Stealing culture

A free must-see movie
By MIKE MILIARD  |  June 26, 2007


VIDEO: Watch a clip from Good Copy Bad Copy

The following review of Good Copy Bad Copy does not appear in the Phoenix’s film section. That’s because this hourlong documentary about copyright and culture does not appear in theaters; it screens on your computer, after you've downloaded it for free at goodcopybadcopy.net. (Well, technically, it's streaming free online at that address; to download it, you'll need BitTorrent software and this link. We've included a clip from the movie above, via YouTube.)

What’s most fascinating about this sociological travelogue, directed by Danish filmmakers Andreas Johnsen, Ralf Christensen, and Henrik Moltke, isn’t the interviews with musicians like producer Brian Burton (a/k/a Danger Mouse) and sampler supreme Gregg Gillis (a/k/a Girl Talk), or academics like Lawrence Lessig of Creative Commons, or corporate suits like Dan Glickman, CEO of the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA). After all, we’re well versed by now in arguments about the push-pull between free expression and the free market.

Rather, its greatest value lies in showing how these issues play out in the real world. We start in Gillis’s living room, as he demonstrates how he lovingly cobbled together dozens upon dozens of copyrighted songs to make 2006’s superb Night Ripper (Illegal Art). We then step away from the laptop and head outside, globetrotting to a bootleg CD and DVD bazaar in Moscow, then over to Stockholm, home of torrent tracker ThePirateBay.org — whose founders wrote a letter to an MPAA lawyer with the suggestion “please go sodomize yourself with retractable baton” — and the Piratpartiet political party it helped spawn.

Then to Lagos, Nigeria — which has embraced digital video and has no copyright law, and produces twice as many movies each year as Hollywood does — and onward to northern Brazil, whose techno brega movement offers an open system of production and distribution and nets millions of dollars a year.

“The whole industry has a lot to learn from these emerging forms of production that are taking place in the poorer areas of the world,” says Ronaldo Lemos, a professor at Rio de Janeiro’s FGV Law School.

Meanwhile, sitting in a well-appointed Hollywood office is Glickman — gray-haired, gray-suited — averring that logic is on his side. “Clearly, people will not do things for free. It defies human nature to . . . just give it away.”

Well, this movie is being given away. And toward the end of the film, Lessig points out that “57 percent of teenagers have created and shared content on the Internet.” Most of them never made a dime. And much of their content contained re-purposed copyrighted material. Which demographic do you suppose will ultimately determine how the future pans out?

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