee asked a question that seemed to make him uncomfortable: what’s the difference between RiP-approved “remixing”/”sampling” and outright stealing?
After some roundabout talk from special guest O’Neill, Gaylor emphasized transformative use and outlined the basic tenets of fair use, but he never answered the question outright. Instead, he pointed to the struggle of creative freedom against the law: “Nine times out of ten when I was being extravagant artistically [in the film] I was breaking the law.”
And so the law-breaking merriment continued as workers carted away chairs to ready the dancefloor. After a short set from local DJs Adrian and the Mysterious D, Wilson took the stage for Eclectic Method.
For the video DJs, the question of fair use doesn’t seem to be a big concern just yet. “Fair use is a legal defense,” Ian Edgar of Eclectic Method told the Appeal. “It’s not a right…It only matters if somebody sues you. And people don’t sue us; they employ us.”
Fraggle Rock, Stephen Colbert, Star Wars, Beyonce…it all grooved together as Wilson laced their video counterparts over each other. Once again, the crowd was glued to the screen. This time, though, they were dancing.