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The future of copyright law? No, I’m not going to put you to sleep this week with talk of lawyers and lawsuits, but rather music and movies.

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About 1 year ago I discovered a musician name Gregg Gillis, who goes by the stage name Girl Talk. Why did I like him? It wasn’t just that I like fast dance music if I’m out running or find myself in the occasional New York City club on a late weekend, it’s that he was mixing SONGS I KNEW.

How was he doing that? By mashing up and remixing hundreds of tiny clips from major artists, claiming fair use, and skirting just above the law.

The result of that podcast?
– A new favorite artist
– A new view of copyright law
– Still in the top 5 most downloaded podcasts of the 66 I’ve done so far.

So if you’ve never heard of Girl Talk, please check out The Hopkinson Report Episode 17 , from August 2008. I sincerely think it’s one of my best I’ve done.

So now it’s a year later, and I received an email from Melody Serafino, asking me if I wanted to check out a documentary on the subject. Fans of Gregg Gillis might call it “Girl Talk: The Movie,” and there is plenty of great footage to keep them happy. Just the scene of Gillis bouncing around like a superball with a laptop-on-a-table mobile mashup unit strung around his neck like a sweaty, shirtless hotdog vendor in Fenway Park is worth the watch.

But that would ignore the bigger question that Canadian documentary filmmaker Brett Gaylor is presenting. And to me that question is:

Have we not only outgrown this nation’s media-focused copyright laws, but has it crossed the point where it is stifling creativity and collaboration in all facets of life, from culture to medicine?

Gaylor sets up the scenario of the Remixer’s Manifesto as follows:

A Remixer’s Manifesto
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

He presents the case that remixing and borrowing elements from popular culture has always existed, from Muddy Waters in 1938 to Led Zeppelin’s Whole Lotta Love in 1969.

But times have changed dramatically in the past 10 years. Since it’s beginning in 1993, Wired Magazine has pledged to cover a world in constant change. One of the main themes I cover again and again, is the transition of the digital culture from consumer to collaborator.

No longer are people content to watch TV, read a newspaper with someone else’s headlines, or buy a CD. Now technology and innovation empowers them to create and star in their own video, to publish any thoughts they want via blogs and social media, and to create a mashup of only the music they want to hear.

The one thing holding them back is copyright law.

I feel this all the time in the weekly production of this podcast… I would love to have my intro feature a song by U2 or Green Day, I’d love to snag any photo off the web to put in my blog, and it would be great to use a clip from a movie like Old School whenever I want.

I understand the reasons the laws are in place. But the movie, which features Creative Commons pioneers like Lawrence Lessig and Cory Doctorow, argues that extending these restrictions to fields like science and industry are holding our innovation back.
In 10 years will the next generation, the 50 million people that were on Napster, even care?

While the movie slowed down a little bit for me during coverage of Mickey Mouse and Disney’s copyright laws, I enjoyed the interviews from Brazil, with footage of children taking DJ lessons, the frenetic pace of their dance clubs, and the teachers who stated “Originality is when you mix two things that haven’t been mixed… that’s the future of music and the human race.”


The movie’s final act features a neat effect of a photographer in Times Square, a surreal part of the universe in it’s own right, a bustling mashup of corporate logos that I pass through every day. As he focuses his DSLR on a McDonalds or Chevy logo, the image blurs and the words Copyright infringement comes up on his viewfinder. Is this something that could happen one day? I’m sure the technology already exists.

It’s up to the remix generation to see how it all turns out.


Read more about:

RiP: The Remix Manifesto

Director Brett Gaylor’s Open Source Cinema

The Hopkinson Report Episode 17: DJ Gregg Gillis aka Girl Talk: The Music, The Model, The Mitigation

Girl Talk: Wikipedia | Feed The Animals Album (Name your own price)

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