In the film “RIP: A Remix Manifesto”, filmmaker Brett Gaylor relayed a story of the first Catholic bishops’ arrival to Brazil, and their subsequent death at the hands of cannibalistic devotees. The natives were so in awe of the human representation of their new faith that they literally ate him in order to be closer to that which he represented. An allegory of something being taken apart in order to make something new.

And with that, Gaylor begins to wrap up his “manifesto” in defense of the modern remix culture, a culture that takes bits and pieces of what came before to develop something new and fresh. Throughout the film, different angles of the debate over theft, intellectual property, morality, and music are examined in a somewhat entertaining but always relevant way.

RIP begins with a profile on Girl Talk, a “mashup artist” who employs a laptop as an instrument, taking snippets of songs written and recorded by other artists and mashing them together to create new songs, or at least vastly rearranged old songs. The very appearance of Girl Talk raises numerous questions of copyright legality and theft vs. creativity. Is Girl Talk an artist or is he guilty of capitalizing on other people’s work without paying what’s due to others?

Of course, Gaylor is favor of the remix culture and against any legal means by which freedom of expression and creativity are limited. He begins his defense by tracing “borrowed” music back to the blues and follows the line through the british invasion, all the while artists were taking elements of songs and reusing them in their own songs. Blues artists like Son House and Muddy Waters took from each other to make their own blues as ideas flowed through their circles. At no time did one bluesman threaten to sue another. The music example turned more interesting when The Rolling Stones, no strangers to “borrowing” from their blues-singing forefathers, decided to sue The Verve for sampling an adaptation of one of their songs in their massive hit “Bittersweet Symphony”. They took 100% of the profits, showing their dedication to copyright laws and intellectual property were stronger than their dedication to their craft.

Throughout, Gaylor laid out his manifesto which follows:

1) Culture always builds on the past

2) The powers of the past will always try to control the future

3) The future becomes less free

4) To build free societies, you must limit the control of the past

That last point is the most important, and Gaylor spends the last portion of the film urging caution in lawmaking.

Ultimately, laws are not only meant to reflect some shared, agreed-upon morality, but they can also be used to create or adjust boundaries to reflect the wishes of the majority. Like a dictionary, which isn’t so much an authority of language and usage as a reflection and record of it, laws can and should be adjusted to reflect the wishes of and changes in a culture. Copyright laws should be written in a way that not only protects proper intellectual property owners, but also fosters creativity and freedom.

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