Draw a Venn diagram with a circle for collage, art, and documentary, and you might possibly find Looploop sandwiched somewhere in the middle. A patchwork quilt which uses images to create an illusion of movement, possibly from the perspective of someone on a train, which can go both backwards and forwards. There really isn’t a lot of meat to these bones, but the film is really hypnotic none the less. But don’t take my word for it, watch it yourself:
RIP: a Remix Manifesto
There’s an open panel session here at Docfest this year titled ‘The Thin Line Between Passion and Propaganda’ and it neatly summises some of the Issues (with capital I) that I face in saying anything about this film. I could, and have previously, merrily spend a few hundred words dissecting all matters relating to copyright, copyfight, and the absurdities of modern intellectual property law. And I wish I could neatly summise that ‘the film is not the issue’ but then it is in the very way it’s constructed. Never was a film quite so demonstrative in its very fabric of the utter fallacy of current copyright legislation.
The Issue (with capital I) in question is how modern technology allows us to twist, bend, chop and remix media of any kind into just about anything we like. That and the thorny issue of whether downloading is illegal or not. Defend the rights of the artist/creative force or criminalise your average citizen. The film casts its net wide, covering everything from the patenting of medicine, mechanics and life forms, to issues of how a hundred a twenty year old staples such as ‘Happy Birthday’ can make rights holders millions and millions every year, when the writers of the song died well over half a century ago.
The film takes numerous examples, mini case studies, to illustrate some acute points about intellectual property law, as it stands. Every music anorak worth their salt knows that The Stones and Def Leppard stole all their greatest riffs from the old blues masters. What is more powerful is someone widening the scope of this analogy, audibly quoting Muddy Waters saying that he got a song from the cotton fields, which had already been published by Robert Johnson, who in turn was preceded by someone else who had already recorded the tune. That the same tune went on to be popularised by black pop musicians, who in turn were copied by the Rolling Stones just goes to demonstrate the neverending cyclical nature of things. That the Stones then sued the Verve for 100% royalties for using the tune in Bittersweet Symphony just illustrates the Western world’s attitudes to how they feel we should handle copyright even better.
The above example neatly underscores the first point of four points in the film’s titular manifesto, namely that all new culture is built on the culture that came before it. A rally call for all proponents of copyfight, it places the creative process, the reinvention of old into new, as a core tenement to usage beyond fair use. The film points to the past, and the copyright laws of old, which ensured certain copyright protection while the property was still new, but which nonetheless opened up the floor after a fixed period of 14 years. Long enough to become established, but not long enough to be exploited.
The film also boldly points towards other feasible models, such as that of Baile Funk in Brazil, which actively reinterprets, remixes and integrates well know tunes into a musical form wholly unto itself. And a nation whose school curriculum supports lessons in turntablism and beat juggling! Below the radar of most corporate rights holders of the western world, developing nations such as Brazil are casting copyright law into a new light to support emergent artists, and in the case of strictly patented HIV medicines, vastly improving the lives of those in dire need.
Throughout the film fair use, and the application free speech to use of copyrighted material in a manner with which to criticise it is put to full use. It almost lends the film a slightly agonising feel, as the project tentatively pushes harder and harder, sampling the samplers who sample freely without seeking permission. Through the fabric of fair use itself the film spins an incredibly compelling argument.
Bold, cogent and absolutely invaluable, thing doc encapsulates the passion and frustrations surrounding copyfight without being too agitprop about it all. It would be wonderful if it could find a home on broadcast networks, so all and sundry (and not just geeks like me) could look and learn from it. But that isn’t likely, so take the directors’ advice and see if you can’t just torrent it instead.
[and here’s the manifesto in full. But don’t take this at face value, go and find the film instead!]