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Filmmaker and web activist Brett Gaylor takes a look at issues of copyright in the information age and raises pertinent issues, and how the 21st century differs from those gone by. He argues that using already created creative work and reshaping it - as in Mash Ups - should be free of copyright restrictions.

Review by Louise Keller:
The issue about copyright and protection of ideas is a hot topic of conversation these days as we crash headlong into new technologies. Piracy, intellectual property and its ownership, online distribution and whether or not you can own an idea are all part of the argument and one that should be a springboard for a host of conversations. But this documentary by Canadian-born filmmaker Brett Gaylor, who was born at the same time as the internet was conceived, fails to present a rational debate. His argument is so biased as to be off-putting, instead of having promoting a platform in which constructive ideas are thrown around in stimulating fashion.

The film begins and ends on the dance floor, where Gaylor uses music to make his point. He starts with a look at music sampling, when mash-up artists (like Gregg Gilles' Girl Talk) cut up and rearrange existing music to create something new. "Originality is not the point," we hear. "It's about who owns the copyright." He maintains the creative process is more important than the product. The whole film is tinged by a particular breathless viewpoint and attitude, such as the segment when Gaylor talks to the 'coolest lawyer in the world'.

Copyright was originally instigated to encourage and protect creativity, but the scales of the law do not necessarily show balance. The issue about Warner Chappell publishing raking in copyright dollars every time the song Happy Birthday is used publicly is a good one. The money does not go to the writers of arguably the best known song in the world (Mildred and Patty Hill), but to the company that licences it. Suggesting that Walt Disney was a mash-up artist is an interesting thought, and that this innovator used works in the public domain (like Pinocchio, Cinderella etc) updating them with his own special stamp. Under the copyright laws however, artists like Disney are protected for 70 years beyond their death.

Gaylor examines how culture is built on the past, how the past influences the future and in order to progress, the control of the past must be limited. Maybe the answers are not as black and white as Gaylor suggests. There are some good points made but the film would have been so much more effective and less frustrating, had it been given a balanced point of view.

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Brett Gaylor wants people like Girl Talk to be given creative and commercial freedom to plagiarise from other artists and make mushed up music from their work. Why? To argue that all artists are informed by the past, or even that some artists and musos plagiarise (some innocently, some not) is totally missing the point of copyright.

It's a bit irritating to have this slush rammed down our throats, with no redeeming virtue -such as a decent argument. The internet is to blame for this blurred vision, as Gaylor demonstrates; it's the access to everything that makes it possible for mash ups to be made so readily. You can make a case for freedom, as he does, and glue it to culture, and art, and the public domain....but all the while you'll be ignoring exactly the same kind of artists from whom you steal. They, too, are in the same creative space, and twisting the argument into a fake conflict between big business and a free, creative world of happy, innocent masher ups is plain dishonest.

What he is advocating - on behalf of many likeminded people - is that we all have a right to everything, to make new art from old. I wonder whether he would see it that way if someone mashed up his film and regurgitated it suggesting the opposing point of view. That's no different from taking a piece of music and mangling it.

But I won't waste your time on arguing the case; this is a film review, and as a piece of polemic, it's a well worked doco, using energy, narration and home video style footage to ram home the message. Pity the message is flawed - even if it based on Professor Lawrence Lessig's work, questioning whether the technology should be allowed to make people copyright criminals. Wrong question. He is also wrong about Fair Use issues regarding film: for his information, it is permitted under copyright law to use excerpts of films in the context of reviewing them or discussing them. What Gaylor is talking about is making his own film - using bits from other films. Big difference. Likewise Girl talk and his mash ups; Gaylor cheats his way through his arguments like this, and that's a problem because he's reinforcing misinformation and compounding the confusion.

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(Canada, 2008)

CAST: Documentary

PRODUCER: Mila Aung-Thwin, Katherine Baulu

DIRECTOR: Brett Gaylor

SCRIPT: Brett Gaylor


EDITOR: Tony Asimakopoulos, Brett Gaylor

MUSIC: Olivier Alary


RUNNING TIME: 85 minutes


AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: May 21, 2009 (Chauvel Cinema, Sydney)

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