Case Studies/RIP: A Remix Manifesto
a film about the public domain — about the right of citizens to participate in their culture — Brett Gaylor, Director, RiP: a Remix Manifesto
RiP: A Remix Manifesto is an Open Source documentary film written and directed by Canadian cultural activist Brett Gaylor. The film focuses on copyright and the fight between the creative minority and corporate majority. It discusses the pitfalls of traditional approaches to intellectual property protection in the digital era through the eyes of some key Copyleft revolutionaries such as remix poster boy GirlTalk (Gregg Gillis) and Creative Commons creator Lawrence Lessig. Gaylor’s manifesto is broken into 4 ‘truths’: 1. Culture always builds on the past; 2. The past always tries to control the future; 3. Our future is becoming less free; and 4. To build free societies, you must limit the control of the past. He uses these to shape and create a compelling argument for the reconsideration of Copyright and the ‘reclaiming’ of contemporary digital culture.
RiP was created as a ‘participatory media experiment’ , in partnership with the National Film Board of Canada and EyeSteelFilm. Since it’s international debut at the International Documentary Festival of Amsterdam in November 2008, it has gained worldwide attention for its fast editing, eye-grabbing graphics and witty narration. Gaylor went on to win his first award at the IDFA for Audience Choice, and has since continued to captivate theatrical audiences in Europe, Canada, North America, and the international online community.
Gaylor admits it was a fine balancing act in developing a business model for the distribution and sale of the film. While a fast and simultaneous global online release would have been ideal, he was forced to consider the commercial realities of his business partners. Having sold the production and worldwide distribution rights of the film to the National Film Board of Canada, Gaylor had to ensure he didn’t undercut their revenue from selling distribution rights. This meant that the documentary was not made available in its entirety for digital download until a period of time after its theatrical and television distribution. To compromise with Gaylor’s ideal immediate release, the National Film Board of Canada released a chaptered version on its website during its distribution, with “calls to action” embedded in each chapter so that remixers around the world could begin working on the film.
Once the negotiated period for distribution had lapsed, Gaylor and his producers agreed to ‘sell’ the documentary download at no fixed price. He explains, “We knew the film would appear on file-sharing networks immediately and we knew the audience for the film wanted and expected it to be online. So knowing that, we wanted there to be a method for those who wanted to pay to do so.” This business model has been successfully adopted across a wide variety of online content providers (e.g. Radiohead). It works by establishing a core, passionate audience or fan base, and then giving them an incentive to buy and ‘connect’ with the content on a deeper level. Here, the website and the documentary work together to establish this incentive by declaring that any profits made will go straight back into the ‘Copyleft’ movement. Regardless of the past successes of this business model, however, Gaylor admits he has a number of sceptics who question its application to this documentary, which can easily be ripped from the internet for free. He’s quick to rebut them, stating “it’s not piracy I need to be afraid of; it’s obscurity… that’s why I was very insistent that my film be released under Creative Commons license, and that it be free to travel through those networks.” Thus he has made exposure the key goal underpinning his business model, from which profits will flow indirectly.
The film was released under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 United States Licence. This was done to bring to life, Gaylor’s vision of audience participation in the remix culture. From the documentary website itself (which notably doesn’t have any Creative Commons licences in operation), there are links to Gaylor’s other project, opensourcecinema.org, and also http://ccmixter.org/rip, on which he has made available, under Creative Commons licences, his entire documentary for downloading, remixing and sharing. Furthermore, the original audio and visual elements that Gaylor used to create his documentary are also under Creative Commons licences.
Admittedly, Gaylor has an interesting interpretation of the ‘Noncommercial’ aspect of his Creative Commons licence and the protection of his intellectual property. He acknowledges that his documentary will probably be downloaded and screened privately around the world. However, he remains unphased by the potential for loss of revenue due to these activities. In fact, Gaylor actively promotes this, by including links to “Host a Screening” and “Find a Screening” on his website, and encouraging hosts to charge entrance fees on the night if they desire.
To ensure that all contributors in this cultural experiment were on the same ‘Copyright wavelength’, Gaylor made Creative Commons licensing compulsory for all content uploaded by the public. The license logo also acts as a signal of encouragement to audiences to participate, rather than representing a piece of legal fine print. He states: “What [the licences] allowed me to do is to let the audience know that they can participate in the film. They can use my footage however they want, but I want them to submit it back to the site as well so that I can include it in the final film.” It is testament to the license’s effectiveness that there are currently hundreds of fans around the world working on re-edits of the documentary in the hope that their content will feature in Gaylor’s sequel, RiP: A Remix Manifesto 2.0. In fact, fans’ videos and images have already been used across North America viewings in versions of the documentary tweaked according to the screening location, as well as in the original documentary itself. Unfortunately, statistics on downloads and revenue streams through the RiP website are unknown, although 2,250 Twitter “followers” and 2,840 members on the RiP Facebook Group stand as a rough indication of a solid fan base.
By definition, a manifesto is a public declaration of opinion. It is no coincidence then, that RiP delivers a fiercely persuasive message to its audience: Copyright law is enabling the ongoing privatisation of contemporary culture to the detriment of society; and that the open exchange of creative content is pivotal for continued community growth in the digital era. Gaylor acknowledges that his core message may seem radical to a large part of his audience, but he’s not worried. He states, “there’s a lot of apprehension around this issue and it was sort of the goal of the film to encourage debate”. By making copyright and intellectual property an issue worth talking about, the push for copyright reform becomes all the more powerful.
Just as its description “participatory media experiment” suggests, Gaylor also set out to provide content and a platform with which users could collaborate together in the creation of a shared cultural experience. He effectively breaks down the barrier between user and producer of this documentary, by emphasizing to his audience that “the main thing is to participate and to contribute to further evolving versions of the film because we’re going to take that to different film festivals and remix it as we go along.” The end result is the first of its kind – a truly open source documentary that exemplifies exactly what it preaches by encouraging the open exchange of creative content for the benefit of the wider community. Other information
Since its international debut in Amsterdam, RiP has been screened in such festivals as the Lite Brite Film Fest in Cincinnatti, Ohio, the Rio International Film Festival, the Reykjavik Intenrational Film Festival, Kopiefeest in Belgium, the Darklight Film Festival in Dublin, and others in New York, Croatia, Torino, Melbourne, and Taipei. It has also aired on television in numerous countries, including Canada, United States, Israel, Finland, Netherlands, Australia, Poland, Brazil and Italy.