Two years ago I wrote about Paul Allen's absurd claim that he had patented the internet*. (*Sounds like an exaggeration, right? It's not.) Now, New York filmmaker Kirby Ferguson has managed to do the impossible: he's made the Microsoft co-founder's lawsuit look even sillier than it already was by presenting it in the form of pretty moving pictures in his "Everything is a Remix" series.
In the first three, Ferguson made clear the importance of copying and combining (or remixing) in the creation of all great works of art and technological breakthroughs.
In Part One, he showed how there are almost no original ideas in the music industry. (Led Zeppelin comes off really bad in this one.) In Part Two he did the same with Hollywood. (Tarantino plays the Zeppelin role here, but at least he acknowledges and credits his inspirations.) In Part Three Ferguson punctured the myth of the lone genius. (Turns out, innovation is hard work. And, as the saying goes, success has many fathers*.)
But whereas his first three videos were about why remixing is essential to art and innovation, his last, and longest, work is an argument for how those creative works are threatened by the very system meant to encourage them. (For another local angle, just read anything we've written on local patent troll Intellectual Ventures.)
If you're like 99 percent of the internet, you'll look at that 15-minute run time and immediately click away. So for those in a hurry (read: everyone), jump to the 9:05 mark.
Says Ferguson, by e-mail, on why he chose Allen as Exhibit A of the problems with patent law: "Paul Allen, for me, highlights the absurdity of it all. His claim is is absurd, his wealth is absurd, the seeming vanity of it all is absurd."
Like I said before, this is old news. The idea that Allen is a litigious man-child with the bankroll to afford big boy toys is nothing new for anyone with a passing interest in Seattle tech news. But considering "Remix" has three million views and counting, it's reassuring to know that a decent chunk of the rest of the world will soon learn the same thing too.
*Yes I'm aware of the irony that my headline refers to Ferguson as a genius, even though his lengthy credit rolls suggest that, as he insists in his videos, nothing valuable is created in a vacuum. Still gonna stick with it, though, because "talented collaborator" doesn't roll off the tongue quite as easily.