I recently dug up, scanned and restored this cartoon I drew in 1984 for the Uni High yearbook. It makes me nostalgic not for school (for which I still carry much resentment*) but for the glorious escape drawing provided those years. There were no art classes at Uni while I was there, for which I am eternally grateful. While my liberal friends are mostly “arts education” boosters, I owe my survival to Art staying beyond the reach of school, teachers, and institutionalization. School ruined math, literature, physical exercise, social interactions, and pretty much everything else that could be beautiful – thank doG it didn’t ruin drawing too.
*Dropping out of the University of Illinois at the end of my Sophomore year was the first Great Decision I ever made. My second Great Decision was freeing Sita Sings the Blues and dropping out of Copyright. I’ve only made two Great Decisions in my life, but they’re plenty. Dayenu.
With all the false copyright claims happening on Youtube, I’m lately asking myself why I use it at all. I guess the main reason is the Network Effect: Youtube is the most popular video host, so that’s where most people go to find videos. If my vids aren’t on Youtube, there’s a chance they won’t be found.
But I’m not sure that’s a good enough reason, in light of all the Content ID abuse. Thanks to Brewster’s comment yesterday, I’m embedding archive.org video below. If this works, it’ll be an ideal alternative.
Another alternative to Youtube is Vimeo. I’ve had problems with Vimeo’s speed, and have embedded videos fail to load. But maybe those problems will resolve.
A bonus feature of both of these: they don’t seem to use Flash (which my current Chrome browser doesn’t support anyway).
Anyone care to comment on the quality of the archive.org and vimeo embeds above?
If anyone needs to download Sita Sings the Blues or copy Mimi & Eunice or anything from any of my web sites, including this blog, do it now because they’re all going dark for 24 hours in protest of SOPA/PIPA and the lobbyists and bought politicians who wrote them and will write the next stupid bills attempting to break the internet even after SOPA and PIPA “die” only to be resurrected zombie-like under new stupid acronyms.
Although I’ll truly miss Wikipedia while it’s down tomorrow, maybe I’ll use the time to get some actual animation done instead of just “research.”
Here at last is the video from my first How To Free Your Work workshop, given at NY Foundation for the Arts in Brooklyn, October 5 2011. You can get all the information contained herein as easy-to-read instructions at QuestionCopyright.org. If you want me to give a workshop like this to your group, please contact me.
You know what should be really easy to find online? Good quality, Public Domain vintage illustrations. You know, things like this:
I found this on Flickr, where someone claims full copyright on it. That’s copyfraud, but understandable because Flickr’s default license is full copyright (all the more reason to ignore copyright notices!). But copyfraud is not the main problem. The main problem is that images like this are painfully difficult to find online, especially at high resolutions (and this image is only available at medium resolution – up to 604 pixels high, which is barely usable for most purposes but higher than much of what you find online).
The images are out there – and with zillions of antique books being scanned, their vintage illustrations are being scanned right along with them. But the images are buried in the text, and often the scan quality is poor. Images should be scanned at high quality, and tagged for searchability.
Are archives ignoring the value of images?
Take the American Memory archive of the Library of Congress. Lots and lots of historical documents here, but no way for me to find an image of, say, a horse.
Most book-scanning projects focus on texts, not illustrations. Many interesting and useful illustrations are buried within these scans, uncatalogued and inaccessible. Scan quality is set for text, not illustrations, so even if one can find a choice illustration buried within, its quality is usually too low to use.
Archive.org is great (I love you, archive.org!) but does not have an image archive. Still images are not among their “Media Types” (which consist of Moving Images, Texts, Audio, Software, and Education). So I went spelunking through their texts, starting with “American Libraries,” and searched for something easy: “horse.” Surely I could find a nice usable etching of a horse in there somewhere. I eventually found “The Harness Horse” by Sir Walter Gilbey, from 1898.
Nice illustrations! Can I use them? Unfortunately, no. The book is downloadable as PDF and various e-publication formats, but when I try to extract the illustrations, I get a mess:
Copied and pasted from Adobe Acrobat. WTF?
The same image, inverted. Doesn't work.
"Save Image as..." from Acobat. This worked, except where it didn't: part of the image is simply missing.
Clearly something is messed up here. Was it just that page? Alas, no:
This sad image from another page has the same problem
The scans have some flaws that PDFs and Photoshop can’t cope with:
Screen grab of zoomed-in view from Acrobat. What looks like a blur in the PDF renders the image unusable when extracted.
These images are not useable, which is a pity because they are very nice illustrations. And they seem to be among the higher quality scans, which again isn’t saying much.
Let me add that it’s great these books are being scanned at all! That’s definitely better than losing them entirely. But as an artist, it saddens me that we’re neglecting this wealth of visual art. I’d like to see our rich visual history properly archived. Our bias favoring text over pictures is especially ironic considering how much more efficiently information is communicated to humans through images; “A picture is worth a thousand words,” or more. That’s why I’m a cartoonist, after all.
I was able to extract one clean image from the book, on page 48:
Unfortunately I can’t use this illustration for my purposes, but maybe someone else can. I’ve already gone through the trouble of finding it in a text, extracting it, and rotating it. If only there were some image archive I could upload it to at high resolution, so someone else could use it. I could tag it, to make it easier to find. I could include all kinds of useful metadata, like what book it was from and when it was published; but even if that was too bothersome, I could at least include tags like “horse,” “rider” and “engraving.” Wouldn’t it be nice if such an archive existed? Wikimedia Commons is close, although I dread uploading things there after having all my open-licensed comics deleted by an overzealous editor. But maybe they’re our best hope.
Continuing my searches on archive.org, I found this ostensibly Public Domain, vintage horse book with line illustrations. Unfortunately this is controlled by Google Books. It’s “free” to read online in Google’s reader, which doesn’t allow any image export. It also doesn’t allow me to zoom in.
All those illustrations, trapped at low resolution, unusable (even if they were tagged/catalogued, which they aren’t). This is our “Public Domain.” Who exactly is benefitting from having these 18th Century illustrations inaccessible to today’s artists?
Then there’s Dover Books. I loved Dover books growing up – they introduced me to the idea of the Public Domain. Dover reproduces vintage illustrations in books for artists and designers. Their paper books were reasonably priced, and you could use the illustrations for anything, without restriction. Browsing was free, so I would flip through the pages in the book store, and if it had what I needed, I’d buy it.
Dover is still selling books, but the prices are now relatively high, few are carried in bookstores, and they prohibit browsing online. You have to shell out $15 to find out if what you need is in the book, and how could you know? They seem to be clinging to an outdated copyright model, and rather than selling things of added value, they are simply blocking access to existing Public Domain works, in order to collect a toll.
What else has kept a good public archive of Public Domain images from existing? Some artists and archivists do make high quality scans of vintage illustrations – and keep them to themselves. I guess we could call this “image hoarding.” I assume the reasoning is, “I went through all the trouble to scan it, why should I share? Others can pay me if they want a copy.” Also there’s the “finders, keepers” reasoning: “anyone else is free to find the same illustration in another antique book, but I found this one, so it’s mine.” And so these images remain inaccessible, not part of any public archive.
Wikimedia Commons is the best public image archive I know of right now. A bit of searching led me to their “Engravings of Horses” category, which yielded some nice images. Unfortunately, many of these are not available at sufficiently high resolutions.
The maximum size of this image is 800 × 608 pixels, which limits its use. Limited image sizes and limited selection have been the biggest obstacles to my relying more on Wikimedia Commons; but it can get better. Maybe it will. It would be nice if something became the public vintage image archive I and so many other artists need.
LYRICS: Always give credit where credit is due if you didn’t write it, don’t say it’s by you just copy the credit along with the work or else you’ll come off as an arrogant jerk
Always give credit where credit belongs we know that you didn’t write Beethoven’s songs pretending you did makes you look like a fool unless you’re Beethoven – in that case, it’s cool
A transparent system makes cheating unwise the simplest web search exposes your lies no one wants their reputation besmirched which happens to liars when they are web-searched
Proper citation will make you a star it shows that you know that we know who you are Plagiarization will only harm you so always give credit where credit is due!
Synopsis: Mimi makes a copy of a Beethoven Symphony with a giant copy machine. Trouble starts when Eunice erases Beethoven’s name and writes in her own. This makes Eunice look like an ass. Searching the Internet (itself a giant copy machine) confirms that Eunice is a liar. Eunice realizes her mistake and corrects it, but by then everyone’s moved on – her plagiarism is barely a blip in the spread of correctly-attributed cultural works through copying.
Whenever I speak about Free Culture at schools, I’m asked “what about plagiarism?” Copying and plagiarism are two quite different things. As Mimi demonstrates with the giant Copy Machine, copying a work means copying its attribution too:
just copy the credit along with the work
When people copy songs and movies, they don’t change the authors’ names. Plagiarism is something else: it’s lying. If Copyright has anything to do with plagiarism, it’s that it makes it easier to plagiarize (because works and their provenance aren’t public and are therefore easier to obscure and lie about) and increases incentive to do so (because copying with attribution is as illegal as copying without, and including attribution makes the infringement more conspicuous). American Copyright law does not protect attribution to begin with; it is concerned only with “ownership,” not authorship. Many artists sign their attributions away with the “rights” they sell, which is why it can be difficult to know which artists contributed to corporate works.
I chose Beethoven to illustrate how copyright has nothing to do with preventing plagiarism. All Beethoven’s work is in the Public Domain. Legally, you can take Ludwig van Beethoven’s songs, Jane Austen‘s novels, or Eadweard Muybridge‘s photographs and put any name you want on them. Go ahead! You’re at no risk of legal action. Your reputation may suffer, however, and you definitely won’t be fooling anyone. If anyone has doubts, they can use that same copy machine – the Internet – to sort out who authored what. Lying is very difficult in a public, transparent system. A good analog to this is public encryption keys: their security comes from their publicity.
The song says “always give credit where credit is due,” but in many cases credit is NOT due. For example, how many credits should be at the end of this film? I devoted about two and a half seconds to these credits:
Movie and Song by Nina Paley
Vocals by Bliss Blood
But I could have credited far more. In fact, the credits could take longer than the movie. Here are some more credits:
Ukelele: Bliss Blood
Guitar: Al Street
Recorded by Bliss Blood and Al Street
What about sound effects? Were it not for duration constraints, this would be in the movie:
Every single sound effect in the cartoon was made by someone. Should I credit each one? Crash-wobble by (Name of Foley Artist Here). Cartoon zip-run by (Name of Other Foley Artist Here). And so on: dozens of sound effects were used in the cartoon, and each one had an author. What about the little noises Mimi & Eunice make? Not only could the recording engineer be credited, but the voice actor as well (as far as I know, these were both Greg Sextro).
I included a few seconds of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony at the end, which I didn’t credit in the movie. Should I have? Why or why not?
I could credit the characters:
& Special Guest Appearance by
Ludwig van Beethoven
I could be more detailed in crediting myself:
Lyrics and Melody by Nina Paley
Character design: Nina Paley
Animation: Nina Paley
Produced by Nina Paley
Directed by Nina Paley
Edited by Nina Paley
Backgrounds by Nina Paley
Color design by Nina Paley
Layout: Nina Paley
Based on the comic strip “Mimi & Eunice” by Nina Paley
The ass drawing also came from Wikimedia Commons, where it’s credited to Pearson Scott Foresman. But who actually drew it? I have no idea. I doubt that Pearson Scott Foresman could even legally claim the copyright on it to “donate” to Wikimedia in the first place, but there they are, getting credit for it instead of an artist. That’s because copyright is only concerned with “ownership,” not authorship.
Then there’s the software I used, good old pre-Adobe Macromedia Flash. Should I credit the software? What about the programmers who contributed to the software?
I also used a Macintosh computer (I know, I know, when Free Software and Open Hardware come close to doing what my old system does, I’ll be the first to embrace it) and a Wacom Cintiq pen monitor. How many people deserve credit for these in my movie?
Mimi and Eunice themselves were “inspired” by many historical cartoons. Early Disney and Fleischer animations, the “rubber hose” style, Peanuts, this recent cartoon, and countless other sources I don’t even know the names of – but would be compelled to find out, if credit were in fact due. Is it?
And so on. It is possible to attribute ad absurdum. So where is credit due? It’s complicated, the rules are changing, and standards are determined organically by communities, not laws. I had to edit the song for brevity, but I kind of wish I hadn’t excised this line:
A citation shows us where we can get more of all the good culture that Free Culture’s for
Attribution is a way to help your neighbor. You share not only the work, but information about the work that helps them pursue their own research and maybe find more works to enjoy. How much one is expected to help their neighbor is determined by (often unspoken) community standards. People who don’t help their neighbors tend to be disliked. And those who go out of their way to deceive and defraud their neighbors – i.e. plagiarists – are hated and shunned. Plagiarism doesn’t affect works – works don’t have feelings, and what is done to one copy has no effect on other copies. Plagiarism affects communities, and it is consideration for such that determines where attribution is appropriate.
At least that’s the best I can come up with right now. Attribution is actually a very complicated concept; if you have more ideas about it, please share.
Several people have asked if they can use “the Mimi & Eunice font” for translations. It happens I don’t use a font – I actually hand-letter these suckers, trying to be messy. Apparently I haven’t succeeded, because even my messy hand-lettering looks a lot like my cleaner lettering from the late 1990′s, which I do have a font of. It’s called “Nina,” and I made it with Fontographer on my very first Mac – in fact it was my first Mac project ever. At long last I’m sharing it freely with everyone:
It’s a zipped file containing 3 versions: light, medium, and bold. Light and bold are probably sufficient; you can dispense with the medium for most uses. The format is old Mac “suitcase” (.suit) and may need to be converted into other, newer font formats. If you convert it, please upload your conversions back to archive.org (or send them to me to upload on the same page) so they can be shared too. Here’s an example of a Mimi & Eunice translated into Brazilian Portugese by Rafael Monteiro:
I’ve wanted to share this uncut interview file for a long time now. The main reason I’ve held back is I wanted Aseem, Bhavana and Manish to listen to the whole thing and be comfortable with having it out in the world. As far as I know, none of them did listen to the whole thing. Still, Manish was worried that it might attract more negative attention from batshit fundamentalists. So, I held on to it…. Now Manish is gone and all we have left are our memories (mine is extremely fallible), and recordings like this one. At his memorial yesterday Chris Dillon played an excerpt, and said it was like having a new conversation with Manish. The batshit fundamentalists are batshit no matter what; whether we speak or are silent, they will hate. I don’t want fear of them to deprive anyone of a conversation with Manish. Plus, as you can hear, Manish was quite a respectful and thoughtful Hindu – moreso than the few clips in SSTB may have revealed. So here you go, World:
Our first Minute Meme, Copying Is Not Theft, continues its steady spread online. The two versions currently most shared are QuestionCopyright.org’s “official” version, which we unfortunately named “best” instead of “official” (“best” implying a value judgement) and the arrangement by Willbe which uses my original wavery vocals (hence my unfortunate value judgement – the official/”best” version has vocals by professional Connie Champagne, which save me the embarrassment of hearing my own voice).
On the Willbe version youtube page, I found a pretty good suggestion in the comments: a Copy Bunny Progress bar. That was easy enough to make; here’s a truncated version in GIF format:
I also uploaded all the original .fla files to archive.org, so you can remix and modify to your heart’s content.
Also, did you know there’s a Copying Is Not Theft cloisonne pin? Well there is! And you can buy it.
But this project needs your help. I’ve assembled all the strips I could find and put them in two giant zipped folders (one for B&W dailies, one for color Sundays), which I uploaded here on archive.org. But someone – anyone – now needs to convert the TIFF files to PNG and upload them one at a time to Wikimedia Commons, where they can be read, shared, and enjoyed by everyone.
Feel free to come up with a better file naming protocol than the examples here. In order to convert the Sunday color files to PNG, they must first be mode-changed from CMYK to RGB.
The Black-and-white files should be converted from bitmap to greyscale before saving as PNG and uploading. We also need descriptions and welcome any other relevant data anyone wants to add.
UPDATE: Holly Duthie has done all the color mode and file conversions! The new PNG files are here:
“…one of the things I’ve been doing is trying to find good Creative Commons-licensed/free use images for MonkeyLectric’s POV bike wheel demos, so that we can make and publish videos showing what our bike wheel display can do, without fear of litigation, and it’s been a bit tough to find good images that work really well on our wheel. UNTIL! I learned of the animated movie Sita Sings the Blues…”
Yes, she will be animated. Free Culture: on the cutting edge of awesome.
They need $7,000 to scan, prep, and upload my entire comics oeuvre, including Nina’s Adventures and Fluff. Under a Creative Commons Share Alike license, of course, so everyone can see, share, use, and build on them.
$7,000 for Digital Content Creation to digitize a collection of the original comic strip art boards of Nina Paley, an Urbana-born cartoonist and animated filmmaker, whose award-winning animated film Sita Sings the Blues was reviewed by Roger Ebert as “astonishingly original” and selected by him for screening at Ebertfest 2009 in Champaign.
Her cartoon series include Nina’s Adventures (self-syndicated) and Fluff (distributed internationally by Universal Press Syndicate). Nina’s Adventures was a semi-autobiographical, often experimental, alternative weekly comic strip that delivered incisive commentary on consumerism, overpopulation, and other social issues. Ms. Paley is interested in making her artwork openly and freely available for distribution and reuse. If interested please call the Library: (217) 333-5683
Big ol’ hi-res “Sita” PNGs now at archive.org! They’re suitable for print publication.
More coming, as I get time to deal with everything. Whenever that is.
Speaking of which, does anyone want to help make the “Frequently Asked Interview Questions” part of the Sita FAQ? This would involve going through all the interviews I’ve done about Sita Sings the Blues (a few are linked to here, the rest need to be googled), determining which questions are asked over and over again, and consolidating the answers based on what I’ve already said. If I tackle it now that’ll mean another day I don’t get to the new DVD packaging and other tasks I have to do myself. We’ve got a wiki; I’m still learning how to use it, but feel free to start a FAQ there with a brand new FAQ section. Thanks!
Thanks to Ian Albinson of Art of the Title, there’s now a high quality (albeit smaller than HD) downloadable 480p QuickTime H.264 at archive.org. More formats and sizes on the way! If you manage to download this, please consider offering it on your own host and leaving a link in the comments posting a link on the Sita Wiki.