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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Kult der Originalität

My Cult of Originality essay gets a German translation, courtesy of Thomas Leske.
Creation of Adam

Ein kleiner illustrierter Aufsatz von Nina Paley. Sie lesen weiter.

Continue reading Kult der Originalität

Inspiration (a.k.a. Artist’s Prayer)

Our Idea
Which art in the Ether
That cannot be named;

Thy Vision come
Thy Will be done
On Earth, as it is in Abstraction.

Give us this day our daily Spark
And forgive us our criticisms
As we forgive those who critique against us;

And lead us not into stagnation
But deliver us from Ego;

For Thine is the Vision
And the Power
And the Glory forever.

Amen.

Frederick Douglass is always relevant

“Find out just what people will submit to, and you have found out the exact amount of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them; and these will continue until they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress.” — Frederick Douglass, August 4, 1857 (via Terry Hancock)

What’s wrong with “streaming” DRM?

Judging from comments here, at Techdirt, and at BoingBoing, there seems to be much confusion about why I don’t want DRM on Sita Sings the Blues. The simplest explanation is this: I am making my film available to all under an open license. Allowing a party to take the benefit of that license, but then limit the rights of downstream users is inconsistent and frustrates the original purpose of the open license — to promote and facilitate access and use of the work.

Some people seem to think DRM is irrelevant on “streaming content.” I was one of them, which is why I was initially so indecisive about the Netflix streaming offer. DRM encourages people to think of certain liberties as being impossible, rather than merely taken away. Already many people think that “streaming” means “cannot be saved on my computer,” instead of “optimized for real-time flow”.  People make this false equation entirely because of user-side DRM.

So along with its other problems, DRM is a kind of anti-literacy device for the digital age.  The more hobbled people’s phones and computers and music players get, the harder it is to remember what it was like when those devices served their users rather than the monopolists. The more deeply embedded DRM becomes, the more its restrictions will come to feel like “just the way things are”, rather than an impediment that could conceivably be removed or worked around.

I respectfully submit a typical comment:

Its not a download or purchase , its “Free Streaming” . From my Roku box to my tv why should you or I care if it has drm.

This is a perfect example of the kind of illiteracy mentioned above. “…we’re talking about a stream, which by definition is not saved on your computer”.  This commenter and others have bought the industry’s definition of “stream”, even though there’s nothing inherent in streaming that prevents saving. I can’t blame them; until last week, I didn’t think about what “streaming” meant either.

Here’s another typical comment:

You’re obviously making a symbolic stand here. That’s fine. But please at least be honest about that instead of claiming that Netflix streaming is “breaking” my home electronics. My computer and my Xbox work just fine and my rights have not been violated in any tangible or meaningful way.

If data is sent to your computer, and yet your computer won’t let you save that data, than an important function of your computer has been interfered with.  Who does your computer work for, anyway, you or them? It’s not just a hypothetical breakage, either.  For example, if you wanted to divide the same incoming stream to two different computers in your house, similarly to how a “Y” pipe would do with water, Netflix DRM will prevent that.  Normally, your computer could do that just fine, but not when it’s broken.

If the quibble is with the word “broken,” we can use the less-inflammatory word “disabled,” although people are eager to forget that “disabling” a computer means “breaking it in increments.”

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My rejection of DRM is not a condemnation of Netflix (I like Netflix!) nor of those who use this very convenient service. I made this difficult decision as the author of Sita Sings the Blues. The only reason Netflix has DRM on its streams is because of pressure from the “content industry.” Well guess what – I am the content industry too, and I say no to DRM.

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Thanks to Karl Fogel for contributing to this article.

The Vegetarian at the Butchers’ Seminar

Yesterday I attended a film conference. I found myself at a talk in which filmmakers were advised how to negotiate deals.

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I felt sick listening, and wondered why. Monopolies were an unquestioned, underlying assumption. When the time came for audience comments and questions, I said that rights were monopolies, that monopolies prevent the market from functioning, that distributors can be great if they’re not granted monopolies, and that it’s up to us artists to not grant those monopolies in the first place.

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Naturally, the speaker wasn’t too thrilled with my comment.

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If filmmakers realized monopolies don’t serve them, he’d be out of a job (he’s one of the many professionals who “help” artists by “protecting” them). Later, I came up with a  metaphor (or meat-aphor) that helped explain my feelings: being a Free Culture advocate at a film conference is like being a vegetarian at a butchers’ seminar.

As a vegetarian I’ve learned better than to discuss dietary habits with the many carnivores who are my friends and loved ones. So I’m questioning what I’m doing at these conferences. I wouldn’t walk into a butchers’ conference and advocate vegetarianism. But what would I do if I were invited, because some of the butchers wanted to learn about vegetarianism, if only to marvel at its freakishness?

Mimi & Eunice

Many years ago, I thought “Mimi & Eunice” would be a great name for a comic strip. Recently I’ve been needing to do some drawing just to keep my head from exploding, so this week I figured, why not Mimi & Eunice?

As far as I can tell, Mimi & Eunice are two middle-aged children/baby psychos/heterosexual lesbians. That’s all I can surmise so far. Mimi&Eunice_01I didn’t put my name on these comics, but I did tag them with the URL mimiandeunice.com. (Unfortunately that site is a mess right now. Webmaster Ian installed the comicpress theme in wordpress, but it’s squishing the strips horizontally unless I make them really tiny. Also, even though it lets me bulk upload media, it doesn’t let me bulk post.

Mimi&Eunice_02So I’m just posting a bunch of them here, for now. If anyone out there makes great comics web sites and wants to make one Mimi & Eunice, please get in touch!)

Mimi&Eunice_03Other than getting mimiandeunice.com functional and pretty, I need to decide which license to release them under, or whether to use a license at all. So far copyleft, as embodied in the Creative Commons Share Alike license,  has served my work very well. But maybe I should go for Public Domain instead?Mimi&Eunice_04

If I use a license, it’ll be one of the 3 Free licenses Creative Commons offers:

CC-BY-SA (copyleft)

CC-BY (attribution)

CC-0 (Public Domain)

Mimi&Eunice_06

The advantage of copyleft is it ensures the work stays Free. Any derivatives must be released under the same terms, so no one can lock it up. It prevents abusive exploitation; no one can monopolize it. The drawback is that keeps it from being used in some projects that use more restrictive licenses. As nasty as restrictive licenses are, they’re still very common, and many worthy projects use them. You can still use a copyleft work within a larger copyrighted work as “Fair Use,” but few are willing to take that risk.

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CC-BY (attribution) is compatible with both copyleft and copyright projects, which could conceivably allow the works to spread further. But it still relies on the threat of legal force to ensure attribution. As I wrote recently, attribution has limits that the law might not recognize. Also, I’m intrigued by avoiding legal enforcement as much as possible, and relying on social mores and  community ethics to ensure attribution. In fact I already do this with Sita Sings the Blues, but if I want to sue someone for plagiarism or improper attribution, I can. Is that threat really necessary?

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Sometimes I think CC-0 (Public Domain) is the most spiritually advanced license. No legal claim to attribution. No legal claim to anything. To put a work in the Public Domain is to totally let it go. That is a turn-on.

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Unfortunately many useful Public Domain works are snatched right out of the Public Domain via copyrighted “derivative works”. Take the comic above. If you changed the background color on panel 3 from reddish-gray to lime green, you could say you’ve made a new work and copyright the result. I don’t mind modifications like changing colors, in fact I encourage them; but I abhor monopolies, and the thought of someone then locking up the work in this way is troubling. Certainly the source would remain in the Public Domain. But if someone else modified the source in a similar way, being likewise inspired to change the color of panel 3 to lime green, they could be sued by the jackass that copyrighted his lime-green-panel-3’ed version.

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Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland is in the Public Domain, and technically you can still build on it. But if your “derivative work” too closely resembles Disney’s, they will sue your ass. The laws don’t recognize parallel evolution, nor do the tiny shriveled minds of the corporate executives who wrote them. Thus, although the exact text of Carroll’s original Alice in Wonderland is PD, it’s no longer “free” to build on thanks to corporate monopolies on derivative works.

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Much as I want to let go entirely, I fear that could be socially irresponsible. Which also why using no license at all is not really an option. In our world, everything is copyrighted, whether it displays the © symbol or not, whether it’s registered or not, whether it’s attributed or not.  Everything is “owned” by someone. Therefore unless something is very clearly marked as Free, it is assumed to be Owned. No license at all would make it impossible for would-be re-users to determine whether the work is legally safe to use.

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A friend pointed out that the State gets into everything. Just because I don’t invoke repressive copy restrictions directly, doesn’t mean they don’t affect my work indirectly. Copyright affects everything, whether it’s copyrighted or not. Art is born free, but is everywhere in chains.

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Another friend pointed out that my desire to “let go” is still desire. Choosing  CC-o/Public Domain to experience the thrill of “selflessness” may actually be more selfish than choosing strong copyleft.

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I want my art to stay free. How to achieve that under our current copyright regime, is quite a dilemma.

Continue reading Mimi & Eunice

Quality, Freedom, Money: Choose Two

quality,freedom,money

People seem to want to believe that just freeing works is some magic recipe for success. It isn’t. But since people crave simple business models, I came up with one this morning:

Quality
Freedom
Money
______
Any Two = success

A very good (Quality) film can succeed if it is Free (Freedom) OR has a big promotional budget (Money). A Free film can succeed if it is very good (Quality) or, if it’s not so good, it has lots of paid promotion (Money, because if it’s not good people won’t promote it on their own initiative). A film with lots of Money will succeed if it’s good (Quality) or if it’s Free. Imagine how much further a crap film could go if it’s not only heavily advertised, but Free to share too.

With only one of these properties, a film is unlikely to succeed. If a film is very good but neither Free nor Moneyed, no one will hear about it and it won’t have a chance to become popular. A Free film that sucks won’t go far. A Moneyed film will garner attention only as long as it’s being promoted; once ad spending stops, audience attention goes away.

With all three of these elements, you’ll have a success the likes of which the world has never seen. Moneyed productions have yet to be Free, but maybe someday, for some reason, someone will pour tons of cash into promoting a Free, Quality production. Of course if it fails, that will be due to insufficient Quality, which can’t really be measured and for which no one wants to take responsibility. If someone wants to try this experiment with Sita Sings the Blues, which is already considered “good” and is forever “free,” be my guest!

Given the financial dire straits of the independent film industry, filmmakers should really be looking at Free, because they’re unlikely to have Money. And everyone, always, should be focused on Quality, no matter what business model they prefer. Except Quality is a mystery, and worrying about it does not lead to better Art. But if you happen to luck into some Quality, you know what to do now.

The Cult of Originality

Creation of Adam

A lil’ illustrated essay by Nina Paley – keep reading

Continue reading The Cult of Originality

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.

The Blind Men and the Elephant

The Blind Men and the Elephant

One of my favorite metaphors

Everyone pays for my art.

They pay attention.

Attention being the most valuable, and most limited, resource there is for humans. It’s more limited than money; you can’t just print more. People don’t “consume” art, they attend to it.

Meanwhile, here’s a little thing on Sita’s distribution model in the Wall Street Journal.

“Intellectual Property” is Slavery

Brain01

“Every man has a property in his own person. This nobody has a right to, but himself.”
John Locke, Second Treatise on Civil Government

“Most thinkers…hold that you own your own life, and it follows that you must own the products of that life, and that those products can be traded in free exchange with others,” claims Wikipedia’s latest entry on property. “Every man has a property in his own person,” says John Locke. Ayn Rand (who I generally can’t stand, but who I’m happy to quote as a passionate defender of the sanctity of property) wrote, “Just as man can’t exist without his body, so no rights can exist without the right to translate one’s rights into reality, to think, to work and keep the results, which means: the right of property.”

You also have a property in your own MIND. That which lives in your mind, is your property. And everyone deserves Rand’s “right to translate one’s rights into reality, to think, to work and keep the results” – in other words to freely think, express, and own the contents of their own mind. That is what “intellectual property” should (but doesn’t) mean: everyone’s right to their own mind.

Instead, legally defined “Intellectual Property” means exactly the opposite: it transfers ownership of the contents of your mind to others. It alienates the ideas in your mind, from you. Is there a song running through your mind right now? It doesn’t belong to you, it belongs to Warner-Chappell. You are forbidden to express it; “performance” requires permission. “To think, to work” – interpret – “and keep the results” – record and sell copies of –  the song in your mind, are illegal.

Thus Intellectual Property gives alien, private owners title to our minds. We may think culture (songs, text, images) only in secret; any expressions of cultural thought belong not to the thinker, but to the IP owner. Your thoughts are “derivative works”; someone else has title to them. You may have “Porgy and Bess” in your mind, but interpreting or singing it out loud is forbidden. That part of your mind belongs to Gershwin’s heirs and their lackeys.

Wikipedia’s entry on Chattel Slavery states: “The living human body is, in most modern societies, considered something which cannot be the property of anyone but the person whose body it is.” The living human mind should be the same. Legally defined “Intellectual Property” is, quite simply, someone else’s ownership of your mind. If they own the right to express what lives in your mind, the right “to think, to work and keep the results,” then they own your mind; they own you. What can we call that, except slavery?

Advice

Sometimes I’m asked if I have any “advice” for the young’uns. I seem to give a different answer every time. Today’s answer is:

ADVICE:

Stop taking advice and stop asking for it.

The world is unlimited! There are a zillion ways to do things. Don’t be afraid of doing things wrong. The only way we make progress is from trying things, and that means a lot of failure. I’ve been helped by other peoples’ failures – they show me what not to do, so I can learn from their mistakes – and I hope my failures help other people succeed too. So even failure is a social contribution, as long as you’re failing YOUR way. An authentic failure is worth 100 insincere successes.

Do it YOUR way, not my way.

Looking to others to tell you what to do and how to do it is a bad habit. You can learn a lot just by observing. Let your observations be your teachers. What people SAY is not the same as what they DO, so pay attention to what they DO and learn from that.

If there’s something you can’t learn from observing, do some research. If research still doesn’t answer your question, THEN ask for advice. If you go straight to asking for advice, and expecting your answers there, you will miss out on all kinds of observations and learning.

That is my advice.

Quote of the Day

“The Internet means there’s no one to kill your dream. You can just do it. You don’t have to persuade anyone or get credentialed or even think about what others think of your idea.”

Pamela Jones