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RIP: A remix Manifesto

An open source documentary directed by the web activist and filmmaker, Brett Gaylor. The film focus on the work of a mashup musician, Girl talk, to analize copyright law and how it is affecting creativity as well as knowledge building. Is really actual interpretation of copyright a measure to encourage creativity? Who are the ones who have more interest in defending this production model? Can ideas be copyrighted?

These are some of the questions that appear in a documentary presented as a manifesto for remix cultures. This manifesto is built on four premises:

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.

The arguments exposed by Lawrence Lessig are key to defend the first premise of the manifesto. Taking Walt Disney as an example, -remember that he adapted existing stories considered part of the public domain – it seems clear that the past is a great source for inspiration. The question here is: why was Walt Disney allowed to proceed that way while other artists’ work as Girl Talk can be considered illegal? As the responsible for registration of intellectual property states, the consideration of Girl Talk’s work as illegal depends on the power of those whose interests seem to be threatened.

The second statement “The past always tries to control the future” is extremely close to George Orwell’s 1984 sentence “Who controls the past controls the future: who controls the present controls the past”. Step by step it seems we’re getting closer to dystopic predictions of the future. The power achieved by author rights corporations (apparently to defend the authors’ rights) has arrived to a point in which “reality overcomes fiction”. Do we have to pay in order to play or sing a happy birthday song? Do hairdressers have to pay a tax to SGAE -Spain’s General Society of Authors and Editors- in order to listen to the songs played on the radio while they cut their clients’ hair?

Is our future becoming less free? If we can’t get advantage of previous works, it’s clear that our capacity to create, innovate and find solutions is strongly limited. Probably, one of the main problems is that actual copyright law has been made to preserve the leading position of some lobbies rather than to guarantee authors’ recognition over his/her work. However, as Cory Doctorow argues, possibly we are facing a change of model, so what worked in 1992 is not valid enough in 2008. Right now, it’s quite well accepted that we are in a networked society. In general, this trait is presented as positive and challenging. However, as soon as people organize and start to freely exchange materials, corporations and lobbies try to stop it. At this point, a true debate about what is and should be considered as public domain, the commons, needs to be faced.

Many times, copyright debates end in a two extreme solutions in which one of them seems to pretend avoiding paying authors for their work. The situation is not like this. What is being questioned is that actual copyright laws don’t preserve public goods but put them on the hands of the private sector. What is being questioned is that the only possibility is to continue a business model based on copyright. Is at this point where we should look for alternatives to limit the control of the past in order to build free societies. Precisely, one of these alternatives are the commons.

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