Watch & Learn: Everything is a Remix

What is it?

The act of creation is surrounded by a fog of myths—myths that creativity comes via inspiration, that original creations break the mold, that they’re the products of geniuses and appear as quickly as electricity can heat a filament. But creativity isn’t magic. It happens by applying ordinary tools of thought to existing materials. And the soil from which we grow our creations is something we scorn and misunderstand even though it gives us so much … And that is copying.

This photo was shared under a Creative Commons Attribution-Non commercial license and was taken from the Flickr photo stream of Ted Conference

This photo was shared under a Creative Commons Attribution-Non commercial licenseand was taken from the Flickr photo stream of Ted Conference

‘Everything is a Remix’ is a documentary short filmspread over four parts. It was produced by Kirby Ferguson, a film-maker based in New York. A relatively recent film, ‘Everything is a Remix’ attempts to explain the importance of transformation in the creative process by drawing inferences from the past and contemporary society.Each part of the film attempts to address a different issue affecting creativity and culture. The four parts are:

  • Part I: The Song remains the Same
  • Part II: Remix Inc.
  • Part III: The Elements of Creativity
  • Part IV: System Failure.

By using a number of examples and case-studies, ‘Everything is a Remix’ is a simple yet visually appealing telling of the history of creativity and the problems faced by contemporary content-creators.

The Four Parts: What are they?

As mentioned earlier, each part of the series addresses issues related to creativity, the business and ethics of transforming, combining and sharing content. Here’s a brief breakdown of what to expect in each part;

Part I: The Song remains the Same

This picture was shared under a Creative Commons Attribution License and was taken from the Flickr photostream of Ludo

This picture was shared under a Creative Commons Attribution License and was taken from the Flickr photostream of Ludo

This part of the series introduces us to the role played by borrowing and transformation in the creative process by discussing sampling in music. By distinguishing between covers and knockoffs, Ferguson’s film attempts to educate us in the contours of legal and illegal musical borrowing.

Part II: Remix Inc.

This part of the film deals with creative borrowing and appropriation in the movies. By mentioning popular examples, Ferguson tells us that originality in the movies, is something that is far more romanticized than we believe it to be.

Creation requires influence.

Part III: The Elements of Creativity

Taking the example of famous musicians, comedians and writers, the film brings our attention to the fact that copying or emulation is an integral part of the creative process.

Part IV: System Failure

This final part of the film examines the problems created by the existing legal infrastructure. Beginning with an explanation of how the law understands ideas as neat, separate properties instead of messy, overlapping concepts; the film goes on to discuss patent trolls, copyright trolls and brings our attention to the flaws that exist in the current regulatory frameworks of creative content.

This photo was shared under a Creative Commons Attribution License and was taken from the Flickr photo stream of Andrea Soler

This photo was shared under a Creative Commons Attribution License and was taken from the Flickr photo stream of Andrea Soler

What do we think about the movie?

 ‘Everything is a remix’ is a great film that introduces viewers to;

(1) the importance of borrowing in the creative process and

(2) the way in which the current legal system fails to protect creative content.

There are a few places where Ferguson’s film falls short. For instance, although Ferguson’s film uses examples from popular media to explain the rampant incidence of emulation and copying, it fails to draw distinctions between inspiration, referencing and plagiarizing. For example, ‘Kill Bill’ which the movie terms, the ultimate movie mash-up is not really plagiarizing scenes, so much as it is referencing hallowed pop-culture moments. What Ferguson refers to as copying in genres, is something the law permits under the doctrine of Scenes Affaire wherein, it is acknowledged that a genre will contain certain stock elements that are too integral to the plot, to be exclusively used by any one content creator alone. So when Ferguson uses the word templates to describe the creative composition of genre movies, he fails to state that the law acknowledges and makes this kind of copying, legal.

The failure to distinguish referencing from plagiarism also shows up in Ferguson’s discussions on music sampling, where the film talks about hip hop (that primarily used samples from records) and Led Zeppelin’s music again doesn’t do much to clarify the difference in the nature of musical borrowing employed.

Ferguson also fails to discuss alternate licensing systems like the Creative Commons system, which is integral to the ‘remix culture’ that he claims exists today.

These few points aside, Ferguson’s film is a great introduction to the notion of the remix culture and this is essentially what creativity is all about. We recommend ‘Everything is a Remix’ as a fun, quick way to learn a bit about copyright and popular creative content. If you’ve watched the movie, why not let us know what you think in the comments below. Also was this review helpful? Do let us know.

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