Brett Gaylor, the director of the Open Source documentary RiP: A Remix Manifesto, is experimenting with the ‘Maecenas model’ (by others dubbed the ‘pay–as-you-like’ or Radiohead/NIN model) while launching his documentary online as a free download. I have written about RiP before here and since then the (CC licensed) feature length film has only gained more popularity and media attention.
WIRED dedicated a whole article, consisting of an interview with Gaylor, on the movie and discusses its business model, the release and popularity of the movie and the ‘copyfight movement’ Gaylor is involved in.
Why would Gaylor choose the Maecenas model? When we consider other possible free online content (or Open Access) business models, the Maecenas model does seem to be a more logical model than the model I wrote about yesterday which Bloomsbury Academic is applying to Lawrence Lessig’s book Remix. For in this model there is a clear cut end product, a printed book that can be bought to cover the costs for the production and the free online dissemination of the product. In the case of RiP, this seems a less logical path to follow: the whole idea behind this documentary movie is of course that there is no end product: in the process of continually remixing, reediting and mashing-up the material RiP consists of, the documentary could better be seen as a (continuous) project than a product. As WIRED states: ‘in the realities of remix culture, where there is no such thing as a final cut’. This of course does not mean that certain ‘snapshots’ of the documentary can not be ’materialized’ and sold as products to cover for the costs. And Gaylor does this too, releasing DVD versions of the movie and showing his documentary in a theatrical run at movie theaters and festivals. So in a way, he is betting on two horses. However, Gaylor’s alternative choice for the Maecenas model seems very interesting for the current project. In this specific case it seems like a very good idea to apply this community based model, where RiP collected quite a large network of remix collaborators and enthusiasts around its project core and attracted lot of similar minded folks interested in the goals and values Gaylor tries to spread and promote with his movie, who might definitely be interested in promoting this project further.
However, one of the additional problems of financing and even possibly profiting from such an inherent collaborative and community based project is how to divide the costs and the benefits? As Gaylor states in the WIRED interview:
“But since we have so many partners that helped us make the film, including theatrical and television distributors, it was a delicate balancing act to make sure the good faith they showed in making the film would be rewarded, that we wouldn’t undercut their efforts to promote and recoup on the film by giving it away.”
This of course also refers to the problem of attribution in such an ‘authorless documentary’ or collaborative approach: who will get the money? Will it go to Gaylor, (who of course in this case is still very much the master mind and creative brain behind the project) will it go to the foundation Open Source Cinema, which Gaylor has founded?
For Gaylor this does not seem to be the biggest problem however. His goal is to make the documentary as largely available as possible, arguing that that should be what copyright should be about in the first place. Gaylor in WIRED:
“We’ve gone to really great lengths to make this film as accessible as possible,” […]“It’s already on the Pirate Bay, and that’s great — it’s another delivery format. We didn’t put it there ourselves, though; we didn’t need to. Had we gone that route, it’s fairly likely, given the realities of the film-distribution universe, that we wouldn’t have these other opportunities to get the film to people who still watch TV, rent DVDs or go to movies, which is, in fact, most people. We wanted those people to watch this movie.”
When asked about his views on copyright he favors a balance between creating an incentive for producers and at the same time creating as wide accessibility to the consumer population as possible:
“The classic copyright ones: Providing an incentive, while at the same time ensuring the public’s access to the work. Ultimately, that’s what I, and most people in this movement, are pushing for — a balance. So the film release was a lot more “free as in speech” than it was “free as in beer,” because it was important for me that average folks could see the film on TV or in theaters. And eventually, after a limited term (measured in months!), the film will fall into the public/pirate domain and be copied freely.”
Gaylor also has some interesting thoughts about the future of remix culture and business models concerning movie distribution in such a context. He talks about going to the cinema as maybe becoming a (money making) experience event on the same scale as going to a concert. This could then serve as a way to cover for the costs that will be lost when the content will be available as a free download or as a pirated version:
“We’ll see how I feel about that in a year. The remixing is just starting to take off, and I envision a time when these sorts of interactions will create an environment where a theatrical screening is to filmmakers what live performances are to musicians. The ability to create something unique for a particular screening or event allows you to offer an added value to that audience member, as well as have something unique that’s different from what you can get on a DVD or online.”
And this is interesting indeed, while things might be increasingly online for free the logical option seems to be to charge for events that are unique and cannot be recreated in a ‘reproductive’ manner in an online environment. And this means that, paradoxically enough (or is it even that paradoxical?), Event becomes a capitalist commodity, whereas that what can be reproduced and spread easily online will more and more become available for free. Talk about turning around your business model.