Make Art, Not Law

Below are the images and text of a Pecha Kucha talk I gave in Champaign, IL. The Pecha Kucha format is 20 slides x 20 seconds per slide. Hopefully the video will be online within a few months Video embedded above.

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You are an information portal. Information enters through your senses, like your ears and eyes, and exits through your expressions, like your voice, your drawing, your writing, and your movements.

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In order for culture to stay alive, we have to be open, or permeable. According to Wikipedia, Permeance is “the degree to which a material admits a flow of matter or energy.” We are the material through which information flows.

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It’s through this flow that culture stays alive and we stay connected to each other. Ideas flow in, and they flow out, of each of us. Ideas change a little as they go along; this is known as evolution, progress, or innovation.

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But thanks to Copyright, we live in a world where some information goes in, but cannot legally come out.
Often I hear people engaged in creative pursuits ask, “Am I allowed to use this? I don’t want to get in trouble.”

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In our Copyright regime, “trouble” may include lawsuits, huge fines, and even jail. “Trouble” means violence. “Trouble” has shut down many a creative enterprise. So the threat of “trouble” dictates our choices about what we express.

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Copyright activates our internal censors. Internal censorship is the enemy of creativity; it halts expression before it can begin. The question, “am I allowed to use this?” indicates the asker has surrendered internal authority to lawyers, legislators, and corporations.

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This phenomenon is called Permission Culture. Whenever we censor our expression, we close a little more and information flows a little less. The less information flows, the more it stagnates. This is known as chilling effects.

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I have asked myself: did I ever consent to letting “Permission Culture” into my brain? Why am I complying with censorship? How much choice do I really have about what information goes in and comes out of me?

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The answer is: I have some choice regarding what I expose myself to, and what I express, but not total control. I can choose whether to watch mainstream media, for example. And I can choose what information to pass along.

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But to be in the world, and to be open, means all kinds of things can and do get in that are beyond  my control. I don’t get to choose what goes in based on its copyright status. In fact proprietary images and sounds are the most aggressively rammed into our heads. For example:

“Have a holly jolly Christmas, It’s the best time of the year
“I don’t know if there’ll be snow, but have a cup of cheer
“Have a holly jolly Christmas, And when you walk down the street
“Say hello to friends you know and everyone you meet!”

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I hate Christmas music. But because I live in the U.S., and need to leave the house even in the months of November and December, I can’t NOT hear it. It goes right through my earholes and into my brain, where it plays over and over ad nauseum.

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Here are some of the corporations I could “get in trouble with” for sharing that song and clip in public. I wasn’t consulted by them before having their so-called “intellectual property” blasted into my head as a child, so I didn’t ask their permission to put it in my slide show.

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Copyright is automatic and there’s no way to opt out. But you can add a license granting some of the permissions copyright automatically takes away. Creative Commons, the most widespread brand of license, allows its users to lift various restrictions of copyright one at a time.

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The problem with licenses is that they’re based on copyright law. The same threat of violence behind copyright is behind alternative licenses too. Licenses actually reinforce the mechanism of copyright. Everyone still needs to seek permission – it’s just that they get it a little more often.

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Like copyright itself, licenses are often too complex for most people to understand. So licenses have the unfortunate effect of encouraging people to pay even MORE attention to copyright, which gives even more authority to that inner censor. And who let that censor into our heads in the first place?

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Although I use Free licenses and would appreciate meaningful copyright reform, licenses and laws aren’t the solution.  The solution is more and more people just ignoring copyright altogether. I want to be one of those people.

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A few years ago I declared sovereignty over my own head. Freedom of Speech begins at home. Censorship and “trouble” still exist outside my head, and that’s where they’ll stay – OUTSIDE my head. I’m not going to assist bad laws and media corporations by setting up an outpost for them in my own mind.

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I no longer favor or reject works based on their copyright status. Ideas aren’t good or bad because of what licenses people slap on them. I just relate to the ideas themselves now, not the laws surrounding them. And I try to express myself the same way.

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Like millions of others who don’t give a rat’s ass about copyright, I hope you join me. Make Art, Not Law.

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Alumnuts

University High School 1984

Super high-res (800 dpi) image at archive.org!

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.

Ahimsa: Sita Sings the Blues now CC-0 “Public Domain”

I am hereby changing Sita Sings the Blues CC-BY-SA (Share Alike) license to CC-0.

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.

Not using knowledge is an offense to it,” wrote Jeff Jarvis, reflecting on the death of Aaron Swartz.

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.

It’s 2013. Do you know where my Free vector animation software is?

In 2008 I vowed that the only animation software I’d switch to, once I had to give up Macromedia Flash 8, would be Free software. Why? Because Adobe bought Flash and ruined it. Among their other unforgivable crimes was crippling Quicktime video output. Old Macromedia Flash could export to any video codec Quicktime supported, including the luscious and useful “Animation” codec. Adobe removed high quality output options to force users to process .swf files through After Effects. I could have lived with the insult and expense of being forced to buy After Effects, but not of having my workload and production time increased just so Adobe could try to squeeze more money out of its customers.

Now it’s 2013 and I’m still using the same copy of Macromedia Flash 8 from 2005, on an old Mac that supports OS 10.5, because old Flash doesn’t work on newer computers or newer operating systems. I’m frozen in time, and it’s starting to hurt.

5 years have passed and there’s no viable Free vector animation software for me to switch to. Synfig supposedly can do all sorts of wonderful things, but it’s simply not useable by anyone not actually developing the software. I devoted quite a bit of time and effort trying to switch, even getting a devoted Linux box for it; it didn’t suck from lack of effort on my part. That said, I do trust that the problem is with the user interface, not the back end; existing Synfig could conceivably serve as a starting point for making some really good software I could actually use.

Whether it’s a massive Synfig UI overhaul, or something new built from scratch, I need a good, Free vector animation program to switch to. I’m talking Free as in Freedom. It’s not the price of the software that puts me off.  I’d pay to switch to ToonBoom, for example, if I thought it would be reliable. But no proprietary software is reliable. At any time its “owners” can cripple it and otherwise screw over their customers, in pursuit of whatever misguided business model they fancy at the time. It’s not the loss of my good money I can’t tolerate, it’s the loss of ALL MY WORK. Meanwhile the world moves on, new file formats and codecs are developed, and whether my work is compatible with progress remains at the mercy of my software’s corporate overlords. Even now I can’t export my Flash illustrations as .svg files; SVG wasn’t in demand when Macromedia released Flash 8, and because Flash is proprietary no one can add an SVG export feature to it now.

I need vector animation software I can use in the years and decades to come, that can grow with the times, and allow the future access to the work I do today.

What else do I need? Things like Flash 8*:

Mac compatible (I’m a pragmatist, not a purist)

Timeline similar to Flash 8

Visible audio waveform in timeline

“Symbol” grammar, where symbols can be animated and nested

good vector drawing tools

expansive video export options

resolution independent

and things Flash 8 doesn’t have, but should:

parent-child registration points

“bones” (maybe – aww, who cares)

custom vector strokes (beyond just dotted and dashed lines)

SVG export

fewer bugs ;-)

Time alone has not made this elusive software come into being. Could money? How much would I have to raise to commission an excellent programmer or two to give me what I want? Should I try a Kickstarter? A project like this should have a million dollars; I would aim for one tenth of that. Would even $100,000 be possible?

The result would be excellent Free vector animation software for everyone in the world.

If that doesn’t work I’m going to have to switch to some other proprietary software for the near future. That would be very disappointing. But I can’t stay in 2005 forever.

*What I don’t need is anything related to .swf files or the Flash Player or ActionScript. Almost all of Flash’s development since Flash 5 has been around “interactivity” and “web delivery”- things professional animators don’t use. If only we could separate the animation production part of Flash, from the “web player” part! The former has been almost perfect from the beginning, the latter has become a bloated monster that needs to die.

RANTIFESTO

Adapted from a talk and slide show I presented at the Open Knowledge Conference in Berlin on July 1, 2011. –NP

Why are the Freedoms guaranteed for Free Software not guaranteed for Free Culture?

Free software is a matter of the users’ freedom to run, copy, distribute, study, change and improve the software. More precisely, it means that the program’s users have the four essential freedoms:

  • The freedom to run the program, for any purpose (freedom 0).
  • The freedom to study how the program works, and change it to make it do what you wish (freedom 1). Access to the source code is a precondition for this.
  • The freedom to redistribute copies so you can help your neighbor (freedom 2).
  • The freedom to distribute copies of your modified versions to others (freedom 3). By doing this you can give the whole community a chance to benefit from your changes. Access to the source code is a precondition for this.

The Free Software Definition

These are the Four Freedoms of Free Software. They are foundational principles, and they are exactly right. They have served and continue to serve the Free Software Movement very well. They place the user’s freedom ahead of all other concerns. Free Software is a principled movement, but Free Culture is not – at least not so far. Why?

1. The No Derivatives (-ND) Restriction

If you tinker with software, you can improve it. You can also break it or make it worse, but the Freedom to Tinker is one of the foundational 4 Freedoms of Free Software. Your software may also be used for purposes you don’t like, used by “bad people,” or even used against you; the Four Freedoms wisely counsel us to GET OVER IT.
Unfortunately, The Free Software Foundation does not extend “Freedom to Tinker” to Culture:

Cultural works released by the Free Software Foundation come with “No Derivatives” restrictions. They rationalize it here:

Works that express someone’s opinion—memoirs, editorials, and so on—serve a fundamentally different purpose than works for practical use like software and documentation. Because of this, we expect them to provide recipients with a different set of permissions (notice how users are now called “recipients,” and their Freedoms are now called “permissions” –NP): just the permission to copy and distribute the work verbatim. (link)

The problem with this is that it is dead wrong. You do not know what purposes your works might serve others. You do not know how works might be found “practical” by others. To claim to understand the limits of “utility” of cultural works betrays an irrational bias toward software and against all other creative work. It is anti-Art, valuing software above the rest of culture. It says coders alone are entitled to Freedom, but everyone else can suck it. Use of -ND restrictions is an unjustifiable infringement on the freedom of others.

For example, here I have violated the Free Software Foundation’s No-Derivatives license:

The Four Freedoms of Free Culture:

1. The freedom to run, view, hear, read, play, perform, or otherwise attend to the Work;
2. The freedom to study, analyze, and dissect copies of the Work, and adapt it to your needs;
3. The freedom to redistribute copies so you can help your neighbor;
4. The freedom to distribute copies of your modified versions to others. By doing this you can give the whole community a chance to benefit from your changes.
(link)

Without permission, I’ve created a derivative work: the Four Freedoms of Free Culture. Although I violated FSF’s No-Derivatives license, they violated Freedoms # 2 and 4, so we’re even.

1. The Non-Commercial (-NC) Restriction

The Freedom to Distribute Free Software is essential to its success. It has given rise to many for-profit businesses that benefit the larger community.

 

 

 

Red Hat, Canonical – would the world be better if such companies were forbidden? Would Free Software benefit from a ban on those businesses?

Yet the Cultural ecosystem is stunted by the prevalence of Non-Commercial restrictions. These maintain commercial monopolies around works, and  – especially for vocational artists like me – are functionally as restrictive as unmodified copyright. Yet they are widely  mislabeled “Free Culture,” or even “Copyleft.”

Which of these things does not belong?

 

 

 

This is a still from the mostly excellent and popular documentary RIP:a Remix Manifesto. This film is many peoples’ introduction to the term “Free Culture” and “Copyleft.” But as you can see, the Non-Commercial restriction is lumped in with actual Free license terms.

See that dollar sign with the slash in it? That means Non-Commercial restrictions, which are most definitely NOT Copyleft. (I’ve posted about Creative Commons’ branding confusion before, but it’s only gotten worse since then.)

NC stands for Not Copyleft

This film is itself licensed under unFree Non-Commercial restrictions. As an artist and filmmaker, I have found confusion is rampant among my creative colleagues. Some filmmakers are beginning to think the term “Free Culture” is cool, but they still want to restrict others’ freedom and impose commercial monopolies on their works.

This doesn't help either

 

 

The book Free Culture by Lawrence Lessig its itself not Free culure, but it is widely looked up to. It sets an unfortunate and confusing example with its Non-Commercial license. It illustrates the absence of guiding principles in the Free Culture movement.

I have spoken to many artists who insist there’s “no real difference” between Non-Commercial licenses and Free alternatives. Yet these differences are well known and unacceptable in Free Software, for good reason.
Calling  Non-Commercial restrictions “Free Culture” neuters what could be an effective movement, if it only had principles.

 

So what do I want?
I want a PRINCIPLED Free Culture Movement.

I want Free Software people to take Culture seriously. I want a Free Culture movement guided by principles of Freedom, just as the Free Software movement is guided by principles of Freedom. I want a name I can use that means something – the phrase “Free Culture” is increasingly meaningless, as it is often applied to unFree practices, and is also the name of a famous book that is itself encumbered with Non-Commercial restrictions.

I want a Free Culture ecosystem that allows artists to make money. I want anyone to be able to accept money for their work of remixing and building on Culture – just as a trucker can accept money for driving on a road. I want money to be among the many incentives to participate in building culture. Without the freedoms to Tinker and Redistribute without restriction, there is little incentive to build on  and improve cultural works. There is little reward to help your neighbor, when you are guaranteed to lose money doing so. “Free Culture” with non-Commercial restrictions will remain a hobby for those with a surplus of time and labor, and those who only accept money from monopolists.

I want commerce without monopolies. I want people to understand the difference.

I want a Free Culture ecosystem that includes equivalents of  businesses like Red Hat and Canonical. I want cultural businesses that give back to their communities, that work with their customers instead of against them. Only if we refuse to place Non-Commercial and No-Derivatives restrictions on our works will a robust Free Culture ecosystem be able to emerge.

I want the Free Software community – those who currently best understand the Four Freedoms – to champion the rest of Culture, not just Software. I want Freedom for All.

Happy Birthday, EFF!


Animated, directed, written, produced, etc. by Nina Paley
Starring Mimi (of Mimi & Eunice)
Sound Design by Greg Sextro
Produced with assistance from QuestionCopyright.org

Frederick Douglass is always relevant

“Find out just what people will submit to, and you have found out the exact amount of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them; and these will continue until they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress.” — Frederick Douglass, August 4, 1857 (via Terry Hancock)

What’s wrong with “streaming” DRM?

Judging from comments here, at Techdirt, and at BoingBoing, there seems to be much confusion about why I don’t want DRM on Sita Sings the Blues. The simplest explanation is this: I am making my film available to all under an open license. Allowing a party to take the benefit of that license, but then limit the rights of downstream users is inconsistent and frustrates the original purpose of the open license — to promote and facilitate access and use of the work.

Some people seem to think DRM is irrelevant on “streaming content.” I was one of them, which is why I was initially so indecisive about the Netflix streaming offer. DRM encourages people to think of certain liberties as being impossible, rather than merely taken away. Already many people think that “streaming” means “cannot be saved on my computer,” instead of “optimized for real-time flow”.  People make this false equation entirely because of user-side DRM.

So along with its other problems, DRM is a kind of anti-literacy device for the digital age.  The more hobbled people’s phones and computers and music players get, the harder it is to remember what it was like when those devices served their users rather than the monopolists. The more deeply embedded DRM becomes, the more its restrictions will come to feel like “just the way things are”, rather than an impediment that could conceivably be removed or worked around.

I respectfully submit a typical comment:

Its not a download or purchase , its “Free Streaming” . From my Roku box to my tv why should you or I care if it has drm.

This is a perfect example of the kind of illiteracy mentioned above. “…we’re talking about a stream, which by definition is not saved on your computer”.  This commenter and others have bought the industry’s definition of “stream”, even though there’s nothing inherent in streaming that prevents saving. I can’t blame them; until last week, I didn’t think about what “streaming” meant either.

Here’s another typical comment:

You’re obviously making a symbolic stand here. That’s fine. But please at least be honest about that instead of claiming that Netflix streaming is “breaking” my home electronics. My computer and my Xbox work just fine and my rights have not been violated in any tangible or meaningful way.

If data is sent to your computer, and yet your computer won’t let you save that data, than an important function of your computer has been interfered with.  Who does your computer work for, anyway, you or them? It’s not just a hypothetical breakage, either.  For example, if you wanted to divide the same incoming stream to two different computers in your house, similarly to how a “Y” pipe would do with water, Netflix DRM will prevent that.  Normally, your computer could do that just fine, but not when it’s broken.

If the quibble is with the word “broken,” we can use the less-inflammatory word “disabled,” although people are eager to forget that “disabling” a computer means “breaking it in increments.”

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My rejection of DRM is not a condemnation of Netflix (I like Netflix!) nor of those who use this very convenient service. I made this difficult decision as the author of Sita Sings the Blues. The only reason Netflix has DRM on its streams is because of pressure from the “content industry.” Well guess what – I am the content industry too, and I say no to DRM.

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Thanks to Karl Fogel for contributing to this article.

Turning down Netflix

Sita Sing the Blues has a few Endorsed DVD distributors. In addition to QuestionCopyright.org and myself, there’s FilmKaravan, a distribution collective that handles “downstream” deals with VistaIndia and IndiePix. Their distributions are on amazon.com (I get a much smaller percentage from those than from my DVDs, but they reach a much wider market) and Netflix.

In addition to physical DVD rentals, Netflix offers subscribers instant electronic delivery: streaming movies over the Internet to Mac, PC, Wii, PS3 and Xbox players. Many subscribers conveniently find new titles through this service. It’s just the sort of distribution channel that benefits a small film like Sita. They also pay producers, and don’t demand exclusivity. It’s a good deal all around, except for one problem: DRM.

DRM, or Digital Restrictions Management, is technology “to control use of digital media by preventing access, copying or conversion to other formats by end users.” At best DRM reduces the functionality of computers; at worst it invades privacy and adds surveillance and malware. DRM End User License Agreements (EULAs) force users to surrender rights well beyond what copyright restricts.

In the last few years DRM has grown increasingly pervasive, with little-to-no press coverage. Consumers passively accept it, as proven by Apple’s new “everything-DRM” device, the iPad.

Creators, too, are accepting DRM as a fact of media distribution; offered no alternatives, they lose their ability to even imagine alternatives. DRM, like rights monopolies, is said to be made for creators. But like copyright, DRM is designed to benefit Big Media conglomerates, not artists.

If this type of invasion of privacy were coming from any other source, it would not be tolerated. That it is the media and technology companies leading the way, does not make it benign. (link)

A few weeks ago a content aggregator called Victory Multimedia contacted FilmKaravan:

Netflix has shown interest in carrying your title “Sita Sings the Blues” for Electronic Delivery.  For a 12 month license period they are offering $4,620.00.  You would received $2310.00 no later than 60 days after the Netflix title release date and the balance of $2310.00 will be paid 6 months after the initial payment.

First I asked (Filmkaravan to ask the aggregator to ask Netflix) if Netflix could make a DRM exception for Sita. Unfortunately no such option currently exists in Netflix’s electronic delivery system. Possibly no other filmmakers have even asked for such an option. iTunes used to offer only DRM music, but eventually enough people – including savvy “content providers”? –  demanded DRM-free channels that they now offer DRM-free music for sale along with Defective options (all iTunes movies carry DRM). Filmmakers lag far beyond musicians in understanding the Internet, so it may be a while before Netflix, Amazon, iTunes, and other online distributors allow our “content” in their channels without adding malware and spyware to our films.

I still wanted Sita to be in Netflix’s on-demand system. I want as many people to see Sita as possible; surely many viewers now rely on such a convenient delivery system to explore new films. Anyone who became a fan of Sita this way might still find the film’s web site, and learn how to download a free copy for themselves. Although Sita’s site states:

You are not free to copy-restrict (“copyright”) or attach Digital Restrictions Management (DRM) to Sita Sings the Blues or its derivative works.

I could still grant special permission to Netflix to add DRM to Sita. I asked if I could add a card to the front of the movie stating simply:

Download and share this film from:

sitasingstheblues.com

The aggregator responded this was not possible, due to a Netflix “no bumpers” policy.

Looking back, I was conflicted because it was hard for me to see the DRM on Netflix’s streaming service as problematic. It’s not as though Netflix is telling anyone they’re “buying” the movies they stream; they’re just “renting” them. “Rental” already implies restrictions and limited use terms. They’re just trying to make the Internet work like the physical world, imposing artificial scarcities to resemble the natural scarcities of physical DVD rentals. We can accept natural scarcities; why not accept artificial ones?

I was so conflicted, I asked my “Facebook friends” for advice. Responses were pretty split. Only a few knew what DRM was, but understood I could be compromising my principles by endorsing its use. Was that compromise significant? Was it time to “rise above my principles”?

Facebook, being a walled garden whose “business model is spying,” is problematic itself; obviously I use it anyway, although I don’t expect it to be around in a few years unless it opens up. Two of my moral guidestars don’t use it out of principle, and I emailed them for advice. Richard Stallman wrote,

I faced the same sort of question today: whether to approve release of my biuography with DRM for the iBad. I said no, because the fight against DRM is my cause, and the iBad is the most extreme attack against computer users’ freedom today.

It is self-defeating to try to promote a cause by supporting a direct attack against it.  Lesser forms of participation in things that you hope to eliminate can be overlooked, but Netflix is something we must specifically fight.  The example you would set by giving in would undermine everything….

We launched an action against Netflix.  We tell people, “Don’t be customers of Netflix.”

So I learned Netflix DRM was “real” DRM, rental or not. DefectiveByDesign.org asks people who rent physical DVDs from Netflix, to protest their DRM-laden electronic delivery service.

It was John Gilmore’s email that hit me where I live:

Don’t post your film via a DRM service.

Insist that Netflix is free to release it without DRM, but they cannot release it with DRM.

Creators keep knuckling under to these media middlemen who push DRM onto end users for their own lock-in reasons.  Like Apple. Like CDbaby.

It will take pushback from creators to change this.  Be the change that you want to see….

I’ve been the “change I want to see” in regards to copyright monopolies. People told me I’d lose everything by copylefting Sita, including all hope of professional distribution. But in fact, some professional distributors became willing to distribute Sita without claiming monopolies over it, and we’re all fine.

I’d still love Sita to be offered through Netflix’s online channels; if they ever offer DRM-free video-on-demand, I hope they remember Sita Sings the Blues.

For now, people will just have to obtain Sita by visiting the vast big Internet outside of Netflix. Most of the Internet still isn’t enclosed by Netflix, or Amazon, or iTunes. Most of the Internet is still Free; I’m doing what little I can to keep it that way. I’m sad to lose the potential viewers who may have found Sita through Netflix’s electronic delivery. But maybe some of those Netflix subscribers will discover the rest of the Internet because of my tiny act of resisting DRM.

Mimi & Eunice

Many years ago, I thought “Mimi & Eunice” would be a great name for a comic strip. Recently I’ve been needing to do some drawing just to keep my head from exploding, so this week I figured, why not Mimi & Eunice?

As far as I can tell, Mimi & Eunice are two middle-aged children/baby psychos/heterosexual lesbians. That’s all I can surmise so far. Mimi&Eunice_01I didn’t put my name on these comics, but I did tag them with the URL mimiandeunice.com. (Unfortunately that site is a mess right now. Webmaster Ian installed the comicpress theme in wordpress, but it’s squishing the strips horizontally unless I make them really tiny. Also, even though it lets me bulk upload media, it doesn’t let me bulk post.

Mimi&Eunice_02So I’m just posting a bunch of them here, for now. If anyone out there makes great comics web sites and wants to make one Mimi & Eunice, please get in touch!)

Mimi&Eunice_03Other than getting mimiandeunice.com functional and pretty, I need to decide which license to release them under, or whether to use a license at all. So far copyleft, as embodied in the Creative Commons Share Alike license,  has served my work very well. But maybe I should go for Public Domain instead?Mimi&Eunice_04

If I use a license, it’ll be one of the 3 Free licenses Creative Commons offers:

CC-BY-SA (copyleft)

CC-BY (attribution)

CC-0 (Public Domain)

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The advantage of copyleft is it ensures the work stays Free. Any derivatives must be released under the same terms, so no one can lock it up. It prevents abusive exploitation; no one can monopolize it. The drawback is that keeps it from being used in some projects that use more restrictive licenses. As nasty as restrictive licenses are, they’re still very common, and many worthy projects use them. You can still use a copyleft work within a larger copyrighted work as “Fair Use,” but few are willing to take that risk.

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CC-BY (attribution) is compatible with both copyleft and copyright projects, which could conceivably allow the works to spread further. But it still relies on the threat of legal force to ensure attribution. As I wrote recently, attribution has limits that the law might not recognize. Also, I’m intrigued by avoiding legal enforcement as much as possible, and relying on social mores and  community ethics to ensure attribution. In fact I already do this with Sita Sings the Blues, but if I want to sue someone for plagiarism or improper attribution, I can. Is that threat really necessary?

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Sometimes I think CC-0 (Public Domain) is the most spiritually advanced license. No legal claim to attribution. No legal claim to anything. To put a work in the Public Domain is to totally let it go. That is a turn-on.

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Unfortunately many useful Public Domain works are snatched right out of the Public Domain via copyrighted “derivative works”. Take the comic above. If you changed the background color on panel 3 from reddish-gray to lime green, you could say you’ve made a new work and copyright the result. I don’t mind modifications like changing colors, in fact I encourage them; but I abhor monopolies, and the thought of someone then locking up the work in this way is troubling. Certainly the source would remain in the Public Domain. But if someone else modified the source in a similar way, being likewise inspired to change the color of panel 3 to lime green, they could be sued by the jackass that copyrighted his lime-green-panel-3’ed version.

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Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland is in the Public Domain, and technically you can still build on it. But if your “derivative work” too closely resembles Disney’s, they will sue your ass. The laws don’t recognize parallel evolution, nor do the tiny shriveled minds of the corporate executives who wrote them. Thus, although the exact text of Carroll’s original Alice in Wonderland is PD, it’s no longer “free” to build on thanks to corporate monopolies on derivative works.

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Much as I want to let go entirely, I fear that could be socially irresponsible. Which also why using no license at all is not really an option. In our world, everything is copyrighted, whether it displays the © symbol or not, whether it’s registered or not, whether it’s attributed or not.  Everything is “owned” by someone. Therefore unless something is very clearly marked as Free, it is assumed to be Owned. No license at all would make it impossible for would-be re-users to determine whether the work is legally safe to use.

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A friend pointed out that the State gets into everything. Just because I don’t invoke repressive copy restrictions directly, doesn’t mean they don’t affect my work indirectly. Copyright affects everything, whether it’s copyrighted or not. Art is born free, but is everywhere in chains.

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Another friend pointed out that my desire to “let go” is still desire. Choosing  CC-o/Public Domain to experience the thrill of “selflessness” may actually be more selfish than choosing strong copyleft.

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I want my art to stay free. How to achieve that under our current copyright regime, is quite a dilemma.

Continue reading Mimi & Eunice

I <3 Middlemen

Yes I do! Most indie filmmakers I talk to complain about distributors and “middlemen,” but they’re missing the real problem. Middlemen – publishers, distributors, resellers – can do excellent work. The problem is not middlemen; it’s monopolies.

So many middlemen insist on monopolies, we’ve forgotten we don’t need to grant them. They say that without a monopoly (aka “exclusive rights”) they have no incentive to promote and distribute. Actually a monopoly gives a middleman no incentive, because no one is competing with them. Take away the monopoly, and the middleman has to compete with other potential middlemen (including the artist). Then they have an incentive to work. Rather than monopoly, they succeed on the basis of expertise (theatrical distributors already know how to track, ship, and manage prints), innovation (finding better ways to meet customers’ existing desires and identifying new ones), and quality.

I’m very happy with the middlemen I work with. FilmKaravan, who distributes Sita Sings the Blues on DVD, promoted and placed DVDs in outlets and markets I was too lazy to reach. (They out-competed me, which is great!) GKids, who distributes the film theatrically East of the Mississippi, manages the prints professionally, finds great new venues for it, and promotes it cleverly without overspending. These middlemen do their jobs very well, and I’m grateful for the services and value they add to the film. They have my non-exclusive Endorsement.

I’m only unhappy with one middleman, an overseas distributor who uses their monopoly to block access to the film rather than facilitate it. For example, a professional conference held by their country’s national television company, and attended by important players in the film industry there, sought a one-time conference screening of Sita, but the distributor refused to lend the local print.  Lending it would have helped the film tremendously, but the distributor was focused on immediate money instead of on the long-term good of the film.  Because I had foolishly granted this distributor an “exclusive endorsement” in their territory, there was no one else in a position to lend a print. (What distributor would take up a film knowing that the filmmakers’ imprimatur had already been granted to a competitor?)

My endorsement wasn’t a mistake.  I want that distributor to make money, and lots of it.  But endorsing exclusively was a mistake: although not as bad as copyright, it’s still a kind of monopoly, and monopolies invite abuse.  That is their nature.  I now know that to get good work from a middleman, I can’t grant them a monopoly.  They need to feel that if they let an opportunity slip by, another middleman may jump at it.  Business competition improves business performance; some say it’s an essential incentive.

Middlemen will only have monopolies if artists keep granting them. They’re not going to give them up on their own. It falls on us artists to simply refuse to grant these monopolies in the first place. A copyleft license sends a clear, simple, and non-negotiable message to middlemen that they need to innovate and compete to profit from the work. Only we artists can supply the incentives they need to do their jobs well; and we can only do that by refusing monopolies.

A middleman without a monopoly is a great help to art and artists. Rather than abusing monopolies, they provide valuable services. The better they are at providing services, the more successful they become. Competition keeps middlemen on their toes, and eliminates the lazy and incompetent. Monopoly does the opposite.

In sum, the problem isn’t middlemen, it’s monopolies. Yay for middlemen! I <3 U.

“Intellectual Property” is Slavery

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“Every man has a property in his own person. This nobody has a right to, but himself.”
John Locke, Second Treatise on Civil Government

“Most thinkers…hold that you own your own life, and it follows that you must own the products of that life, and that those products can be traded in free exchange with others,” claims Wikipedia’s latest entry on property. “Every man has a property in his own person,” says John Locke. Ayn Rand (who I generally can’t stand, but who I’m happy to quote as a passionate defender of the sanctity of property) wrote, “Just as man can’t exist without his body, so no rights can exist without the right to translate one’s rights into reality, to think, to work and keep the results, which means: the right of property.”

You also have a property in your own MIND. That which lives in your mind, is your property. And everyone deserves Rand’s “right to translate one’s rights into reality, to think, to work and keep the results” – in other words to freely think, express, and own the contents of their own mind. That is what “intellectual property” should (but doesn’t) mean: everyone’s right to their own mind.

Instead, legally defined “Intellectual Property” means exactly the opposite: it transfers ownership of the contents of your mind to others. It alienates the ideas in your mind, from you. Is there a song running through your mind right now? It doesn’t belong to you, it belongs to Warner-Chappell. You are forbidden to express it; “performance” requires permission. “To think, to work” – interpret – “and keep the results” – record and sell copies of –  the song in your mind, are illegal.

Thus Intellectual Property gives alien, private owners title to our minds. We may think culture (songs, text, images) only in secret; any expressions of cultural thought belong not to the thinker, but to the IP owner. Your thoughts are “derivative works”; someone else has title to them. You may have “Porgy and Bess” in your mind, but interpreting or singing it out loud is forbidden. That part of your mind belongs to Gershwin’s heirs and their lackeys.

Wikipedia’s entry on Chattel Slavery states: “The living human body is, in most modern societies, considered something which cannot be the property of anyone but the person whose body it is.” The living human mind should be the same. Legally defined “Intellectual Property” is, quite simply, someone else’s ownership of your mind. If they own the right to express what lives in your mind, the right “to think, to work and keep the results,” then they own your mind; they own you. What can we call that, except slavery?

Public Knowledge

Here’s a rather feisty and spirited interview I did with Art Brodsky of Public Knowledge, a “D.C.-based public interest group working to defend citizens’ rights in the emerging digital culture.” It’s very low-res and gritty Skype video, but the message comes through loud and clear.

AUTOMATONS

Hey cinephiles and Free Culture fans: Channel 13, which initiated Sita’s online release through free streaming, is streaming a new film, Automatons! You can download it there at high-resolution too.

With a name like AWESOMEPEDIA, it’s gotta be AWESOME