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.

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

Downloadable at Archive.org

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.

Also, we’re revamping sitasingstheblues.com. It’s still a work in progress, but notice the new text on the home page and this hard-to-find essay.

“Where Can I get the DVD?”

Hi everyone! I’m crazy busy preparing the new “Sita” web site which will have links to the film which you can download and share for free under a Creative Commons Share Alike license starting March 7 (hopefully). Yes I plan to sell a limited edition of signed DVD packages including a free pre-downloaded DVD, but the content itself will be available for free online. My DVD packaging will take many weeks to produce, and won’t be available until after the March 7 online release. But you’ll be able to download and burn your own DVDs, as “Sita” is going 100% DRM Free. I appreciate your emails asking how to get DVDs, but if I spend another day answering emails instead of making the new site, it’ll never get done. Thanks for your patience! Also, I still need another $43,000 to pay off loans to get Sita out of copyright jail, so please donate if it feels right.

Help Wanted: Can Your Servers Host a Feature Film?

On March 7, New York’s WNET Channel13 will broadcast Sita Sings the Blues. WNET hopes to make a compressed version available for streaming on their web site even earlier (they’re aiming for February 26; we’ll keep you posted).

But we also want to release it freely for decentralized audience distribution all over the web. To that end, we’re looking for multiple servers to host 500-600GB of data for public download (this includes the film-resolution image sequences as well as HD and compressed versions). We’re in touch with the usual suspects, but if you want to offer server space to join this project, please contact Karl Fogel of QuestionCopyright.org.

Note that we’re still in negotiations with the old music licensors, who may or may not allow us to freely share my film. PBS can broadcast and stream it regardless, due to special conditions in US copyright law. But the more”seed” sites we have lined up before the release, the better.

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From Karl’s QuestionCopyright post:

We’ll need some “seed” sites to host it: Internet servers with the capacity to offer about 500-600GB of data for public download. If you or your institution has that kind of bandwidth and storage, please contact us. We’ll work out a way to get the data to you.

Why March 7th?

That night, Sita Sings The Blues will be broadcast on New York’s public television station WNET — Channel 13 (see here for details). Public television has a special exemption written into U.S. copyright law, such that they can show the film even when it’s still in copyright jail for everyone else. However, Nina Paley has made progress on finalizing contracts with the music composition copyright holders, and we believe we’ll be able to release the entire film by then. Since the New York showing will expose the film to a large new audience, when those people go to recommend it to all their friends, we want their friends to have an easy way to get it.

Note that free distribution really means free: you will be able to watch the film on your computer, make DVDs and distribute them, and hold public screenings (the film will circulate online in high-resolution formats appropriate for screenings). Your activities can be commercial or non-commercial, that’s up to you.

Our thanks to all who have donated so far to enable this experiment in decentralized distribution! But we can still use help: the rights clearance process — or rather, the “restrictions clearance” process — is not cheap. So if you’ve been considering donating to support Nina’s effort, here’s that link again.

Lloyd Kaufman Defines Media Consolidation

Lloyd Kaufman, Chairman of the IFTA, delivers a speech on media consolidation and the dangers it poses to independent art.

Sita almost free!

Chris Carlson of Diamond Time sends this news:

“we are all approved across the boards with the exception of Memory
Lane Music, who only have a small piece of the song, Mean to Me.”

It will take many months to actually get the contracts from them, and I still need to raise about $45,000 to pay for this limited permission, but films are customarily released right after approvals; Sita Sings the Blues is more or less decriminalized at this point. So it’s time to release her! I have to update the credits and sound designer Greg Sextro is doing some final tweaking of the audio, but we’re hoping to have the film online and free under a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike License in about a month.

There’s a ton of work that needs to be done: web design, database set-ups, scanning documents, ideally having some ancillary products ready to go (who wants to make open-source merch? talk to us!),  an automated system to give credits to donors….much more work than I can do alone. We’re trying to build a new model for film distribution, one that respects the audience and rewards sharing and freedom. Want to help? Please come to QuestionCopyright.org’s open meeting this Monday February 2 at the Software Freedom Law Center in New York.

See also: Sita’s Distribution Plan.

QuestionCopyright New York City meeting, Monday, Feb. 2

I will be at this meeting! questioncopyright.org:

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We’re holding a New York City area informational meeting on Monday. If you’d like to learn more about what we do and how you can get involved, please come!

We’ll focus on the Sita Distribution Project, and a couple of other exciting projects that are ready for more hands. Students, we’re open to offering credit if we can work it out with your school.


  • When: Monday, 2 February 2009, 6:30pm-8:30pm
  • Where: Software Freedom Law Center, 1995 Broadway, 17th floor (cross street is 68th; take [A,B,C,D,1] to 59th / Columbus Circle, or [1,2,3] to 72nd, or [1] to 66th; see map)
  • What: Learn about current QuestionCopyright.org projects and how you can get involved. Refreshments will be served.
  • Who: Nina Paley (artist in residence), Karl Fogel (editor), you and all your friends who want to do something about precambrian copyright restrictions.

If you know you’re coming, please let us know. It’s also okay to just show up at 6:30pm. If you’d like to come but that night doesn’t work for you, tell us — we’ll arrange to meet with you another time.

James Kochalka’s “Sita”

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Like this isn’t the coolest thing ever: Sita’s first “derivative work”! There she is, in an American Elf comic by James Kochalka! Seeing this comic was a “really so amazing” huge honor for me, and I’m looking forward to seeing more “derivative works” in the future.

Your Children Are Not Your Children

Your children are not your children.

They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.

They come through you but not from you,

And though they are with you, yet they belong not to you.

You may give them your love but not your thoughts.

For they have their own thoughts.

You may house their bodies but not their souls,

For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.

You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.

For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.

You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.

The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite, and He bends you with His might that His arrows may go swift and far.

Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness;

For even as he loves the arrow that flies, so He loves also the bow that is stable.

Khalil Gibran, from The Prophet

Likewise, your Art is not your Art. It too belongs to Life.

Copyright terms were initially 14 years – about the time it took to raise a child to adulthood. After 14 years (or 18 years now, we’ve extended legal infancy) parents really have to let go of their children, and acknowledge they don’t “own” them. In fact they never did.

So it is with Art. An artist nurtures a work from an invisible little idea into a form that can stand on its own. But eventually they have to let go of it. Letting go is essential for the growth of both the “child” and the “parent.” Parents who don’t let go of their children never mature; children who are never released wilt. 14 years is a long time to “own” a child…50 years is ridiculous. Imagine changing your kid’s diaper for 50 years! And life plus 70 years is simply obscene. Would you want your kid beholden to your rotting corpse? Would you rather it belong to your corpse than to Life?

Sita’s Distribution Plan

Dear Audience,

That Roger Ebert article has brought a lot of attention to Sita‘s plight, and you are responding awesomely, as always. Audience, I trust you. So it’s time for me to share with you my distribution plan for Sita:

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First I must decriminalize it to the tune of about $50,000. That’s down from the $220,000 the rights-holders initially quoted. However, that “bargain” price comes with many strings: a “step deal.” This stipulates that for every 5,000 home video units sold (DVD or download sales or on-demand sales) I must pay another $750 per song, meaning $8,250, plus middleman fees (lawyer or negotiator – I’ve already been billed about $10,000 just trying to negotiate with these corporations). Also for every $1million at the box office, I must pay another $3,500 per song, or $38,500.

To put that in perspective, after theaters, distributors, agents, etc. take their cuts and deduct their costs, $1million in theatrical receipts would trickle down to about $30,000 to $80,000 for me. Luckily(?) it’s very unlikely to ever generate that much box office revenue, so I’m safe. DVDs are another story – the corporations measure their fees per unit (it works out to $1.65 per), regardless of how much the DVDs sell for.

But the good news is, promotional copies are traditionally exempted from step deals. Everyone needs to make free promotional copies for reviewers, festival committees, journalists, etc, and those shouldn’t be “taxed” by the licensors.

Which brings us to step two: while making one DVD pressing of 4,999 copies, I will place promotional files of the entire film – at all resolutions, including broadcast-quality, HD, and film-quality image sequences – online at archive.org and as many mirror hosts as volunteer to share it. I will license it either as Creative Commons Share-Alike, or some equivalent of the GNU/Linux license. This will prevent it and any derivative works from ever being copyrighted by anyone. Of course this license won’t apply to the songs, which will remain under copyright by their respective corporate overlords. But clearing the licenses first will decriminalize it, and make it safer to screen in theaters (and theaters will be free to screen it and charge for it without obligation to me). The free online copies are promotional copies.

“But Nina, how will you make money?” The way artists always make money: donations, commissions, grants, patrons, speaking fees. Indie distributors can’t pay anywhere near what it cost me to make the film ($80,000 + $50,000 to clear rights + $160,000 living expenses over the years I made the film + my TIME) but they do lock up the rights for 10+ years. In the Digital Age, distributors function primarily as a barrier between artists and audiences, prohibiting access rather than facilitating it.

I’m betting that you, audience, can find me more money – and certainly wider distribution – than a commercial distributor could. I get wonderful emails from people like you, people who offer to set up little fundraising screenings, who write good reviews, and do lots of things to help. Audiences are so eager to help distribute films! Old-school commercial distributors not only ignore the power of the audience, they actively fight it, calling it “piracy” and “theft” for example. And the audience comes up with much better ideas than I or a distributor could (I didn’t think of doing fundraising screenings, you did). And once I free the film, I won’t have to do any more work on it! You, the audience, can take care of everything.

Here are some ways I imagine copylefting Sita could generate some income for me:

1. Direct donations (aka voluntary payments, aka “pay-what-you-wish”)

2. Ancillary products: t-shirts, pins, toys, books, merchandise. Under a share-alike license these will be open-content as well, but there is little incentive for competitors to invest in producing such merch when it is already available (and much incentive if a certain product is not available, which is good). Any companies producing merch could use their sharing profits with me as part of their marketing; fans are much more interested in seeing their $$ go directly to the artist, than being all eaten up by some publisher or distributor.

3. Sponsorships. We expect the film to spread far and wide under a free license, and a sponsoring credit would be excellent publicity for anyone who cares to make it. Corporations sponsor shows on Public Television all the time for this reason (and under the free license, Sita can also be broadcast anywhere. At least one PBS station says they’re committed to broadcasting it.).

4. DVD sales and auctions. Although the film may be downloaded and copied for free, some will prefer an “official” signed DVD from the artist. These could be sold directly by me in a limited edition (of 4,999), and/or auctioned online.

5. Voluntary payments from public screenings. We encourage the film to be shown in theaters, schools, etc. and anyone can set up a screening and charge admission. They may voluntarily send some of the revenue on to me. Most exhibitors already expect to pay something to distributors, and although this is completely voluntary, we expect many will be willing to do this.

6. Selling 35mm film prints to collectors, archives, museums, and (hopefully) distributors willing to try a non-exclusive service model instead of the existing licensing model. Prints cost about $2,500 to make; I could sell them for $5,000 each. This also outsources the expensive work of archiving.

7. Probably many more that we just haven’t thought of yet!

Now dear audience, if you’ve read this far, what do you think of this? Maybe some of you want to help. Here’s some help I could use right now:

Money
I’m about to take out a $50,000 loan, and am already deep in debt from having to hold on to the film. But obviously I can’t guarantee I’ll make it back. Donors and sponsors will, as always, be acknowledged in the credits of the final version. Big donation? Big credit. Plus I can modify the “intermission” scene to include messages from really, really big sponsors – like $50,000 sponsors – so get in touch if you’re interested. Questioncopyright.org is hoping to arrange Fiscal Sponsorship for the Sita distribution project, so that you could get a tax write-off by donating to them. They would pass the whole thing on to me without skimming any of it (most nonprofits skim 7 to 10%). Questioncopyright.org is AWESOME.

Even with the $50,000, I still may not be able to clear all the songs. So far only Warner-Chappell and EMI have informally agreed to those terms, but they haven’t issued contracts yet, and they can still change their minds for any reason. The rest of the rightsholders are under no obligation to agree. Now that the cat’s out of the bag, will they work with me or against me? Hence my next request:

Is there a lawyer in the house?
I mean a good, progressive, Free-Culture-oriented lawyer. Right now we have questioncopyright.org‘s legal counsel, whose experience lies in Free Software. The California-based Electronic Frontier Foundation hasn’t yet agreed to help directly (maybe they’ll change their minds!) but is looking for additional pro bono legal help for me here in New York. The coolest legal work seems to be in Software; I haven’t yet found anyone in Entertainment Law who really gets it. But if you’re out there, please get in touch! Let’s make a Sita Legal Defense team.

Love,

–Nina

Watch me go on and on (and on) about copyright!

See me babble away on my current favorite subject, copyright and what’s wrong with it, over at questioncopyright.org. Here’s a sample:


Yes, the video is squished horizontally, because it was in DV format but uploaded on square pixels (I can’t wait until everyone just uses solid-state progressive-scan cameras). Also the audio is way compressed – it thoundth like I’m lithping. But the ideas come through.

This interview was conducted by Karl Fogel on November 6, 2008, at the Software Freedom Law Center in New York.

You Wouldn’t Invade Poland…

…but you’d commit genocide by downloading feature films:

See the original anti-piracy ad here.

my next project

I’m finally ready to start my next project. It will be about freedom of speech, freedom of expression, and current threats to those traditions, especially our corrupted copyright system. As with Sita before it, “I’ve got a song in my heart and it’s gotta get out.” Also as with Sita before it, I have no idea at this point exactly what I’m going to make or how I’m going to make it, but I know it’s gotta be made.

Will it be another feature film? Or will it be a series of shorts, or a comic book? Whatever its form, I’m thinking it should be free by design. The problem with feature films is they’re still distributed through an old business model that runs counter to freedom of expression. It doesn’t have to be this way forever, but right now bad laws, media consolidation, and “gatekeepers” make the film world work against cultural progress. And I’m all about cultural progress, just like the US constitution:

“To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.”(link)

Unlike Sita before it, I am beginning from a place of financial ruin; I am broke and in debt. But I still have my computer, and I have as much time as the project needs. I do need a way to stay alive though. I need money, but NOT through suppressing speech or restricting access to my work, which doesn’t make money anyway. Suggestions? I could:

– ask for donations here
– partner with existing free speech organizations

If the latter, who can help? Where do they get money? Anyone want to partner up with me?

The copyright system has certainly failed me as a means to extract money from my art. Perhaps the old patronage system will work better, especially if distributed over thousands of supporters. Or maybe we should try this? What do you think?

“copyright was designed by distributors, to subsidize distributors, not creators.”

Read more at QuestionCopyright.org. Or continue reading here after the fold – the author, Karl Fogel, actually wants people to read his essay – imagine that! – and therefore grants permission for all to copy it.

Continue reading “copyright was designed by distributors, to subsidize distributors, not creators.”