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This one was commissioned for The Future of Storytelling Conference.
I was provided with audio of a story by author and neuroeconomist Paul Zak and
produced the video in collaboration with animator Henrique Barone.
In case you missed the mention in Part 4, my next project will be a free and open political series called This is Not a Conspiracy Theory. To support this project, come back me on KickStarter and help spread the word!
The genes in our bodies can be traced back over three-and-a-half billion years to a single organism, Luca, the Last Universal Common Ancestor. As Luca reproduced, its genes copied and copied and copied and copied, sometimes with mistakes — they transformed. Over time this produced every one of the billions of species of life on earth. Some of these adopted sexual reproduction, combining the genes of individuals, and altogether, the best-adapted life forms prospered. This is evolution. Copy, transform and combine.
And culture evolves in a similar way, but the elements aren’t genes, they’re memes — ideas, behaviors, skills. Memes are copied, transformed, and combined. And the dominant ideas of our time are the memes that spread the most.
This is social evolution.
Copy, transform and combine. It's who we are, it’s how we live, and of course, it's how we create. Our new ideas evolve from the old ones.
But our system of law doesn't acknowledge the derivative nature of creativity. Instead, ideas are regarded as property, as unique and original lots with distinct boundaries.
But ideas aren't so tidy. They're layered, they’re interwoven, they're tangled. And when the system conflicts with the reality... the system starts to fail.
For almost our entire history ideas were free. The works of Shakespeare, Gutenberg, and Rembrandt could be openly copied and built upon. But the growing dominance of the market economy, where the products of our intellectual labors are bought and sold, produced an unfortunate side-effect.
Let’s say a guy invents a better light bulb. His price needs to cover not just the manufacturing cost, but also the cost of inventing the thing in the first place.
Now let's say a competitor starts manufacturing a copy of the invention. The competitor doesn't need to cover those development costs so his version can be cheaper.
The bottom line: original creations can’t compete with the price of copies.
In the United States the introduction of copyrights and patents was intended to address this imbalance. Copyrights covered media; patents covered inventions. Both aimed to encourage the creation and proliferation of new ideas by providing a brief and limited period of exclusivity, a period where no one else could copy your work. This gave creators a window in which to cover their investment and earn a profit. After that their work entered the public domain, where it could spread far and wide and be freely built upon.
And it was this that was the goal: a robust public domain, an affordable body of ideas, products, arts and entertainment available to all. The core belief was in the common good, what would benefit everyone.
But over time, the power of the market transformed this principle beyond recognition. Influential thinkers proposed that ideas are a form of property, and this conviction would eventually yield a new term… intellectual property.
This was a meme that would multiply wildly, thanks in part to a quirk of human psychology known as Loss Aversion.
Simply put, we hate losing what we've got. People tend to place a much higher value on losses than on gains. So the gains we get from copying the work of others don’t make a big impression, but when it’s our ideas being copied, we perceive this as a loss and we get territorial.
For instance, Disney made extensive use of the public domain. Stories like Snow White, Pinnochio and Alice in Wonderland were all taken from the public domain. But when it came time for the copyright of Disney’s early films to expire, they lobbied to have the term of copyright extended.
Artist Shepard Fairey has frequently used existing art in his work. This practice came to head when he was sued by the Associated Press for basing his famous Obama Hope poster on their photo. Nonetheless, when it was his imagery used in a piece by Baxter Orr, Fairey threatened to sue.
And lastly, Steve Jobs was sometimes boastful about Apple's history of copying.
But he harbored deep grudges against those who dared to copy Apple.
I'm going to destroy Android, because it's a stolen product. I'm willing to go thermonuclear war on this.
When we copy we justify it. When others copy we vilify it. Most of us have no problem with copying... as long as we're the ones doing it.
So with a blind eye toward our own mimicry, and propelled by faith in markets and ownership, intellectual property swelled beyond its original scope with broader interpretations of existing laws, new legislation, new realms of coverage and alluring rewards.
In 1981 George Harrison lost a 1.5 million dollar case for “subconsciously” copying the doo-wop hit “He’s So Fine” in his ballad “My Sweet Lord.”
Prior to this plenty of songs sounded much more like other songs without ending up in court. Ray Charles created the prototype for soul music when he based "I Got a Woman" on the gospel song "It Must be Jesus."
Starting in the late nineties, a series of new copyright laws and regulations began to be introduced...
Titles: NET Act, 1997 DMCA, 1998 PRO-IP, 2008 The Enforcement of Intellectual Property Rights Act of 2008
...and many more are in the works.
Titles: Innovative Design Protection and Piracy Prevention Act Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) "Six Strikes Plan"
The most ambitious in scope are trade agreements. Because these are treaties, not laws, they can be negotiated in secret, with no public input and no congressional approval. In 2011 ACTA was signed by President Obama, and the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement, currently being written in secret, aims to spread even stronger US-style protections around the world.
Titles: ACTA Signed by Canada, Australia, Japan, Morocco, New Zealand, Singapore, and South Korea. the EU.
Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement To be signed by: Australia, New Zealand, and the rest of North America, Russia and Asia
Of course, when the United States itself was a developing economy, it refused to sign treaties and had no protection for foreign authors. Charles Dickens famously complained about America's bustling book piracy market, calling it "a horrible thing that scoundrel-booksellers should grow rich."
Patent coverage made the leap from physical inventions to virtual ones, most notably, software.
But this is not a natural transition. A patent is a blueprint for how to make an invention. Software patents are more like a loose description of what something would be like if it was actually invented.
And software patents are written in the broadest possible language to get the broadest possible protection. The vagueness of these terms sometimes can reach absurd levels. For example, "information manufacturing machine," which covers anything computer-like, or "material object," which covers pretty much anything.
The fuzziness of software patents' boundaries has turned the smartphone industry into one giant turf war.
62 percent of all patent lawsuits are now over software. The estimated wealth lost is half a trillion dollars.
The expanding reach of intellectual property has introduced more and more possibilities for opportunistic litigation -- suing to make a buck. Two new corporate species evolved whose entire business model is lawsuits: sample trolls and patent trolls.
These are corporations that don't actually produce anything. They acquire a library of intellectual property rights, then litigate to earn profits. And because legal defense is hundreds of thousands of dollars in copyright cases and millions in patents, their targets are usually highly motivated to settle out of court.
The most famous sample troll is Bridgeport Music, which has filed hundreds of suits. In 2005 they scored an influential court decision over this two-second sample.
Funkadelic "Get Off Your Ass and Jam"
That's it. And not only was the sample short, it was virtually unrecognizable.
NWA's "A 100 Miles and Runnin'"
This verdict essentially rendered any kind of sampling, no matter how small, infringing. The sample-heavy musical collages of hip-hop's golden age are now impossibly expensive to create.
Now patent trolls are most common back in that troubled realm of software.
And perhaps the most inexplicable case is that of Paul Allen. He's one of the founders of Microsoft, he's a billionaire, he's an esteemed philanthropist who's pledged to give away much of his fortune. And he claims basic web page features like related links, alerts and recommendations were invented by his long-defunct company. So the self-proclaimed "idea man" sued pretty much all of Silicon Valley in 2010. And he did this despite no lack of fame or fortune.
So to recap, the full picture looks like this.
We believe that ideas are property and we're excessively territorial when we feel that property belongs to us. Our laws then indulge this bias with ever-broadening protections and massive rewards. Meanwhile huge legal fees encourge defendants to pay-up and settle out of court.
It's a discouraging scenario, and it begs the question: what now?
The belief in intellectual property has grown so dominant it's pushed the original intent of copyrights and patents out of the public consciousness. But that original purpose is still right there in plain sight. The copyright act of 1790 is entitled "an Act for the encouragement of learning". The Patent Act is "to promote the progress of useful Arts."
The exclusive rights these acts introduced were a compromise for a greater purpose. The intent was to better the lives of everyone by incentivizing creativity and producing a rich public domain, a shared pool of knowledge, open to all.
But exclusive rights themselves came to be considered the point, so they were strengthened and expanded. And the result hasn't been more progress or more learning, it's been more squabbling and more abuse.
We live in an age with daunting problems. We need the best ideas possible, we need them now, we need them to spread fast. The common good is a meme that was overwhelmed by intellectual property. It needs to spread again. If the meme prospers, our laws, our norms, our society, they all transform.
That's social evolution and it's not up to governments or corporations or lawyers… it's up to us.
If you've enjoyed this series, please support my next project, This is Not a Conspiracy Theory, on KickStarter. If you are unable to use KickStarter, PayPal donations are also welcome.
If you notice any errors in this video, I would appreciate if you could leave a comment below.
My thanks to iStockphoto
I strongly recommend clicking the HD button.
Here's a list of the songs in case you can't see the Amazon widget.
0:05 “Plants Inside” by Strangeloop 1:00 “Galuchat” by Gui Boratto 2:12 “Freibad” by Hauschka 3:38 “Freeze” by The Kleptones 4:50 “Common Exchange” by Emika 5:32 "My Sweet Lord" by George Harrison 5:40 "He's So Fine" by The Chiffons 5:57 "It Must Be Jesus" by The Southern Tones 6:08 "I Got a Woman" by Ray Charles 6:14 “Gold Digger” by Kanye West 7:08 “Organ Donor” by DJ Shadow 7:55 “Plastic People” by Four Tet 9:03 “Final Count of the Collision…” by Public Enemy 9:45 “Where Have All My Files Gone?” by Rachel’s 10:30 “Water From the Same Source” by Rachel’s
That is all.
Under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, video artists who break the encryption on a DVD or sample online streaming videos could face legal threats – even if the video they create is considered fair use. Join myself, the Electronic Frontier Foundation and thousands of filmmakers. Visit Rip Mix Make to voice your support for decrypting videos for the purpose of remixing. Please do so before February 10th.
Here's a collection of random items that have crossed my radar over the past few months but I've been too busy to post anything about.
"Shot-by-shot comparison of "Raiders of the Lost Ark" vs. scenes from 30 different adventure films made between 1919-1973." Thanks Andy
This is an oldie, but I'll mention it here for archival purposes. This American Life produced an excellent episode about patent trolls, When Patents Attack. This nice infographic was mostly sourced from the episode (via TechDirt). Planet Money also produced a follow-up about the cost of software patents, The Patent War.
That Song Sounds Like, a blog about songs that sound like other songs.
You Thought We Wouldn't Notice, a rather angry community blog about creative rip-offs.
Time for the classic good news-bad news combo. The good news is that Everything is a Remix Part 4 looks really good. In many ways, I think it's the best thing I've done. The bad news is – of course – that it's behind schedule, and honestly, I'm not even sure how far behind it is. My guess right now is that it will be out in mid-January. Visit here again for further updates or follow me on Twitter. Or best of all, sign-up for the mailing list and you'll be notified the moment the video drops.
Couple more items:
- I'm running a holiday special on Everything is a Remix merchandise: $5 off on t-shirts and posters. There are only 7 shirts and 13 posters remaining and once they're gone they're gone. Order now to make sure you get them for Christmas.
- I'll be at SXSW in March and in the UK for an extended stay in the summer.
- Everything is a Remix Part 4 will likely be premiered at a live event here in Brooklyn.
Update: This offer is now over.
The fine folks over at Flattr have offered me €5 (about 7 bucks) in Flattr credits to give to 100 people. (If you don't know what Flattr is, watch the short video above.) You have to be a new user to qualify.
To get your free credits, email me at kirby at everythingisaremix.info with the subject line, "Flattr". The first 100 respondents win. The guys at Flatter will then contact you with a promo code to use during your sign-up.
Once you've got some credits, here's some recommendations on folks to flattr:
And of course, you can always flattr Everything is a Remix.
If you enjoy Flattr, be sure to keep using it. It's a simple way to support online creators and I'd like to see it spread.
Even if you don't have any interest in Flattr, it's Pay a Blogger Day, so take a moment to donate any amount you can to someone whose work you find valuable.
When I found out Fight for the Future needed help with their campaign against a new bill called PROTECT-IP, I had to take a little time away from Everything is a Remix Part 4 and produce the video above. PROTECT-IP is the latest piece of legislation aiming to chip away at your online rights in the name of protecting the entertainment industry's business model. It's legislation that won't work, will give us yet more lawsuits, and will make the net worse.
Whether you lean right and hate business regulation, lean left and hate censorship, or lean neither way but hate useless legislation, PROTECT-IP is a bill everyone should oppose. I encourage you to head over to Fight For the Future and contact congress.
A special treat to tide you over until Part 4 arrives (it's running late): Rob G. Wilson made this video examining the origins of The Matrix. It was written by Cynthia Closkey and most of the comparisons were crowdsourced by Everything is a Remix fans.
0:27 - Fist of Legend (1994) 0:38 - Tai-Chi Master (Twin Dragons) (1993) 0:44 - Fist of Legend (1994) 0:48 - Tai-Chi Master (Twin Dragons) (1993) 0:53 - Drunken Master (1978) 1:02 - Fist of Legend (1994) 1:09 - The Killer (1989) 1:19 - Fist of Legend (1994) 1:21 - Iron Monkey (1993) 1:31 - Once Upon A Time In China (1991) 1:36 - Fist of Legend (1994) 1:41 - Tai-Chi Master (Twin Dragons) (1993) 1:45 - Philip K. Dick Speech (1977) 2:18 - Strange Days (1995) 2:24 - Akira (1988) 2:30 - Total Recall (1990) 3:24 - Alice In Wonderland (1951) 3:42 - The Killer (1989) 3:53 - A Better Tomorrow (1986) 4:05 - Ghost In The Shell (1995) 4:32 - Akira (1998) 4:39 - Koyannisqatsi (1982) 4:49 - Dr. Who: The Deadly Assassin (1976) 5:10 - Ghost In The Shell (1995)
(All sourced from The Matrix Soundtrack) 0:20 - Rob Dougan - Clubbed To Death (Kurayamino Variation) 1:44 - Hive - Ultrasonic Sound 2:30 - Lunatic Calm - Leave You Far Behind (Lunatics Roller Coaster Mix) 3:38 - Propellerheads - Spybreak 4:39 - Rob Dougan - Clubbed To Death (Kurayamino Variation)
Update 25-02-2012: Shop is sold out but I'll have new stuff in the next month or two!
The Everything is a Remix shop is now open for US customers. I'm offering $5 off on posters and t-shirts until October 15th. In exchange I'd appreciate your patience. I've never operated a shop before so there's bound to be a few snags here and there. If you experience any bugs with your order, just drop me a line at email@example.com and I'll straighten it out.
Hi everybody. Research for Part 4 is now complete and I'm in a very busy writing phase. I hope to have a first draft in about a week. My tentative launch date for Part 4 is October 25th.
A few assorted bits of news...
For those who emailed about partnerships and collaborations, I've been on the road for a while and haven't started to sort out responses. I'll get to those in September, but please note that I'll only be getting in touch with a select group. A lot of people have emailed, so that means most of you unfortunately won't hear back from me. I very much appreciate everyone's interest and I truly wish I could just use everyone.
See you in September, Kirby
A new video commission I produced for CNN...
I've uploaded an MKV file of Part 3 with subtitles, as well as versions of all the videos without music and without voice-over. Right-click and choose "Save Link as..." to download to your computer. Everything is a Remix Part 1 MKV with Subtitles Everything is a Remix Part 1 (no music) Everything is a Remix Part 1 (no voice-over)