Über Alles

Love1

An image representing “domestic coupledom,” inspired by Against Love: A Polemic by Laura Kipnis, which I have really been enjoying lately.

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How to Feel Good About Garbage

Figure 1: carbon in the earth, oxygen in the atmosphere

Primitive species turned carbon from Earth’s earlier, carbon-rich atmosphere into more of themselves:

early primitive life (procaryote cells) modified our planet by converting CO2 and H2O to organic matter and releasing oxygen to the environment. As a consequence these organisms moved carbon from the atmosphere to the rocks (Figure 11) and broke down water molecules releasing oxygen to the ocean and eventually to the atmosphere. Life therefore is a powerful force controlling the composition of the Earth’s atmosphere which in turn exerts a powerful control on our planet’s climate. http://eesc.columbia.edu/courses/ees/climate/lectures/earth.html

Now we’re taking that carbon out of the earth and spewing it back into the atmosphere…

Figure 2: digging up carbon and burning it into the atmosphere

…creating a climate suitable for bacteria and prokaryotes, but not for the complex life forms we cherish today (such as ourselves).

Figure 3: Carbon in the atmosphere good for some bacteria, bad for us.

Figure 3: carbon in the atmosphere good for some bacteria, bad for us.

To restore climate balance, we must put carbon back into the earth.

We should throw carbon into large holes, cover them up with layers of rock and soil, and allow them to compress for millions of years, over which time they will again form a viscous underground carbon sludge safely distant from our preferred oxygen-rich air.

Figure 4: Trees fix atmospheric carbon

Figure 4: trees fix atmospheric carbon

In other words, we should be putting our carbon waste (paper and plastic) in landfills. Not recycling them.

Figure 5: Put the carbon back in the earth

Figure 5: put the carbon back in the earth

Paper comes from tree farms, which are carbon sinks. In an ideal climate-restoration system, farmed trees would fix atmospheric carbon, become paper, and get buried back into the ground, with earthbound carbon accumulating every year as atmospheric carbon diminishes.  By this logic, the junk mail industry is helping the environment, as it converts atmospheric carbon to bury-able waste, paid for entirely by advertisers.

Plastic is made of carbon humans dug up from deep within the Earth as petroleum. If it’s buried it can become petroleum-like again in several million years. If petroleum is burned as fuel, more carbon goes into the atmosphere. Petroleum is more valuable as a plastic source than as a fuel; solar energy can power vehicles but it can’t become plastic (without the intervention of billions of years of photosynthesis and compression).

So bury your paper and plastic (carbon) waste. Bury it in a good landfill.

But recycle metal. It’s much more efficient than mining anew. Metals aren’t carbon. And recycle glass. It’s silicon, not carbon.

 

Based on numerous conversations with Theodore Gray.

 

Note: none of this is going to fix the world. We’re all doomed for many reasons. It does however take some air out of the sails of “recycling paper and plastic helps the Earth!!!” The ritual of recycling paper and plastic is mostly just that – a ritual which eases denial of environmental catastrophe in progress. I’m suggesting we can abandon that ritual now.

 Update from Theo* (via email): 

The thing everyone keeps missing is that none of that matters. The only thing you have to understand is that ALL carbon that can be dug out of the ground in any form, will be. The economic pressure to do so is simply overwhelming, and no one is going to be able to stop it. The ONLY question is whether it will be burned, or made into plastic and thrown away (which keeps it out of the atmosphere).

And the only thing that matters in answering that question is whether there is more money to be made in burning it, or in making it into plastic. What is the relative price of fuel vs. feedstocks for plastic, and what is the relative demand for fuel vs. for plastic. Right now it’s evenly enough matched that a lot goes into both, but if something tips the balance towards it’s being worth much more for plastic, there would be a massive worldwide switch away from burning it. No need for demonstrations, it would just happen.

Things that can tip the balance in that direction are:

  1. Cheaper alternatives for fuel, so wind power, hydrogen from solar, etc, etc.
  2. Things that increase demand for plastic.

It’s in item number 2 that recycling comes into play. If you recycle paper, that lets people make more paper packaging instead of using plastic. If you recycle plastic, that keeps it out of the landfill (where it belongs and can do some good) and returns it to the market to compete with virgin plastic, thus reducing the demand for oil to make new plastic, thus diverting more carbon into the atmosphere.

Burying paper also has the side effect of removing even more carbon from the air because it’s made out of carbon from the air, but that’s only one reason for doing it. Helping increase the price of plastic is at least as important a reason.

No questions about how much fuel it takes to do any of these things is relevant. The fuel is going to get burned. Exponential growth has no mercy: The carbon IS going to be dug out of the ground, nothing can stop that, all we can do is try to re-bury as much of it as fast as we can.

 *Please note Theo’s opinions are his own; I’m sharing them here because I think they’re interesting and worth discussing.

Jews, Zionists, Israelis

European Jew/Zionist

Oy! Nothing but trouble.

The “European Jew/Zionist” label has has drawn the most criticism in This Land Is Mine. Apparently to Israelis (correct me if I’m wrong – this is what I’m learning from the many comments on the movie, and emails) “Zionist” means “historical Zionist” – the mostly-secular, mostly-socialist, hardworking kibbutz-founding idealists who settled mostly-peacefully in Palestine prior to the establishment of the State of Israel. According to one correspondent,

the founders of Israel in general were not religious Jews but on the contrary – secular and even anti-religious…The mainstream of ultra-orthodoxy sees Zionism as blasphemy… As for the image – in Israeli culture we have a caricature called “Srulik” (which is a nickname for the name “Israel”) that depicts the stereotypical 1940′s “new Israeli Jew” with the hat and the sandals

"Srulik"

Some viewers seem to think my illustration is a Chasid. It’s not; it’s supposed to be an Orthodox-ish Jew. Orthodox Jews apparently don’t have to join the Israeli army (WTH not?!) so this depiction further bothers some people. Orthodox Jews, they point out, are not Zionists.

Here I must clarify that “Zionist” means something slightly different to me, as an American Jew. Wikipedia sums it up:

Zionism (Hebrew: ציונות‎, Tsiyonut) is a form of nationalism of Jews and Jewish culture that supports a Jewish nation state in territory defined as the Land of Israel.[1] Zionism supports Jews upholding their Jewish identity and opposes the assimilation of Jews into other societies and has advocated the return of Jews to Israel as a means for Jews to be liberated from anti-Semitic discrimination, exclusion, and persecution that has occurred in other societies.[1] Since the establishment of the State of Israel, the Zionist movement continues primarily to advocate on behalf of the Jewish stateand address threats to its continued existence and security.

I labelled my Orthodox-ish Jew “Zionist” to distinguish him from Jews who aren’t Zionist – like me. When I was growing up, well-meaning relatives and acquaintances would keep asking me when I was going to Israel. “Why should I go to Israel?” I’d ask. Stricken, they would explain how important Israel should be to me. “Everyone needs a homeland!” they’d insist. But I already had a honemland – Urbana, IL. I felt no need for another one, and was troubled that I should create in myself such a need where one didn’t exist. I had enough insecurities already.

Many people use “Jew” and “Zionist” interchangeably, but they’re not the same thing. I am a Jew because I’m descended from a long line of Jews, and because even as atheists my family retained some Jewish cultural quirks. But I am not a Zionist. I don’t need a “homeland” in Israel, and I don’t care if my “Jewish identity” is upheld and assimilation resisted; in fact assimilation is part of my “Jewish identity,” something I’m proud of (as much as I can be legitimately proud of anything other people did before I was born).

I realize as I write this that I represent the religious conservative’s worst nightmare. Like most religions, Judaism requires indoctrination at an early age; Orthodox and Chasids encourage breeding as many offspring as possible, to enlarge the tribe. Assimilation is anathema to religious Jews, because it leads to people like me. I’m supposed to be supporting the Tribe, and instead I’d rather make graven images and spout individualism. I’ve even refused to breed altogether, let alone indoctrinate any spawn.

 

I hope my Great-Zaydie Zalman wouldn't be too disappointed in me.

Anyway, my Orthodox-ish Jew character, if he’s in Israel, is what I’d call a Zionist, although most Israelis would not. That said, I could have left the confusing Zionist label off of him, because he obviously was in Israel in my cartoon.

The “European” part of the label refers to the pressure a vast influx of Jewish refugees from Europe put on Palestine. Yes, there were Zionists there already, living peacefully alongside Arabs and others in the region. And yes, the State of Israel welcomes (or is supposed to welcome) all Jews, not just European ones. But the post-war influx of European Jews really changed things in the region. Would the State of Israel have been established had that not occurred? Would the US have backed it otherwise?

Jews, largely Holocaust survivors, in search of a homeland, aboard the SS Exodus

Why did I draw my character Orthodox-ish at all, when most Zionists and Jews and Israelis don’t look like that? To show the religious side of a “Jewish nation-state” (remember it’s the Jewish nation-state idea that defines Zionists here in the U.S.) And to refer to what I consider the most problematic element in Israel and elsewhere: religious nuts. My character doesn’t look too different from these folks hanging out at the Wailing Wall:

Sayeth Wikipedia:

With the rise of the Zionist movement in the early 20th century, the wall became a source of friction between the Jewish community and the Muslim religious leadership, who were worried that the wall was being used to further Jewish nationalistic claims to the Temple Mount and Jerusalem.

Then of course you have “The Settlers“:

I chose the more Orthodox garb because to me it more than anything said, “religion.” But critics do have a point when they say the Orthodox Jews in Israel get others to do their shooting for them.

There are Jews who are not Zionists. There are Zionists who are not Jews. Most Jews are not Israelis; most Israelis are Jews. Many Jews are not religious; many Israelis are not religious. There are deeply religious people who aren’t violent. There are violent people who aren’t deeply religious.

But when you combine religion, cultural identity, and statehood, you get a bigger mess than any of those things alone. My Orthox-ish dude is contemporary to his State counterpart:

State of Israel

(Thanks to another group of comments, I now know he’s holding the wrong kind of gun, and he’s holding it wrong. That I can live with.)

This Land Is Mine

I envisioned This Land Is Mine as the last scene of my potential-possible-maybe- feature film, Seder-Masochism, but it’s the first (and so far only) scene I’ve animated. As the Bible says, “So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”

This Land Is Mine from Nina Paley on Vimeo.

Who’s Killing Who? A Viewer’s Guide

Because you can’t tell the players without a pogrom!

Early Man

 

Early Man
This generic “cave man” represents the first human settlers in Israel/Canaan/the Levant. Whoever they were.

Canaanite

 

 

Canaanite
What did ancient Canaanites look like? I don’t know, so this is based on ancient Sumerian art.

Ancient Egyptian

 

 

Egyptian
Canaan was located between two huge empires. Egypt controlled it sometimes, and…

Assyrian

 

 

Assyrian
….Assyria controlled it other times.

Israelite

 

 

Israelite
The “Children of Israel” conquered the shit out of the region, according to bloody and violent Old Testament accounts.

Babylonian

 

 

Babylonian
Then the Baylonians destroyed their temple and took the Hebrews into exile.

Macedonian/Alexander

 

 

 

Macedonian/Greek
Here comes Alexander the Great, conquering everything!

Greek

 

 

Greek/Macedonian
No sooner did Alexander conquer everything, than his generals divided it up and fought with each other.

Ptolmaic

 

 

Ptolemaic
Greek descendants of Ptolemy, another of Alexander’s competing generals, ruled Egypt dressed like Egyptian god-kings. (The famous Cleopatra of western mythology and Hollywood was a Ptolemy.)

Seleucid

 

 

Seleucid
More Greek-Macedonian legacies of Alexander.

 

Hebrew Priest

Hebrew Priest
This guy didn’t fight, he just ran the Second Temple re-established by Hebrews in Jerusalem after the Babylonian Exile.

Maccabee

Maccabee
Led by Judah “The Hammer” Maccabee, who fought the Seleucids, saved the Temple, and invented Channukah. Until…

 

Roman

 

Roman
….the Romans destroyed the Second Temple and absorbed the region into the Roman Empire…

Byzantine

 

 

Byzantine
….which split into Eastern and Western Empires. The eastern part was called the Byzantine Empire. I don’t know if “Romans” ever fought “Byzantines” (Eastern Romans) but this is a cartoon.

 

Caliph

 

 

Arab Caliph
Speaking of cartoon, what did an Arab Caliph look like? This was my best guess.

Crusader

 

 

Crusader
After Crusaders went a-killin’ in the name of Jesus Christ, they established Crusader states, most notably the Kingdom of Jerusalem.

Egyptian Mamluk

 

 

Mamluk of Egypt
Wikipedia sez, “Over time, mamluks became a powerful military caste in various Muslim societies…In places such as Egypt from the Ayyubid dynasty to the time of Muhammad Ali of Egypt, mamluks were considered to be “true lords”, with social status above freeborn Muslims.[7]” And apparently they controlled Palestine for a while.

 

Ottoman Turk

 

Ottoman Turk
Did I mention this is a cartoon? Probably no one went to battle looking like this. But big turbans, rich clothing and jewelry seemed to be in vogue among Ottoman Turkish elites, according to paintings I found on the Internet.

Arab

 

 

Arab
A gross generalization of a generic 19-century “Arab”.

 

British

British
The British formed alliances with Arabs, then occupied Palestine. This cartoon is an oversimplification, and uses this British caricature as a stand-in for Europeans in general.

Palestinian

 

 

Palestinian
The British occupied this guy’s land, only to leave it to a vast influx of….

European Jew/Zionist

 

European Jew/Zionist
Desperate and traumatized survivors of European pogroms and death camps, Jewish Zionist settlers were ready to fight to the death for a place to call home, but…

Hezbollah

 

 

PLO/Hamas/Hezbollah
….so were the people that lived there. Various militarized resistance movements arose in response to Israel: The Palestinian Liberation Organization, Hamas, and Hezbollah.

State of Israel

 


 

Guerrilla/Freedom Fighter/TerroristState of Israel
Backed by “the West,” especially the US, they got lots of weapons and the only sanctioned nukes in the region.

 

Guerrilla/Freedom Fighter/Terrorist
Sometimes people fight in military uniforms, sometimes they don’t. Creeping up alongside are illicit nukes possibly from Iran or elsewhere in the region. Who’s Next?

Angel of Death

 

 

 

and finally…

The Angel of Death
The real hero of the Old Testament, and right now too.

 

Note: If you want to support this project, please notice I have Paypal and Flattr buttons. TAX-DEDUCTIBLE donations accepted via the nonprofit QuestionCopyright.org.

The Highest Praise

Some people love Sita Sings the Blues enough to devote time and energy (and probably money!) to protesting it in public. My movie is now in the same league as the paintings of the late M. F. Hussein. I have arrived.

Article: Troll Sena protests Sita Sings the Blues in San Jose

Related: Aseem Chhabra on Sita Sings the Blues and free speech, in the Mumbai Mirror.

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.

I am awesome

I was neither prepared nor in a particularly good mood when I did this “webinar” for Agora I/O. It was eerie having a “conversation” in which I could neither see nor hear the other participants. It was just me and my own voice, with questions and comments occasionally popping up in text on another webpage. Because of that, I couldn’t read anyone’s body language and try to pre-emptively smooth things over and “people please”; I could only speak my mind. Which I did. Which, upon reviewing, was a pretty great thing. You may not like me, but I sure do!

The fun starts about 8 minutes in, and gets better as it goes along. If you know about my story and Sita Sings the Blues, you can skip what comes before that, which is a basic recap.

Analytic Chemist Needed

A few weeks ago I ran this comic at Mimi & Eunice:

I’ve long suspected that soy sauce could contain only small traces of wheat, so I did a little online research. Surprisingly, I found only one item that addressed the gluten content of soy sauce directly, and found it contains none at all:

Gluten analysis of two popular soy sauces
We sent a sample of soy sauce of the brands Kikkoman and Lima to an external laboratory to determine gluten levels. In both samples the gluten content was below detection limit of 5ppm (see report). According to a new European legislation, which will only be fully implemented in 2012, gluten-free foodstuffs should contain less than 20 ppm gluten. The FDA also proposes a limit of 20 ppm. This means that our two tested products may be considered as gluten-free soy sauce. link

The article contains a link to a lab report which appears to be Belgian. It’s strong evidence, but celiac organizations are still claiming soy sauce contains gluten, which leads trolls to leave furious comments at mimiandeunice.com and my Facebook page for daring to suggest otherwise.

I’d like to clear up the soy sauce confusion once and for all. A Belgian lab report makes one data point, but more data points are needed, especially because these substances may differ between the US and Europe. What I’d like is an analysis of several brands of American soy sauce, both conventional shoyu (derived from wheat ingredients) and “gluten-free” tamari. Also both fancy health food store brands, and cheap run of the mill supermarket kinds. What would really be helpful is a brand-by-brand chart the wheat-sensitive could refer to.

So, is there an analytic chemist in the house? A chemistry grad student? A biochem hacker space with time and resources on their hands? I’m certainly not a chemist, but if you produce such a report you’ll have my undying gratitude and whatever publicity I and Mimi & Eunice can muster. Also, you’d be doing good for the world.

Continue reading Analytic Chemist Needed

Me discussing VHEMT on Bloggingheads

This was recorded about 2 months ago. Today Bloggingheads finally posted it – SURPRISE! Now everyone who didn’t figure it out before will know that the nice lady who made SSTB is also in the Voluntary Human Extinction Movement. Please, please watch the whole thing – you may be surprised.

Update: comments on this video inspired a Mimi & Eunice comic!

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.

WNYC today at 2pm, 93.9 fm

Smackdown: Open Source or Closed Doors? (click here to listen)

The director of Sita Sings the Blues, Nina Paley, had to pay $50,000 to use old songs in her animation movie. She then put the movie online for free and turned herself into a free-culture activist. Composer Jaron Lanier was a digital pioneer in the ’90s, but in his new book he claims that open-source is destroying creativity and fostering vicious behavior. They join us to debate the pros and cons of free love in art-making.

Sita Sings the Blues site
More about Jaron Lanier [NY Times]

Ban “Sita Sings the Blues” from the Internet!

Seriously, I could use the publicity. What would happen if thousands of people signed this petition? Has a movie ever been banned from the Internet before? I want to see how it’s done. You can leave a message with your signature. They only have 367 so far – do your part, people.

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.

My Wikimedia Rant

Note: Please, please continue uploading my comics to WikiMedia Commons, beloved uploaders! Nina’s Adventures is next. I completely endorse and support this work! Thank you! I love you! I post the rant below because, well, it’s on my mind now, and life isn’t perfect.

Continue reading My Wikimedia Rant

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