RiP: A Remix Manifesto

Pop music and our music from different genres seems untouchable, Elton John seems untouchable, you know? Obviously, they create that, they force that that idea into your mind, that the superstars are untouchable. So just being able to manipulate it and do what ever you want, put Elton John in a headlock. Just put a beat behind him, and pour a beer on his head. - Girl Talk

That’s the first of many insightful, inflammatory, memorable quotes from this open source documentary. This one comes on in the first 5 minutes and really sets the tone of the entire film, but before we dive into that a little background:

Who: Directed by Brett Gaylor, a Canadian filmmmaker. Starring many important people in the IP battle, including remix artist Girl Talk, lawyer Lawerence Lessig, author Cory Doctorow, and Brazilian musician Gilberto Gill.

What/Where: RiP: A Remix Manifesto, a documentary film about the remix movement specifically and the copyright/left issue generally.

When: Published: November 2008

The Gist

The best gist is going to be the manifesto that the name of the film comes from itself, so let’s start with that (emphasis mine):

  1. Culture always builds on the past

  2. The past always tries to control the future

  3. Our future is becoming less free

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

As you might be able to tell from the manifesto the film isn’t just about remixing music, its about the bigger issue of misuse of copyright and what this means for a free society. It accomplishes this by presenting examples that are clearly misuses of copyright (at least from the filmmaker’s perspective), across many domains from Girl Talk’s remix music to biomedical research. The documentary goes through the examples by following the manifesto as a sort of outline, with Girl Talk being the common thread throughout.

The Good

  • It’s well worth the watch just for the awesome inflammatory quotes peppered throughout. Examples like Doctorow’s Urinary Tract Business Model at 49 minutes or his masturbation analogy at 24 minutes.

  • I think the strongest argument in the film came from Gilberto Gill when he said:

Sharing is the nature of creation, it doesn’t happen in isolation. No one creates in a vacuumi, everything comes from something else. It’s a chain reaction.

It’s impossible to not build on the works of others and the film showed how this has already been happening for centuries in the music industry already. From Led Zeppelin to Muddy Waters, everyone has influences and there is nothing wrong with that.

  • But my favorite moment of the entire documentary was an excerpt from a speech Mark Hosler of Negativeland gave:

Corporations are completely taking over our culture and telling us that we can only consume it. And we’re saying no. We’re saying we want to create with it, respond to it, take it, mutulate, cut it up. We’re saying you don’t ask us whether I want to see billboards everywhere I go in my town, you don’t ask me if I want to see your Nike logo everywhere I go, you don’t ask me if I want to hear U2’s music everywhere I go shopping or eat at a restraunt. So why should I have to ask you to take a little bit of it and make something out of it. To make fun of you critique you. Why do I need to ask?

The Bad

  • It’s shows its age at times, it would be nice to see an updated version.

  • While I agree with everything its saying, I think it would be useful to show the other side’s argument a little more, he tried to do that with the copyright lady (“You can’t argue creativity when you’re dealing with other people’s stuff.” 13 minutes), but I don’t think it’s enough. Even still from a persuasive perspective I think it’s better to show just how ridiculous the other side’s arguments actually are. For the most part in the film it only presented these arguments from people who were already opposed to them.


  • Why hasn’t Girl Talk been sued or arrested yet? Do the distributors not care anymore? Obviously they still do because DJ Drama got arrested and his house raided for his remixes. Do they think they won’t win? Or do they think it would be a hollow victory with a huge PR hit (arresting the squeeky clean white, middle class, biomedical engineer)?

  • This documentary at times comes off as very anti-copyright, which is the foundation for a number of open source licensing techniques. If we were able to rewrite copyright law today what would be the best approach? The original 14 years? None at all? Should we as a community rely on something as historically dark as our basis?

  • What can we do to continue pushing this issue forward? Culture jamming and remixing are awesome examples, but they can’t stand alone. What other sorts of IP-less business models can we create?


I think that while this documentary shows it’s age in places (some things have gotten better and others worse), it is still insightful and should serve to get anyone interested in freedom of information riled up.

In the words of Harvard Law Professor, Lawrence Lessig, when describing the state of our copyright regulations:

That’s, what’s the word? That’s fucked.

What are we going to do about it? I think that’s the big takeaway from this documentary, is that some things have actually improved (they stopped going after individuals that download music and focused on the distributors, e.g. pirate bay or Dotcom), but that’s only the beginning. We still have a lot of work ahead of us to complete part four of the manifesto.

Rating 4.5/5