QCO Artist-in-Residence Nina Paley’s interview with at Baixa Cultura, conducted by email with journalist and photographer André Solnik. The English below is the original; Baixa Cultura translated Nina’s answers.
1. When your interest on free culture has begun?
For a long time I thought copyright terms were too long and the law could use reform, but I didn’t really understand Free Culture until October 2008, after months on the film festival circuit with my then-illegal feature Sita Sings the Blues. Free Culture was too audacious a concept for me to think about clearly until then. One morning I finally got it — freeing my work would be better for the work — and I spent the next half-year preparing for a Free, legal release of SSTB. That finally happened in March 2009, when I finally cleared all the necessary (and bullshit) licenses at a cost of about $70,000 to myself.
2. Tell me in short why artists should free their work. Is it a good choice for both renowned and new artists?
Why should you Free your work? To make it as easy as possible for people to share your work — as easy as possible for your work to reach eyeballs and ears and minds — to reach an audience. And to make it as easy as possible for audience support — including money — to reach you…. Copy restrictionsplace a barrier between you, the artist, and most forms of support. By removing the barriers of copyright, you make it possible to receive money and other kinds of support from your audience, both directly and through distributors, thereby increasing your chances of success.
3. Creative Commons has recently released the final draft of the version 4.0 of its licenses. What changes would you like to see? Do you think CC should keep on supporting the nonfree licenses?
Yes, CC should stop supporting the non-free licenses. What kind of “commons” is that?
4. Although they are probably the most known alternatives to more restrictive ones, they still remain unpopular compared to the “all rights reserved“. Why is that? Do you reckon people get confused by the many possibilities given by the CC licenses?
Most people who use CC licenses don’t understand what the different licenses mean; they just call all of them “Creative Commons” as if that means anything. CC’s modular system was a good idea, I see it as an experiment that was worth doing. But the results are in: it didn’t work. What we have now are a mess of incompatible licenses, most of which fail to contribute to any real “commons,” and an increase of confusion and misinformation.
You can’t really blame Creative Commons though — the problem is copyright law. Nothing can fix it at this point. Even CC-0, a valorous attempt to opt out of copyright, doesn’t work in practice, as my experience with the Film Board of Canada showed — even after placing SSTB under CC-0, their lawyers refused to accept it was really Public Domain, and made me sign a release anyway, just to allow one of their filmmakers to refer to it. I will be saddled forever with permissions paperwork even with CC-0. I’ll probably keep using CC-0, of course, but I have no expectation it will work as it’s supposed to.
5. The BY-NC-SA license, although nonfree, it’s pretty popular. Why do you think so? What are the main issues about licensing a work using it?
People are high-minded when they choose the -NC restriction, but it accomplishes exactly the opposite of their ideals. They want to “protect” their works from abusive exploitation from big corporate players. They don’t realize those big corporate players LOVE the -NC clause, because it’s a commercial monopoly. Big corporate players are all set up to deal with commercial monopolies: they have licensing departments and lawyers. It’s the big corporate players who can afford to license your -NC works. It’s your peers, small players with no legal departments and limited resources, who can’t. The -NC clause screws over your fellow artists and small players, while favoring big corporations.
The way to avoid abusive exploitation is to use CC-BY-SA, a Share-Alike license without the -NC restriction. This allows your peers to use the work without fear, as long as they keep it Free-as-in-Freedom. Big corporate monopoly players, however, are unwilling to release anything Freely: if they want to use your work, they’ll have to negotiate a waiver of the -SA clause. For this they will pay money. It works like a regular licensing deal: for $X you waive the -SA restriction and allow them to re-use the work without contributing to the community. I have had many corporate licensors offer me such contracts, although I didn’t sign any because I was such a Free license booster.
The only reason BY-NC-SA is popular is because people really haven’t thought it through.
6. Money seems to be one of the main worries artists have when they hear someone saying “free your work“. Is this “fear“ justified? Have you recovered all the money spent in the making of Sita Sings the Blues?
7. You have recently announced that SSTB is now in the public domain. Although now you are finally free of burocracy envolving copyright stuff and this action could help your movie to have more visibility, on the other side it could favour restricted modifications of your work (e.g.: a book inspired by SSTB released under “all rights reserved“). How do you weigh these two sides?
Eh, honestly I just don’t care any more. Let’s just put it out there and see what happens. If something terrible happens because I shared freely, I’ll learn from that. But I think it’s stupid to worry about what other people do, and try to control it, especially with broken laws. Even Free Share-Alike licenses require copyright law to be enforced, and copyright law is hopelessly broken. I don’t want to validate or support it in any way.
Licenses are not going to fix our problems. What is fixing our problems is increasing numbers of people simply ignoring copyright altogether. Instead of trying to get people to pay more attention to the law, as CC does, I’d rather encourage them to ignore the law in favor of focusing on the art. Licenses are the wrong solution. Art is the solution. Make art not law.
8. Are you keen on the free software movement as well? Any of your works was made using free softwares?
A few years ago I started thinking about taking a vow of non-violence: a commitment to never sue anyone over Knowledge (or Culture, Cultural Works, Art, Intellectual Pooperty, whatever you call it). Copyright law is hopelessly broken; indeed, the Law in the US is broken all over the place. Why would I resort to the same broken law to try to fix abuses that occur within it?
We live in a messed-up world. My choices, however principled, will not change that. People will continue to censor, suppress, and enclose Knowledge. Share-Alike – the legal requirement to keep Knowledge Free – has ironically resulted in the suppression of same.
I learned of Aaron’s death on Sunday; on Monday, the National Film Board of Canada told me I had to fill out paperwork to “allow” filmmaker (and personal friend) Chris Landreth to refer to Sita Sings the Blues in his upcoming short, Subconscious Password, even though Fair Use already freed the NFB from any legitimate fear of Share-Alike’s viral properties. I make compromises to my principles every day, but that Monday I just couldn’t. The idiocy of NFB’s lawyers was part of the same idiocy that Aaron fought in liberating documents from JSTOR. I couldn’t bear to enable more bad lawyers, more bad decisions, more copyright bullshit, by doing unpaid paperwork for a corrupt and stupid system. I just couldn’t.
So the NFB told Chris to remove all references to SSTB from his film.
There are consequences for taking a principled stance. People criticize you, fear you, and pity you. You get plenty of public condemnation. You lose money. Sometimes the law goes after you, and although that hasn’t happened to me yet, it could as I do more civil disobedience in the future.
But the real victim of my principled stance isn’t me, it’s my work. When I took a principled stance against Netflix’s DRM, the result was fewer people saw SSTB. When countless television stations asked for the “rights” to SSTB and I told them they already had them, the result was they didn’t broadcast it. When publishers wanted to make a SSTB-based book, the Share-Alike license was a dealbreaker, so there are no SSTB books.
My punishment for opposing enclosure, restrictions, censorship, all the abuses of copyright, is that my work gets it.
Not using knowledge is an offense to it.
So, to the NFB, to Netflix, to all you publishers and broadcasters, to you legions of fucking lawyers: Sita Sings the Blues is now in the Public Domain. You have no excuse for suppressing it now.
Am I still fighting? Yes. BUT NOT WITH THE LAW. I still believe in all the reasons for BY-SA, but the reality is I would never, ever sue anyone over SSTB or any cultural work. I will still publicly condemn abuses like enclosure and willful misattribution, but why point a loaded gun at everyone when I’d never fire it? CC-0 is an acknowledgement I’ll never go legal on anyone, no matter how abusive and evil they are.
CC-0 is as close as I can come to a public vow of legal nonviolence. The law is an ass I just don’t want to ride.
I cannot abolish evil. The Law cannot abolish evil; indeed, it perpetuates and expands it. People will continue to censor, silence, threaten, and abuse Knowledge, and our broken disaster of a copyright regime will continue encouraging that. But in fighting monsters, I do not wish myself to become a monster, nor feed the monster I’m fighting.
Neither CC-BY-SA nor CC-0 will fix our flawed world with its terribly broken copyright regime. What I can say is SSTB has been under CC-BY-SA for the last 4 years, so I know what that’s like and can share results of that experiment. Going forward under CC-0 I will learn new things and have more results to share. That seems like a win even if some bad scenarios come into play. I honestly have not been able to determine which Free license is “better,” and switching to CC-0 may help answer that question.
“40 Years in the Desert,” a talk I gave at Copycamp in Warsaw, Poland, on November 26 2012. Audio is a bit messed up until 02:49, so just start there. I talk a bit about Questioncopyright.org and Minute Memes, liberally quote Rick Falkvinge, mention Fair Use and Creative Commons before getting into Intellectual Disobedience. Toward the end I discuss Seder-Masochism’s release plan.
I just uploaded super-high-res versions of the This Land Is MineViewer’s Guide illustrations to archive.org. As so many of you pointed out, I didn’t explicitly name Persians in the guide. But the Assyrians and Babylonians I made up are based on Assyrian, Babylonian, AND Persian art! Did you know it’s all from the same region? Did you know This Land Is Mine is a cartoon? Did you know the pictures in the cartoon are more important than the labels on a blog post? Did you know none of the characters is an accurate historical representation, because (again) it’s a cartoon? Well now you do! As always, my work is Free-as-in-Freedom so you can use these images for whatever you want, except imposing artificial monopolies. Print ‘em! Share ‘em! Re-label ‘em! Use ‘em in your Ph.D. thesis, but don’t blame me if their accuracy is called into question! Download the whole set (as well as the whole short movie) at archive.org.
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?
Youtube has been so rife with Content ID abuse – including multiple false claims on our Free Culture anthem, Copying Is Not Theft – I decided to try a Chinese video host. I’m embedding it here just to test how it works. So far the audio seems a little out of synch – anyone else getting that? Comments welcome below.
This afternoon I gave a Sita Sings the Blues talk to a roomful of 15-to-17-year-olds. Near the end I explained Free Culture and my stance against copyright, which led to some interesting discussion. Turns out most of them are manga fans, and familiar with publishers’ complaints about scanned and translated manga shared freely online. They all read them anyway (except one, who prefers to read entire manga in the bookstore). I asked them how they would choose to support artists they liked (once they had some disposable income) and they said:
Donate buttons – with the qualification that they want to know as much as possible about where the donation is going. They said honesty and transparency are important.
Kickstarter – They all knew about it (which was notable because none of them had heard of Flattr) and valued pitch videos that explained how the money would be used.
Live Shared Experiences, including ballet, museum exhibits, and concerts. The event aspect was important; they wanted to be able to say, “Remember that one time when that awesome show was here…” They agreed seeing things in person is a more powerful experience than seeing things online, and worth spending more on. One said she would buy CD at a live show because “it reminds you of the show.”
One said he would support artists by promoting their work to his friends.
Semi-related, I took an informal poll of how many would prefer to read a book on paper vs. an e-reader. The vast majority said paper, but what they really seemed to want was dual formats: paper copies to read comfortably and collect, and digital copies to search and reference. Makes sense to me. Only two of them had iPads, and none used them for “enhanced eBooks.”
My favorite quote of the afternoon:
“We don’t want everything for free. We just want everything.”
Over at Techdirt.com, pro-SOPA/PIPA commenters continue to call copying “theft.” Since their main argument for breaking the Internet is fundamentally erroneous, now seems like a good time to re-post this riposte:
This came out really nice! A small company called Gnaana used my Avatars of Vishnu art to make a very lovely wall calendar. The art is Free Culture; the printed calendars are rivalrous goods which you can buy here. I just got my copies, and they are really handsome.
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.
This Summer, I quietly and with no fanfare posted this guide to How to Free Your Work at QuestionCopyright.org. Nobody pays attention to anything in the Summer, but now it’s Fall, schools are in session, and things are happening, so consider this an announcement: How to Free Your Work is live and you should go check it out.
If you’d rather hear it live from the source, I’ll be giving a workshop on the same topic October 5th in Brooklyn. Register here.
Every Friday, 2 pm, Soy & Sake @ 47 7th Ave S (at Commerce St) in New York’s West Village. Open to anyone who is into Free Culture, Free Software, Free Speech, Intellectual Freedom, anti-censorship, etc.
The Public Domain may not be growing (thanks to endless retroactive copyright term extensions) but it still contains a “whopping plentitude.” The biggest challenge to users is simply discovering PD works in the first place. Fortunately the Open Knowledge Foundation (one of the best Free Culture organizations anywhere) has just given everyone a leg up with its new web site, the Public Domain Review. From their About page:
The Public Domain Review aspires to become a bounteous gateway into the whopping plenitude that is the public domain, helping our readers to explore this rich terrain by surfacing unusual and obscure works, and offering fresh reflections and unfamiliar angles on material which is more well known.
Go there to find all kinds of delicious images, texts, sounds, and other treasures that, thanks to our collective cultural amnesia, are as fresh and exciting as anything Big Media tries forcing down our throats today.