Dir. Craig Baldwin, USA
1995, 1 min 25 sec
“In 1991 the Bay Area collage band Negativland was sued by Island Records for infringement of U2’s copyright and trademark.”
Craig Baldwin (b. 1952) has been making subversive experimental films from cannibalized 16mm “found” footage since the late 1970s. His works have always incorporated pseudo-documentarian gestures – such as his seminal Tribulation 99: Alien Anomalies Under America (1991), which presents a satirical revisionist history of CIA interventionism in Latin America – but to date, Sonic Outlaws is his only actual documentary.
Rushing to support Negativland in their struggle against Island, Baldwin uses their legal troubles as a launching point into a larger conversation about appropriation, copyright law, and political activism, connecting these practices to their antecedents as well as their mainstream contemporaries.
Featuring interviews with artists Negativland, John Oswald, Emergency Broadcast Network, and The Tape Beatles, Baldwin’s film stands as an artifact of the golden age of “culture jamming,” as well as a record of the cultural moment when the legal concept of Fair Use first began to assert itself into the popular consciousness.
We are now at a point where the re-mix has become a firmly established form of artistic expression, but copyright laws still haven’t caught up. In today’s era of copyright trolls and DMCA takedown notices, Sonic Outlaws remains an incredibly important document of the litigious culture industry and a fiery call to reform a hopelessly outdated legal system.