‘R.I.P. IP’ Panel at Whistler Film Festival 2008

NowPublic is in attendance at the 2008 Whistler Film Festival in Whistler, Canada.

Track our ongoing featured coverage at the Whistler Film Festival 2008 channel.

Although many attendees began arriving on Wednesday, the festival got fully underway on Thursday with an array of panel discussions, roundtable chats, workshops, and the opening gala screening.

I moderated a very interesting panel on Thursday morning that examined key issues relating to intellectual property and copyright, in an age where the creation, production, funding, distribution and marketing of film has gone digital, open-source, and even crowdsourced.

The panel was aptly entitled “R.I.P. IP“.

With the infusion of user-created content, the impact of this ‘free economy’ on Intellectual Property (IP) remains unclear. When and how do you retain and maximize the IP in your production across distribution channels? Or should we even want to? Will filmmakers be the winners or losers as social media networks deliver more free content to vast memberships? Using documentary case studies, the rules for the new world order are explored.

Panelists for the discussion included:

Daniel Cross of Eyesteel Film, documentary film producer of the acclaimed film Up the Yangtze and producer of Brett Gaylor’s fascinating documentary on remix/mashup culture and copyright, RiP: A Remix Manifesto.

Slava Rubin, founder of IndieGogo.com, “an online social marketplace connecting filmmakers and fans to make independent film…[that] provides filmmakers the tools for project funding, recruiting, and promotion, while enabling the audience to discover and connect directly with filmmakers and the causes they support”.

Robin Smith, CEO and founder of KinoSmith, a distribution, production and marketing consultation company that focuses on indepedendent Canadian film

We began the panel by screening a portion of “RiP”. In the clip, filmmaker Brett Gaylor follows Creative Commons creator and law professor Lawrence Lessig to Beijing, China to discuss his plan to make a film about copyright that incorporates samples from all of his favourite film and music mashups. While riding in the back of a taxi, Gaylor asks Lessig if would be willing to view a portion of the film and share his thoughts. Lessig agrees. They watch a short segment on Gaylor’s laptop and, as it finishes, Lessig quips: “I love it. But it’s totally illegal.” (Watch the preview and you’ll see why).

The film goes on to offer an extended inquiry into the nature of fair use when working with copyrighted material.

Gaylor argues that the samples in his film should be allowable based on the concept. Although Lessig agrees, and states that sampling from works of film and music should be akin to incorporating quotations or citations in a piece of writing, he notes that current copyright law in North America unequivocally prevents it.

But Gaylor’s film isn’t only about sampling from the work of others — it is about allowing the film itself to be modified and reworked by anyone.

Part of the film’s evolution included the launch of the website opensourcecinema.org — an open-source, community site that lets fans download, remix, and mashup the film and then share their work with the rest of the community.

But this raises an inevitable question: once a film has been ‘opened up’ to anyone’s participation and everyone’s involvement,  who owns it?

For Cross, the future of film is all about letting go of a proprietary approach to content creation; it is about freeing the content and allowing the public to interact with it. He admitted that this still leaves unresolved issues regarding traditional broadcast and distribution methods, however, he has acknowledged that going ‘open source’ has fundamentally changed the way he and his partners make films.

Robin Smith works with film producers to provide more traditional forms of distribution and marketing and he acknowledged that a huge challenge facing the Canadian industry remains finding ways of allowing content to be distributed online, often for free, while maintaining rights and IP over the content.

In fact, many of the deals Smith negotiates on behalf of his clients require that the filmmakers do not make their content available online anywhere — whether free to download or even for sale.

Slava Rubin’s approach to this issue is somewhat different, in that, through his site IndieGoGo, fans are able to participate in making a film in a variety of ways. Although filmmakers retain rights to the projects that they pitch on the site, they enable a community to get involved in every stage of a project’s creation. This crowd-powered model of funding, production, and distribution, he argues, gives fans a more meaningful connection to the film and often leads them to become evangelists for the finished product because they have been involved in bringing it to fruition.

As the conversation continued, the panel shifted slightly, away from the concept of copyright and IP, and toward the ever-ubiquitous buzzword of “monetization”.

Yes, Virginia, there is not only a financial crisis, there seems to be a crisis of monetization as well.

And neither the film industry, nor the digital media world, seem to have this one figured out.

For distributors like Smith, a freely distributed and totally open source model is a financial threat to the viability of his business.

For filmmakers like Cross and Gaylor, it’s brand new terrain that may well yield revenue potential — once significant legal and rights hurdles have been navigated.

And entrepreneurs like Rubin are hoping to capitalize on this paradigm shift in film production, by offering an interactive online platform that facilitates new forms of collaboration.

Exactly which “new forms” end up succeeding, in the long term, is still anyone’s guess — but all of the panelists agreed that it’s time for everyone to be less tentative about diving into the new media waters and, instead, to take risks and to experiment, boldly, with every available new model of crowdsourced creative collaboration.

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