RiP: A Remix Manifesto clearly lays out the case for copyright reform. I agree with the maker of the film and the remix artists featured in the documentary that copyright is too often used to protect the interests of big businesses rather than creators. Artists like GirlTalk should be able to use bits and pieces of music from the past without having to pay millions of dollars to studios or face imprisonment. GirlTalk’s songs are clearly differentiable from the original recordings he uses, anyone can see that. I also agree with RiP when it comes to scientific and software patents. Overly broad patents freeze innovation and delay progress. The goal of copyright should be the creation of more and better things and a large public domain furthers that interest.
While I largely agree with the goals and agenda of the film, the film also seemed to suggest that copyright is inherently a bad thing and this is where I have to disagree. RiP does this by splitting the debate into two groups towards the beginning of the film: the copyRIGHT and the copyLEFT (terms which are oddly never referred to again). I’m not a fan a dichotomies in general, because they pretend only two options exist when there is actually a whole spectrum of possible policy options. I don’t think the idea that artists should be able to control and sell their own work is a road leading to fascism. People are broadly allowed to create and remix a whole bunch of pop culture on the web, just as long as they aren’t claiming it as their own and profiting from it. Copyright lawyers aren’t going after all the people who draw their own version of Mario or write fanfiction about TV shows they watch and post it on the web. At least not anymore. They go after people who sell these things, because if they don’t sue the creator will lose her copyright entirely and be unable to make money from her work. We need a period of time between creation and public domain or the only art we’ll see is by part-time artists. Tons of people make great things for free in their spare time, but we need a professional class of artists (and scientists and inventors) who are able to make a living from their work. This professional class can’t exist without copyright.
I think this 5-min youtube video by C.G.P. Grey makes a much stronger argument for copyright reform. He suggests that reverting to the original 28-year copyrights would provide a better balance between creators and the public interest. I agree. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tk862BbjWx4
Also, should we really be celebrating the fact that developing countries routinely ignore our copyrights? (Rip-off Chinese Disneyland is a great example.) The film seems to enjoy the fact that they hurt the EVIL American corporations. But you know who else gets hurt by these blatant infringements? American workers. There’s a totally reasonable discussion we can have about copyright reform. But it begins by acknowledging that this is a tough issue with trade-offs between creators and the public that appreciates their work.