This is a rather tardy “first-quarter” report about the Free Distribution of Sita Sings the Blues. It was hastily written July 31 for a conference the next day. Please read about our business model. As of this posting (August 5, 2009) numbers remain approximate and incomplete. The store has actually grossed $34,883.00 to date, but some of those sales are for QuestionCopyright.org merchandise; sales of QCO’s “standard edition” Sita DVD are split between me and QCO, and so aren’t fully reflected in this report. In other words, store income is reported conservatively, some numbers should be higher but Karl Fogel is busy right now so these will have to do. Also, I failed to include income from indie cinemas like Central Cinema in Seattle. Those probably add $3,000 to $5,000. Even the conservative numbers in the report reveal an important truth: I am making money with my “Free” content.
“Where’s the ‘Lexi’ shirt?” “I want kids’ sizes!” “I want a shirt with the male ‘Shadow Puppet #1′!” “Can we have other colors please?”
Our shirts are silk screen printed, yielding much higher quality products than “on-demand” shirts. But that quality comes at a cost. Unlike on-demand shirts, we must pay for shirts in advance, investing in color separations, screens, films, inks, and blank shirts, and committing to a minimum run of 36 pieces.
However YOU, dear reader, can SPONSOR-A-SHIRT! Want us to offer “Ravana” in kids’ sizes? A donation of $400 to questioncopyright.org will allow it to exist in up to 3 kid’s sizes OF YOUR CHOICE. Want “Lexi” to go into production? A $500 donation makes it happen in your choice of one style (Men’s, Women’s, Camisole, or Kids’), color, and up to 3 sizes….
When the product becomes available, its product page at the Sita Sings the Blues Merchandise Empire will say “This shirt sponsored by _________________,” with a link. You can sponsor a shirt in your name, or on behalf of a friend, loved one or organization. You’ll know exactly how your donation is being invested, making our organization more sustainable. It’s not going to consumables like food or rent – it’s starting a new revenue stream…
Re: Shirt Designs: We are taking pre-orders until Wednesday June 10, after which shirts go immediately into production. Shirts ordered before June 10 will ship June 17. To make sure the design you want comes into existence, please order it NOW.
They need $7,000 to scan, prep, and upload my entire comics oeuvre, including Nina’s Adventures and Fluff. Under a Creative Commons Share Alike license, of course, so everyone can see, share, use, and build on them.
$7,000 for Digital Content Creation to digitize a collection of the original comic strip art boards of Nina Paley, an Urbana-born cartoonist and animated filmmaker, whose award-winning animated film Sita Sings the Blues was reviewed by Roger Ebert as “astonishingly original” and selected by him for screening at Ebertfest 2009 in Champaign.
Her cartoon series include Nina’s Adventures (self-syndicated) and Fluff (distributed internationally by Universal Press Syndicate). Nina’s Adventures was a semi-autobiographical, often experimental, alternative weekly comic strip that delivered incisive commentary on consumerism, overpopulation, and other social issues. Ms. Paley is interested in making her artwork openly and freely available for distribution and reuse. If interested please call the Library: (217) 333-5683
Content is an unlimited resource. People can now make perfect copies of digital content for free. That’s why they expect content to be free — because it is in fact free. That is GOOD.
Think of “content” — culture — as water. Where water flows, life flourishes.
Containers — objects like books, DVDs, hard drives, apparel, action figures, and prints — are not free. They are a limited resource. No one expects these objects to be free, and people voluntarily pay good money for them.
Think of “containers” — books, discs, hard drives — as jugs and vessels. These containers add utility to and increase the value of the water. If you can get water for free in the public river, great — that doesn’t reduce the value of vessels. Quite the contrary: when rivers flow, the utility and value of water vessels increases.
The lucky winner will get to prance down the Red Carpet with me (photographers! paparazzi! none of whom will know who the hell we are because they all want photos of movie stars), eat whatever they serve for lunch, drink the booze that inevitably flows freely and at film events (I personally don’t drink, so if you’re sober at least you’ll have me to talk to), clap politely, and listen to me yak on and on about copyright reform and freedom of speech. Optional: pick me up from my friends’ house in Glendale (because I don’t drive – I’m a New Yorker!) and enjoy VIP valet parking!
Also you’ll get the satisfaction of supporting Free Speech.
Sita Sings the Blues is going to be broadcast on New York PBS station WNET Channel 13 on They haven’t chosen the exact date yet, but it will be sometime in MarchSaturday March 7 at 10:45pm on the series Reel13.
PBS enjoys a special privilege among broadcasters: they can legally broadcast music without having to clear individual master or synchronization licenses. That means even while Sita is in copyright jail, she can still legally air on PBS. WNET is hoping to be the first of many PBS affiliates to air the film. You can write or call your local PBS affiliate and ask them to broadcast Sita too!
WNET is our first experiment with Sita’s copyleft plan. Although the film isn’t free under copyleft yet (because I still haven’t received the promised contracts from the rightsholders, let alone raised the money), we’re acting in accordance to those principles already. WNET is making a voluntary payment equivalent to what they normally offer programs on Reel13. That’s $3,000, a third of which will be spent updating the credits and having a new HD master made to their specifications. They understand Sita is non-exclusive, and that any derivative works they make (such as subtitles) must also be open-content. But as long as bad copyright laws prohibit everyone else from broadcasting Sita, PBS gets exclusive access by default.
We’re still looking for donors and underwriters. Want to see your name on PBS? Here’s the credit breakdown:
$250 or more – Donor (small but legible font in end crawl)
$1,000 or more – Production Angel (larger font, sub-credit of your choice)
$10,000 or more – Executive Producer (largest font, sub-credit of your choice)
$50,000 or more – Sponsor: same as Executive Producer, plus I will modify the “intermission” to include your image/message as long as it complies with PBS’s rules (no soliciting). I can animate you or your product walking out for popcorn along with the “cast”! Or whatever you want.
The credits lock Friday February 13. That’s exactly four weeks from today. After then, you can still donate (we hope you will!) but the tape will be locked for WNET.
Please donate here. Donations under $250 still gratefully appreciated, and all donor names (even the smallest) will be acknowledged in a special credits section on the official DVD, as well as the upcoming official web site.
A word about credits in the film. I’d love to include the name of everyone who donates, and small donations help a lot and are most welcome. But I’m realizing that the names will have to be illegibly tiny to include all of them; or else the credits will go on and on and on and on, which means broadcasters will cut them out and then no one will get to see their names. Unfortunately I think I’m going to have to set some minimum donation amounts to get named in the credits, like $100 maybe. Donations of $1,000 or more get a larger credit under “Production Angels,” and $10,00 or more can be “Executive Producers,” or something like that….Once the film is released, we’ll also have a web site that maintains a list of all (even the smallest) donors (unless they choose to opt out) and that list can keep growing even after the release credits are “set.” Still I love small donations, and I want to encourage them. Any suggestions?
It’s time to copyleft ALL of my old Nina’s Adventures comics! But the thought of digging through all those old drawings, re-scanning them, cleaning them up in Photoshop and uploading them to archive.org, is more than I can bear. That’s why I’m looking for (a) smart, trustworthy, dedicated volunteer(s) in New York to do it for me. You will need:
You’ll be handling 14″ x 11″ rare, original, one-of-a-kind Nina’s Adventures drawings, in various stages of decay. Some are turning yellow; some have faded ink; some have corrections and edits pasted on, the glue of which has ceased to adhere so now bits are falling off; some were drawn on “fade-out blue” graph paper which must be edited out of scans.
Once these puppies are scanned and uploaded, they’ll be free for anyone to copy and use. Publish them anywhere! Make buttons and t-shirts! Make that coffee-table book I’ve always wanted! Make derivative works! As long as you attribute the source to me, and license the derivative works under the same share-alike license, you can do whatever you want. But we have to get these scanned and uploaded first, or the revolution will never come.
“But Nina, how will you make money?” Hopefully by selling originals. The more freely the images circulate, the more valuable the originals will become. To this end, I could use another volunteer to help build a web site cataloging all the original strips, both available and sold. It would be nice to allow owners to add their contact information, and otherwise track the locations of all the originals as they go out into the world. Maybe you could manage online auctions or something. And shipping…boy do I need help with shipping.
Potential volunteers please comment below or send an email to nina underscore paley at yahoo dot com. Thank you!
That Roger Ebert article has brought a lotofattention 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:
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 copyleftingSita 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:
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.
That’s right, the way for the new Disney Fairies franchise has been paved by Disney’s tireless efforts to secure endless copyright extensions. Limited copyright terms would conflict with their “Fairies” business plan:
Mr. Iger said he singled out the Fairies line as a potential blockbuster in part because longevity would not be reliant on the aging of human stars, as is the case with “Hannah Montana” or “High School Musical.”
“As everyone knows,” Mr. Iger said, “fairies are forever.” (link)
Unlike nasty ol’ human beings, who age, and nasty ol’ constitutional limits to copyright monopolies, today’s copyrights – and the Fairy Franchises they protect – are forever. Let’s hope that’s worth sacrificing freedom of expression for, ’cause this is what “culture” is going to look like for a long, long time.
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?