RIP: A Remix Manifesto. Mashups and Copyright

By daniel - Posted on 09 March 2009

Last night I saw the sneak preview of Brett Gaylor's documentary, RIP: A Remix Manifesto, a film about copyright in the internet age. We live in a society where downloading music and movies is easy. The technology that makes it possible raises a lot of questions about intellectual property.

Remix manifesto makes the argument that information should be shared so we can build on ideas of the past, fostering creativity and progress. However, current copyright laws give the creator ownership for their lifetime plus several decades. These laws are stifling innovation because the current generation of artists aren't allowed to use these old ideas in their work.

On one hand I think a person deserves to benefit from what they produce, whether it's music they've written, art they've created, or ideas they've patented. This makes it possible to earn a living and encourages people to be productive and create content. This was the original intention of copyright laws.

To become a skilled musician or artist, you have to practice for hours and hours—at least 10,000, as cited in Gladwell's Outliers. If it's not financially possible for a beginner to hone their craft, we'll end up with fewer people who are really good at creating original content.

On the other hand, though, I think it's important to allow people to build on others' ideas. I'm not talking about rip-off websites that sell prints of artwork they stole from painter's websites. The Radiohead remixes and open-source projects like Drupal show the innovation that's possible when content is shared freely.

As the copyright owner of source code that allows me to make a living the film definitely hit home. If I were to make my code open source then others could improve it and build on it. However, it would also mean I'd have to go find a new job and probably wouldn't have the time to continue working on improving it myself.

(Where do people find the time for these projects?)

In any case, the documentary did a fantastic job of stirring the old thought bucket. With the internet and the digital tools available, the creative possibilities are amazing. Take for example, "Thru You," a project in which Kutiman mashes YouTube clips into original songs. Good stuff.