Alex Goldman is a producer for On the Media. One time he got run over by a car.
Q&A: Kirby Ferguson
Friday, July 01, 2011 - 12:29 PM
Over the past 9 months, writer, director, and editor Kirby Ferguson has been releasing episodes of Everything is a Remix, a video series about how appropriation, borrowing, and adaptation are inherent in, well, everything we as a culture create. The third installment of the four-part series just came out last week, so we thought we'd ask him a few questions about the project and his personal opinions on copyright and fair use.
Q: What was the genesis of this project?
A: The idea started to form a few years ago when there was a bunch of far-fetched lawsuits aimed at high-profile artists -- J.K. Rowling, Coldplay, Dan Brown. I started to wonder why some people now seem to think that any work that resembles theirs is an infringement. Everybody's work resembles all sorts of previous stuff. I thought this hypocrisy could be exposed in a clear story, and after a while some of the examples I use in the series fell into place.
Q: The first and second episode of Everything is a Remix demonstrate an encyclopedic knowledge of source materials for folks like Led Zeppelin, Quentin Tarantino, and George Lucas. Is this the result of tireless research, or is the trivial knowledge one picks up as a pop culture consumer?
A: I think I already had the lay of the land, but I'm not encyclopedic by any means. I'm more a journalist than an expert, and the project is very much a product of research. I spend a couple months researching and writing each episode. But the topics you mention weren't even that difficult to work up. They've been covered online extensively here, here and here. Turning that information into a narrative and getting it on-screen in a reasonably interesting way was harder than sourcing the materials.
Q: The Everything is a Remix series is something you are essentially doing by yourself, for yourself, in your spare time. It is being funded entirely by donations online. What kind of response have you gotten from the online community?
A: It's gotten an amazing response. I've gotten hundreds of donations, thousands of positive comments, and I've met lots of amazing people. I certainly have my fair share of haters, but overall it's gone over fantastically well.
Q: Your series doesn't place a value judgement upon sampling and remixing, rather you describe remixing as essentially woven into the fabric of every creative endeavor. Why have you chosen to remain so agnostic?
A: I'm not sure it's a choice so much as just my temperament. It might also be a reaction to our culture, which I think has way too much partisan screeching.
Q: Your forthcoming and final episode will address the legal, ethical and artistic implications of remixing, which is, of course, On the Media's bread and butter. Can you give us your personal opinion on where you'd like to see us go culturally in terms of copyright and patent laws?
A: I think we have to stop conceiving of remixing as a kind of theft. It's not theft, it's not piracy, it's a legitimate effort to make something new. That effort deserves some respect, if not for the results, then for the intent. So I think step one is to stop treating remixing as theft and bring the penalties for unauthorized remixing back down to earth.
Q: Are you sympathetic to some copyright holders?
A: I'm sympathetic to most of them. It's natural in our culture to want to protect what you feel you worked hard for or invested in. Unfortunately, I don't think it's as natural to be aware of the innumerable ways we take from our culture in order to create these things. We need to let go of the idea that our creations are utterly ours. Creating something new entitles us to some rights, but not to perpetual monopoly, which is the direction we're headed in.
Q: What's the balance to strike in incentivizing remixes while also allowing artists to make a living?
A: Firstly, the scales needed to get tipped back towards the rest of us. Corporate interests have simply blown away the interests of our culture. Our laws are strongly biased towards companies protecting their assets. Any commercial artist who incorporates existing work into their own runs the risk of being bankrupted by a lawsuit. Guilty or not, these lawsuits can financially annihilate an independent creator. Andy Baio recently settled for 32 grand over a project, Kind of Bloop, that made pretty much no profit. The rewards for IP lawsuits have floated into the stratosphere, and small creators are censoring themselves in order to avoid trouble.
Q: does anything challenge your certainty that everything is a remix? Like, say, the invention of the wheel?
A: Maybe the creation of the universe. That one's a bit of a pickle.
(to watch parts 2 and 3 of Everything is a Remix, visit everythingisaremix.info)