Technological advancements have an unbelievable ability to transform societies. History has proved time and time again that one great invention can truly send a culture spiraling into evolution overnight. The advent of the internet certainly changed the world as we know it, and while the American people have embraced this new culture of overwhelming information sharing, our laws have not transformed in tandem with our minds.
At last week’s Third Thursday film screening I had the pleasure of viewing RiP: A remix manifesto. The film is about a “mash-up” musician, Girl Talk, and the issues he faces as a cutting-edge artist in a society governed by the past. Remixes are rapidly becoming a leading form of music among America’s youth, yet they remain to be considered illegal as a breach of copyright law. What were once a set of laws meant to protect the creative members of society, are now out-of-touch restrictions stunting the natural growth of music and expression.
The issues lie much deeper than the rights of professional “remixers.” Facebook, Twitter, even this very blog, are all prime examples that we are living in an age ruled by the quest and desire for information. This connection-based culture affects personal and professional communications systems, but it also weaves into all other forms of society. There is a growing desire to share, develop, and toil with art, rather than simply consume it passively, and while this trend should be embraced, our government is helping to condemn it.
Web Activist and creator of RiP: A remix manifesto sums it up well; we are “shattering the wall between users and producers.” While this sounds like a progressive and inspiring movement to me, the problem lies is that the producers of the past want to keep users in their place. Copyright laws are completely unequipped to deal with the vast sharing that came with the internet, and as a result media of the present is stifled by restrictions of the past.
The film exposed many faces touched by the Napster fiasco- some of whom were charged between $20,000 and $150,000 for each downloaded song! Is the free-download of a song truly stealing from an artist? I don’t know have the answer…but when these so-called thieves are charged to pay the government, not a dime of those reparations goes back to the supposedly “ripped-off” artist. One woman depicted in the film has been prosecuted so severely that she is in danger of losing her home because of a single playlist. Regardless of who is right or wrong, stories like this are extremely troubling because music is meant to be shared, and it does society no good to make people suffer as a result of enjoying art.
Art, and culture in all its forms, evolve by building upon and reshaping the works of the past, and as long as the past is held off-limits, I fear that the progress of our country will suffer. With the nation in financial crisis, and arts funding on life support, it would benefit us all to work to break down these barriers and enjoy the magic that occurs when art flows freely.
***In an effort to practice what he preaches and inspire the mash-up culture, Brett Gaylor exhibits his raw film footage at opensourcecinema.org and he encourages you to remix the work and make it your own.