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.

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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

BoingBoing

boingy-doing-doing

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:

197px-copyleftsvg.jpg

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

My Chanukah Miracle

dubaipress.jpg

So there I was at the Dubai International Film Festival last week, and I forgot to bring my mobile phone charger. Usually my Blackberry’s battery conks out after less than 2 days, whether I make calls or not. But lo! That single charge lasted through the entire festival, and even worked when I got back to New York! 6 days of battery use on one charge. Blessed art Thou O Lord Our goD, King of the Universe! Happy Chanukah!

Mr Deity

My friend John in Oakland turned me on to this video, which explains the power of prayer:

Catch the whole series at Mr. Deity.com

“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.”

Am I a Criminal?

Naturally I keep up on the latest grim developments in copyright law. The new Enforcement of Intellectual Property Rights Act, which unsurprisingly “is strongly backed by the music and movie industries,” would “(allow) for the Department of Justice to bring civil suits against IP infringers.

Continue reading Am I a Criminal?