Rip!: A remix manifesto

I’ve just finished watching Rip! on SBS online, and apart from the limitations of the sbs video player, there was lots to think about.

Film maker Brett Gaylor introduced the film as a look into the failings of copyright, and certainly gave lots of examples of corporations (and content makers) acting badly in the pursuit of the mighty dollar. However, whilst the film was entertaining, it had a few short-comings and I felt missed the point at times.

Napster vs Metallica gets a mention, and peer-to-peer downloads provide much of the fodder for Corporations Doing Bad Things (CDBTs). Clearly chasing down individual users is both strategically and morally questionable here. Especially given the sheer number of peer-to-peer users. It does seem that the music publishers’ strategy has changed since the filming of this doco though.

Gaylor seemingly spent too much time idolising the affable mash-up artist Girl Talk to follow new developments in peer-to-peer file sharing. Released in 2008, the film has no mention of the Pirate Party, established in Sweden 2006 and standing for elections that year. Much of the documentary is based in the United States, and the United States Pirate Party also formed in 2006 though has not (at this stage) been officially registered.

But there are more glaring omissions. Most surprisingly, the copyleft movement does not rate as worthy of discussion. Creative Commons gets a run thanks to a brief profile of promoter Lawrence Lessig, however the case is left there. Open source is similarly missing. I was left confused as to how a self-proclaimed manifesto of alternates to the current copyright situation don’t mention these significant developments.

Girl Talk looks like a lot of fun and I’m waiting to hear of any tour to our far shores, but it seemed that over half the film was dedicated to party shots and glorification of mash-up artists. Which brings me to a final point…

Gaylor intentionally or unintentionally omitted the fact that creators and performers of pop music make money when they copy the creative work of others. By acknowledging this, and similarly for pirated films etc, perhaps we would be better placed to construct feasible alternatives to the status quo.

Mash-up artists (or manufacturers of HIV drugs) should be allowed free access to, and reproduction of, knowledge and data because of the benefits to society. In other cases the benefits will be more measurable in terms of public health, engineering and other forms of innovation. However, once profit is made then some percentage of that profit should be due to the originator. The onus should not, however, be on the innovator to seek permission to use the content.

Inevitable this would lower the price that consumers are willing to pay for products that straddle the cultural good/commercial good definition, most notably pop music, film and literature. However, the case for protectionist policies in the name of public benefit is far from made, even if the Rudd Government could not bring themselves to allow the parallel import of books (Joshua Gans puts a good argument). Direct support from Government is likely to be more appropriate. The same could follow for scientific and medical innovation.

If we started with the above suggestion, them added Creative Commons and open source, for those who value sharing, we would end up with a copyright system that fostered innovation. After all, wasn’t that the justification for intellectual property rights in the first place?


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