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This is inspired, and makes me love everyone. (Thank you for the tip, Eric!)

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.

Her Morning Elegance

I can’t get this song out of my head, nor this beautiful animation out of my mind’s eye:

Read all about how this video was made here.

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.

Donatin’ for Sita

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Want to donate to the Sita Distribution Project and help get Sita Sings the Blues out of “copyright jail”? Questioncopyright.org is the project’s new Fiscal Sponsor. Donate through them and get a 100% tax writeoff! And the project will get 100% of your donation (minus only what Google Checkout skims).

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?

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

Rudresh Mahanthappa releases new albums, performs TONIGHT

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Sita collaborator
and jazzman Rudresh Mahanthappa has just released some new albums! He writes,

The debut CD “Apti” of the Indo-Pak Coalition, my trio with Rez Abbasi on guitar and Dan Weiss on tabla, was released just a few weeks ago on the innova record label (http://www.innova.mu). We’re celebrating with shows tonight and tomorrow night. I haven’t performed as leader in New York since March so I hope that you can come.

Lots of show information after the fold:

Continue reading Rudresh Mahanthappa releases new albums, performs TONIGHT

Dead Lawyers by John Weldon

Updated “Sita” trailer at archive.org

I finished it back in March, but neglected to upload it to archive.org until today. This one features the voices of Bhavana Nagulapally, Aseem Chhabra and Manish Acharya at the beginning.

You can see some other clips from Sita on composer Todd Michaelsen’s professional reel here.

By Popular Demand: “Sita” Title Music

todd.jpg The immensely talented Todd Michaelsen composed and performed the fabulous title track and much of the score for Sita Sings the Blues, which are now available for streaming (free) and download ($0.99) at toddmichaelsen.com. He has lots of other great music on his site too, you won’t be disappointed.

Comics! Animation! Post-Modern Literalist Irony!

Pipe Wrench Fight!
Hat tip to Ian.

Free Annette Hanshaw “Sita” soundtrack!

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Update – today, October 18, is Annette Hanshaw’s birthday! How’s that for fortuitous timing? Hat tip to Stewart and Steven for emailing me.

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?

The Bright Side of the Dark Side of the Rainbow

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Here’s that Very Good Idea I promised yesterday. Please bear with this long post, it’s worth it I promise.

I.

Everyone’s heard of Dark Side of the Rainbow: You play your own legally-obtained audio of Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon, while watching a legally-obtained video of the Wizard of Oz. As long as the audio is legal, and the video is legal, enjoying them at the same time is legal.

Continue reading The Bright Side of the Dark Side of the Rainbow