A Little Girl Talk on Copyright

A Little Girl Talk on Copyright

Brett Gaylor's 2008 documentary RiP!: A Manifesto is, at heart, a defence of his “favourite band”, Girl Talk. It is therefore unsurprising that it does not appear to be a balanced look at the state of copyright law today, but rather a one-sided picture of current copyright law. Nonetheless, it succeeds in raising some interesting questions: What should the future of copyright, patent, and other forms of intellectual property look like? How does the impulse to create get expressed in a world where you must be careful of stepping on toes? Should there be a difference between for-profit, and not-for-profit uses of copyright? At the same time, Gaylor seemingly sidesteps the most interesting question (though the film dances around it throughout): How can we balance a copyright holder's need or desire to profit from that content with others' ability to make appropriate use of that content (and what do we really consider appropriate use)?

Four years later, there are still no final answers to these questions; Girl Talk is still producing music with no lawsuits in sight. Girl Talk has also recently released a “feature-length dance music video” called “Girl Walk All Day” which is being screened at locations across the U.S., but can also be viewed free, in its entirety, on the Girl Walk All Day website. There's no clear copyright information with respect to the film itself, but the album that is its soundtrack is clearly labeled under the Creative Commons copyright: what is calls an Attribution Noncommercial license. The intent of this type of license (worded in plain English) is that a user can make use of All Day, as long as she does not profit from it (i.e. use it for commercial purposes). This means that either Gregg Gillis (who is Girl Talk) or his record label, Illegal Art is distinguishing personal use - presumably not-for-profit - from commercial use.

Though this license allows distribution and sharing of the album, this line in the sand lines up remarkably well with the language common to copyright infringement suits, where the key point being made tends to be that the profit to be gleaned from copyrighted material should be reserved for the copyright holder, regardless of how their material is being used.

The core of Gaylor's argument did not depend on the availability for profit, only the availability to exercise one's creative impulse. At the time of the documentary, Gregg Gillis had a day job. Since that time he's been able to quit and, presumably, to support himself via his music. Though the impulse likely wasn't motivated by the potential profit, nonetheless, the availability of profit allows a greater focus on the creative impulse. This characteristic is likely common to creators of copyrighted content: whether or not the creation is motivated by its potential profitability, this possibility plays a large role in allowing the time for continued acts of creation.

Hayden McGuire is a JD Candidate at the University of Saskatchewan, Faculty of Law.