Your browser (Internet Explorer 7 or lower) is out of date. It has known security flaws and may not display all features of this and other websites. Learn how to update your browser.


Navigate / search

What’s the difference between remixing and piracy?

There was a great film on SBS last night called Rip: A Remix Manifesto.

The documentary follows filmaker Brett Gaylor and mash-up producer Girl Talk as they travel the world to fight for their right to party and poke fun at the litigious nature of major record labels. Interestingly, the filmaker has also posted the footage online and is encouraging others to download it, pay whatever they choose (a la Radiohead) and then remix it themsleves.

Gaylor bases his case against copyright around the following four assertions:

  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 first point is communicated in a particularly engaging and persuasive fashion. Whether it’s a modern adaptation of Shakespeare or sampling the Rolling Stones, reworking established themes is ingrained in cultural progress and often inspires new audiences to discover the original artist.

While I’ve always been a big fan of the remix, sadly at times the film runs the risk of confusing the case for creative sampling with straight-forward copying.

Sure, the record companies missed a huge opportunity around digital distribution and have handled the rise of illegal file sharing badly. But even if many of us have taken advantage of peer-to-peer file sharing, ultimately I think we recognise that artists need to get paid for the music they produce.

Regardless of your views on Britney Spears, prosecuting a 15 year old girl for downloading her music is clearly not the answer. But neither is simply championing our right to download whatever we want for free.

Sustaining a culture of creativity means finding ways to reward those that create. And that means labels and artists embracing a model that offers easier access to music at a fair price, one that reflects the reduced cost of digital distribution. Think Spotify..

Watch the first part of Rip! A Remix Manifesto above, or check out the whole film here.