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RiP's legal match-up 

RiP explores the conflicts between remix culture and copyright laws. Graham Reynolds, assistant law professor at Dalhousie University, examines the issues

Today's digital technologies give individuals the ability to engage with culture in a way that has never before been possible. No longer confined to the role of passive consumers of culture, individuals are embracing the opportunity to participate in a continuing process of cultural creation and dialogue. Armed with an internet connection and easily obtainable software, music fans are creating songs called mashups that combine pieces of two or more existing songs into a new work that is both familiar and different. Fan fiction, a literary genre in which people write new adventures for their favourite fictional characters, is flourishing in the digital era. Machinimators create original films within the worlds of video games. Inexpensive software has led to an explosion in the popularity of digital collage.

These new art forms, all examples of remix culture, have come in conflict with Canadian copyright laws. It's arguable that these forms of creativity infringe copyright law as it currently exists in Canada. Seeking to protect what they interpret to be their rights, some copyright owners have suppressed the works of remixers. Mashup artists, fan fiction writers, machinimators and creators of digital collage create their works with the knowledge that they may someday face a lawsuit for copyright infringement.

RiP: A Remix Manifesto---premiering Wednesday at the ViewFinders International Film Festival for Youth---is a documentary by Canadian filmmaker and web activist Brett Gaylor. It explores the tension between copyright and remix culture. The main protagonists in RiP are four individuals who are prominent in the current copyright debates: Girl Talk, a mashup artist whose latest album, Feed The Animals, stitches together 322 songs in 54 minutes of music; Lawrence Lessig, a professor at Stanford Law School, who is the "coolest lawyer in the world" and a well-known advocate of remix culture; Cory Doctorow, a Canadian technology activist, blogger and science fiction novelist; and Gilberto Gil, musician, songwriter and formerly Brazil's minister of culture.

Gaylor describes these individuals as "defenders of the public domain;" individuals who believe that the public domain (roughly defined as a space free from copyright protection) must be protected to ensure the future of art, culture and creativity. With help from these "defenders of the public domain," Gaylor traces the history of copyright from Gutenberg to Napster and beyond to show how corporate interests have hijacked copyright from its original purpose of providing incentives for artists to create works, to the detriment of society. His main argument is that a healthy public domain is essential to creativity, and that the public domain, as it exists today, is impoverished due to restrictive copyright laws and the actions of content owners.

He doesn't just speak of remix in the abstract. RiP is the world's first open source documentary, a living, breathing example of remix culture. During the film's development, Gaylor shared raw footage on Open Source Cinema, his collaborative website where filmmakers can share media, remix scenes and work together on films. Gaylor continues to encourage fans to take the documentary, remix it, remake it and, in so doing, participate in RiP's ongoing reinvention. Many of these uploaded remixes, including an animated version of the film, have been incorporated into the latest version of RiP.

The documentary's release is particularly well timed. The federal government has indicated that it intends to introduce new legislation to amend the Copyright Act. Concerns have been raised that the proposed legislation will further restrict the rights of users to remix copyright-protected content. In RiP, Gaylor warns of the dangers of living in a world in which the past controls the future. He shows the promise of a world in which everyone can participate in the continuous reinvention of culture, and everyone can create the future by building on the past. A world where everyone can remix.

RiP: A Remix Manifesto's French-language screening, Wednesday, April 22 at Empire Bayers Lake 9, 10:20am, $6. English-language screening, Friday, April 24 at the Oxford Theatre, 10am, $6,

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