Below are the images and text of a Pecha Kucha talk I gave in Champaign, IL. The Pecha Kucha format is 20 slides x 20 seconds per slide. Hopefully the video will be online within a few months.
You are an information portal. Information enters through your senses, like your ears and eyes, and exits through your expressions, like your voice, your drawing, your writing, and your movements.
In order for culture to stay alive, we have to be open, or permeable. According to Wikipedia, Permeance is “the degree to which a material admits a flow of matter or energy.” We are the material through which information flows.
It’s through this flow that culture stays alive and we stay connected to each other. Ideas flow in, and they flow out, of each of us. Ideas change a little as they go along; this is known as evolution, progress, or innovation.
But thanks to Copyright, we live in a world where some information goes in, but cannot legally come out.
Often I hear people engaged in creative pursuits ask, “Am I allowed to use this? I don’t want to get in trouble.”
In our Copyright regime, “trouble” may include lawsuits, huge fines, and even jail. ”Trouble” means violence. ”Trouble” has shut down many a creative enterprise. So the threat of “trouble” dictates our choices about what we express.
Copyright activates our internal censors. Internal censorship is the enemy of creativity; it halts expression before it can begin. The question, “am I allowed to use this?” indicates the asker has surrendered internal authority to lawyers, legislators, and corporations.
This phenomenon is called Permission Culture. Whenever we censor our expression, we close a little more and information flows a little less. The less information flows, the more it stagnates. This is known as chilling effects.
I have asked myself: did I ever consent to letting “Permission Culture” into my brain? Why am I complying with censorship? How much choice do I really have about what information goes in and comes out of me?
The answer is: I have some choice regarding what I expose myself to, and what I express, but not total control. I can choose whether to watch mainstream media, for example. And I can choose what information to pass along.
But to be in the world, and to be open, means all kinds of things can and do get in that are beyond my control. I don’t get to choose what goes in based on its copyright status. In fact proprietary images and sounds are the most aggressively rammed into our heads. For example:
“Have a holly jolly Christmas, It’s the best time of the year “I don’t know if there’ll be snow, but have a cup of cheer “Have a holly jolly Christmas, And when you walk down the street “Say hello to friends you know and everyone you meet!”
I hate Christmas music. But because I live in the U.S., and need to leave the house even in the months of November and December, I can’t NOT hear it. It goes right through my earholes and into my brain, where it plays over and over ad nauseum.
Here are some of the corporations I could “get in trouble with” for sharing that song and clip in public. I wasn’t consulted by them before having their so-called “intellectual property” blasted into my head as a child, so I didn’t ask their permission to put it in my slide show.
Copyright is automatic and there’s no way to opt out. But you can add a license granting some of the permissions copyright automatically takes away. Creative Commons, the most widespread brand of license, allows its users to lift various restrictions of copyright one at a time.
The problem with licenses is that they’re based on copyright law. The same threat of violence behind copyright is behind alternative licenses too. Licenses actually reinforce the mechanism of copyright. Everyone still needs to seek permission – it’s just that they get it a little more often.
Like copyright itself, licenses are often too complex for most people to understand. So licenses have the unfortunate effect of encouraging people to pay even MORE attention to copyright, which gives even more authority to that inner censor. And who let that censor into our heads in the first place?
Although I use Free licenses and would appreciate meaningful copyright reform, licenses and laws aren’t the solution. The solution is more and more people just ignoring copyright altogether. I want to be one of those people.
A few years ago I declared sovereignty over my own head. Freedom of Speech begins at home. Censorship and “trouble” still exist outside my head, and that’s where they’ll stay – OUTSIDE my head. I’m not going to assist bad laws and media corporations by setting up an outpost for them in my own mind.
I no longer favor or reject works based on their copyright status. Ideas aren’t good or bad because of what licenses people slap on them. I just relate to the ideas themselves now, not the laws surrounding them. And I try to express myself the same way.
Like millions of others who don’t give a rat’s ass about copyright, I hope you join me. Make Art, Not Law.
QCO Artist-in-Residence Nina Paley’s interview with at Baixa Cultura, conducted by email with journalist and photographer André Solnik. The English below is the original; Baixa Cultura translated Nina’s answers.
1. When your interest on free culture has begun?
For a long time I thought copyright terms were too long and the law could use reform, but I didn’t really understand Free Culture until October 2008, after months on the film festival circuit with my then-illegal feature Sita Sings the Blues. Free Culture was too audacious a concept for me to think about clearly until then. One morning I finally got it — freeing my work would be better for the work — and I spent the next half-year preparing for a Free, legal release of SSTB. That finally happened in March 2009, when I finally cleared all the necessary (and bullshit) licenses at a cost of about $70,000 to myself.
2. Tell me in short why artists should free their work. Is it a good choice for both renowned and new artists?
Why should you Free your work? To make it as easy as possible for people to share your work — as easy as possible for your work to reach eyeballs and ears and minds — to reach an audience. And to make it as easy as possible for audience support — including money — to reach you…. Copy restrictionsplace a barrier between you, the artist, and most forms of support. By removing the barriers of copyright, you make it possible to receive money and other kinds of support from your audience, both directly and through distributors, thereby increasing your chances of success.
3. Creative Commons has recently released the final draft of the version 4.0 of its licenses. What changes would you like to see? Do you think CC should keep on supporting the nonfree licenses?
Yes, CC should stop supporting the non-free licenses. What kind of “commons” is that?
4. Although they are probably the most known alternatives to more restrictive ones, they still remain unpopular compared to the “all rights reserved“. Why is that? Do you reckon people get confused by the many possibilities given by the CC licenses?
Most people who use CC licenses don’t understand what the different licenses mean; they just call all of them “Creative Commons” as if that means anything. CC’s modular system was a good idea, I see it as an experiment that was worth doing. But the results are in: it didn’t work. What we have now are a mess of incompatible licenses, most of which fail to contribute to any real “commons,” and an increase of confusion and misinformation.
You can’t really blame Creative Commons though — the problem is copyright law. Nothing can fix it at this point. Even CC-0, a valorous attempt to opt out of copyright, doesn’t work in practice, as my experience with the Film Board of Canada showed — even after placing SSTB under CC-0, their lawyers refused to accept it was really Public Domain, and made me sign a release anyway, just to allow one of their filmmakers to refer to it. I will be saddled forever with permissions paperwork even with CC-0. I’ll probably keep using CC-0, of course, but I have no expectation it will work as it’s supposed to.
5. The BY-NC-SA license, although nonfree, it’s pretty popular. Why do you think so? What are the main issues about licensing a work using it?
People are high-minded when they choose the -NC restriction, but it accomplishes exactly the opposite of their ideals. They want to “protect” their works from abusive exploitation from big corporate players. They don’t realize those big corporate players LOVE the -NC clause, because it’s a commercial monopoly. Big corporate players are all set up to deal with commercial monopolies: they have licensing departments and lawyers. It’s the big corporate players who can afford to license your -NC works. It’s your peers, small players with no legal departments and limited resources, who can’t. The -NC clause screws over your fellow artists and small players, while favoring big corporations.
The way to avoid abusive exploitation is to use CC-BY-SA, a Share-Alike license without the -NC restriction. This allows your peers to use the work without fear, as long as they keep it Free-as-in-Freedom. Big corporate monopoly players, however, are unwilling to release anything Freely: if they want to use your work, they’ll have to negotiate a waiver of the -SA clause. For this they will pay money. It works like a regular licensing deal: for $X you waive the -SA restriction and allow them to re-use the work without contributing to the community. I have had many corporate licensors offer me such contracts, although I didn’t sign any because I was such a Free license booster.
The only reason BY-NC-SA is popular is because people really haven’t thought it through.
6. Money seems to be one of the main worries artists have when they hear someone saying “free your work“. Is this “fear“ justified? Have you recovered all the money spent in the making of Sita Sings the Blues?
7. You have recently announced that SSTB is now in the public domain. Although now you are finally free of burocracy envolving copyright stuff and this action could help your movie to have more visibility, on the other side it could favour restricted modifications of your work (e.g.: a book inspired by SSTB released under “all rights reserved“). How do you weigh these two sides?
Eh, honestly I just don’t care any more. Let’s just put it out there and see what happens. If something terrible happens because I shared freely, I’ll learn from that. But I think it’s stupid to worry about what other people do, and try to control it, especially with broken laws. Even Free Share-Alike licenses require copyright law to be enforced, and copyright law is hopelessly broken. I don’t want to validate or support it in any way.
Licenses are not going to fix our problems. What is fixing our problems is increasing numbers of people simply ignoring copyright altogether. Instead of trying to get people to pay more attention to the law, as CC does, I’d rather encourage them to ignore the law in favor of focusing on the art. Licenses are the wrong solution. Art is the solution. Make art not law.
8. Are you keen on the free software movement as well? Any of your works was made using free softwares?
“This Land Is Mine” pocket square: millennia of violent territorial disputes distilled into a charming, non-violent, 100% silk 13″x13″ pocket square. Square made in France; history made in the Levant. (Alternate video link at vimeo. Note: pocket square does not play video.)
“40 Years in the Desert,” a talk I gave at Copycamp in Warsaw, Poland, on November 26 2012. Audio is a bit messed up until 02:49, so just start there. I talk a bit about Questioncopyright.org and Minute Memes, liberally quote Rick Falkvinge, mention Fair Use and Creative Commons before getting into Intellectual Disobedience. Toward the end I discuss Seder-Masochism’s release plan.
If anyone needs to download Sita Sings the Blues or copy Mimi & Eunice or anything from any of my web sites, including this blog, do it now because they’re all going dark for 24 hours in protest of SOPA/PIPA and the lobbyists and bought politicians who wrote them and will write the next stupid bills attempting to break the internet even after SOPA and PIPA “die” only to be resurrected zombie-like under new stupid acronyms.
Although I’ll truly miss Wikipedia while it’s down tomorrow, maybe I’ll use the time to get some actual animation done instead of just “research.”
Over at Techdirt.com, pro-SOPA/PIPA commenters continue to call copying “theft.” Since their main argument for breaking the Internet is fundamentally erroneous, now seems like a good time to re-post this riposte:
Here at last is the video from my first How To Free Your Work workshop, given at NY Foundation for the Arts in Brooklyn, October 5 2011. You can get all the information contained herein as easy-to-read instructions at QuestionCopyright.org. If you want me to give a workshop like this to your group, please contact me.
LYRICS: Always give credit where credit is due if you didn’t write it, don’t say it’s by you just copy the credit along with the work or else you’ll come off as an arrogant jerk
Always give credit where credit belongs we know that you didn’t write Beethoven’s songs pretending you did makes you look like a fool unless you’re Beethoven – in that case, it’s cool
A transparent system makes cheating unwise the simplest web search exposes your lies no one wants their reputation besmirched which happens to liars when they are web-searched
Proper citation will make you a star it shows that you know that we know who you are Plagiarization will only harm you so always give credit where credit is due!
Synopsis: Mimi makes a copy of a Beethoven Symphony with a giant copy machine. Trouble starts when Eunice erases Beethoven’s name and writes in her own. This makes Eunice look like an ass. Searching the Internet (itself a giant copy machine) confirms that Eunice is a liar. Eunice realizes her mistake and corrects it, but by then everyone’s moved on – her plagiarism is barely a blip in the spread of correctly-attributed cultural works through copying.
Whenever I speak about Free Culture at schools, I’m asked “what about plagiarism?” Copying and plagiarism are two quite different things. As Mimi demonstrates with the giant Copy Machine, copying a work means copying its attribution too:
just copy the credit along with the work
When people copy songs and movies, they don’t change the authors’ names. Plagiarism is something else: it’s lying. If Copyright has anything to do with plagiarism, it’s that it makes it easier to plagiarize (because works and their provenance aren’t public and are therefore easier to obscure and lie about) and increases incentive to do so (because copying with attribution is as illegal as copying without, and including attribution makes the infringement more conspicuous). American Copyright law does not protect attribution to begin with; it is concerned only with “ownership,” not authorship. Many artists sign their attributions away with the “rights” they sell, which is why it can be difficult to know which artists contributed to corporate works.
I chose Beethoven to illustrate how copyright has nothing to do with preventing plagiarism. All Beethoven’s work is in the Public Domain. Legally, you can take Ludwig van Beethoven’s songs, Jane Austen‘s novels, or Eadweard Muybridge‘s photographs and put any name you want on them. Go ahead! You’re at no risk of legal action. Your reputation may suffer, however, and you definitely won’t be fooling anyone. If anyone has doubts, they can use that same copy machine – the Internet – to sort out who authored what. Lying is very difficult in a public, transparent system. A good analog to this is public encryption keys: their security comes from their publicity.
The song says “always give credit where credit is due,” but in many cases credit is NOT due. For example, how many credits should be at the end of this film? I devoted about two and a half seconds to these credits:
Movie and Song by Nina Paley
Vocals by Bliss Blood
But I could have credited far more. In fact, the credits could take longer than the movie. Here are some more credits:
Ukelele: Bliss Blood
Guitar: Al Street
Recorded by Bliss Blood and Al Street
What about sound effects? Were it not for duration constraints, this would be in the movie:
Every single sound effect in the cartoon was made by someone. Should I credit each one? Crash-wobble by (Name of Foley Artist Here). Cartoon zip-run by (Name of Other Foley Artist Here). And so on: dozens of sound effects were used in the cartoon, and each one had an author. What about the little noises Mimi & Eunice make? Not only could the recording engineer be credited, but the voice actor as well (as far as I know, these were both Greg Sextro).
I included a few seconds of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony at the end, which I didn’t credit in the movie. Should I have? Why or why not?
I could credit the characters:
& Special Guest Appearance by
Ludwig van Beethoven
I could be more detailed in crediting myself:
Lyrics and Melody by Nina Paley
Character design: Nina Paley
Animation: Nina Paley
Produced by Nina Paley
Directed by Nina Paley
Edited by Nina Paley
Backgrounds by Nina Paley
Color design by Nina Paley
Layout: Nina Paley
Based on the comic strip “Mimi & Eunice” by Nina Paley
The ass drawing also came from Wikimedia Commons, where it’s credited to Pearson Scott Foresman. But who actually drew it? I have no idea. I doubt that Pearson Scott Foresman could even legally claim the copyright on it to “donate” to Wikimedia in the first place, but there they are, getting credit for it instead of an artist. That’s because copyright is only concerned with “ownership,” not authorship.
Then there’s the software I used, good old pre-Adobe Macromedia Flash. Should I credit the software? What about the programmers who contributed to the software?
I also used a Macintosh computer (I know, I know, when Free Software and Open Hardware come close to doing what my old system does, I’ll be the first to embrace it) and a Wacom Cintiq pen monitor. How many people deserve credit for these in my movie?
Mimi and Eunice themselves were “inspired” by many historical cartoons. Early Disney and Fleischer animations, the “rubber hose” style, Peanuts, this recent cartoon, and countless other sources I don’t even know the names of – but would be compelled to find out, if credit were in fact due. Is it?
And so on. It is possible to attribute ad absurdum. So where is credit due? It’s complicated, the rules are changing, and standards are determined organically by communities, not laws. I had to edit the song for brevity, but I kind of wish I hadn’t excised this line:
A citation shows us where we can get more of all the good culture that Free Culture’s for
Attribution is a way to help your neighbor. You share not only the work, but information about the work that helps them pursue their own research and maybe find more works to enjoy. How much one is expected to help their neighbor is determined by (often unspoken) community standards. People who don’t help their neighbors tend to be disliked. And those who go out of their way to deceive and defraud their neighbors – i.e. plagiarists – are hated and shunned. Plagiarism doesn’t affect works – works don’t have feelings, and what is done to one copy has no effect on other copies. Plagiarism affects communities, and it is consideration for such that determines where attribution is appropriate.
At least that’s the best I can come up with right now. Attribution is actually a very complicated concept; if you have more ideas about it, please share.
Are you a law student? Want to work on a project with me and QuestionCopyright.org? We need a legal intern to research the history of copyright suits in the quilting world. How common are copyright suits among quilters? How many cases settle? What sort of decisions emerge from those that go to court? How does copyright law apply to quilting, given its similarity to fashion (utilitarian) and other arts (decorative)? Details at QuestionCopyright.org:
Calling all law students — or at least the ones who weren’t planning to work for the RIAA later:
Our legal intern position is open! We’re looking for someone interested in learning more about copyright law and using it to promote freedom. Several of our projects have legal components, so the responsibilities of the position are varied. They will involve research in U.S. and international copyright law, non-profit law (federal and CA state), some trademark law, tracking legislative developments, some writing, etc. The minimum time commitment is about five hours a week, with more available if you want it. A New York City location is preferred but not required. There may be some limited travel (which we pay for), at your discretion.
The position is unpaid, but you would be working with an experienced lawyer (our counsel, Karen Sandler), and we’re happy to meet reasonable requirements for law school credit.
Interested? Contact us. We’ll keep the posting open until we get the right candidate — it could be you!
This very short, very concise, very understandable article by Rich Bailey is probably the best popular introduction to me and my copyright/copyleft issues. First published by the Epoch Times, I re-post it below.
Our first Minute Meme, Copying Is Not Theft, continues its steady spread online. The two versions currently most shared are QuestionCopyright.org’s “official” version, which we unfortunately named “best” instead of “official” (“best” implying a value judgement) and the arrangement by Willbe which uses my original wavery vocals (hence my unfortunate value judgement – the official/”best” version has vocals by professional Connie Champagne, which save me the embarrassment of hearing my own voice).
On the Willbe version youtube page, I found a pretty good suggestion in the comments: a Copy Bunny Progress bar. That was easy enough to make; here’s a truncated version in GIF format:
I also uploaded all the original .fla files to archive.org, so you can remix and modify to your heart’s content.
Also, did you know there’s a Copying Is Not Theft cloisonne pin? Well there is! And you can buy it.
You’ll notice it starts off with the nose-stealing gag. I saw a similar gag over a decade ago in a brilliant Sam Henderson comic, the Magic Whistle, which made me laugh and laugh. Since Sam has made about a zillion such comics, I can’t find that one, but I did find this amusing one that relates to one of my favorite subjects, the First Amendment: Continue reading Added Value
Excerpts from my talk “Sita Sings the Blues: a Free Culture Success Story” at The Next H.O.P.E. (Hackers On Planet Earth) conference, July 16 2010 in New York City. Includes: why I insisted on authentic songs, what is and is not property, software is culture, the difference between Share Alike (copyleft) and other Creative Commons licenses, why I paid to legally license the old songs, how noncommercial copyright infringement is still illegal, legal costs, benefits of audience sharing & decentralized distribution, the Sita Sings the Blues Merchandise Empire (sitasingstheblues.com/store), open-licensed merch, audience goodwill, how fans support artists, rivalrous vs. non-rivalrous goods, the Creator Endorsed Mark, migrating Flash files to open formats, gift income, commerce without monopolies, why I encourage legal sharing, and more!
Venerable author Cory Doctorow and I had this email correspondence this Summer, with the intention of sharing it to illuminate some issues confronting Free Culture and Creative Commons licenses. My thanks to Cory!
May 17, 2010
I’m writing to invite you to experiment with what I think is a brilliant innovation from QuestionCopyright.org: the Creator Endorsed Mark.
“I like the fact that copyright lets me sell rights to my publishers and film studios and so on. It’s nice that they can’t just take my stuff without permission and get rich on it without cutting me in for a piece of the action.” link
The Creator Endorsed Mark effectively achieves the same thing, but without commercial monopolies. As you know, -NC licenses have some drawbacks: there’s no clear delineation between commercial and non-commercial use. You write,
“It’s just stupid to say that an elementary school classroom should have to talk to a lawyer at a giant global publisher before they put on a play based on one of my books.” link
It is stupid, but if the school raises any money to put on that play, or charges for tickets, or any number of other likely scenarios, then it’s commercial use of your work. You know it’s stupid, and I know it’s stupid, and maybe even some teachers and students know it’s stupid, but the school is obliged to obey the law, and the -NC license says they have to negotiate permission. If there’s a legal adviser at that school, they’re not going to allow the play without permission; and if asking for permission is too uncertain or labor-intensive (as it is in almost all cases – a lawyer may not know what an exception yours is), they won’t put on the play.
The Creator Endorsed Mark solves that problem. There is no commercial monopoly to infringe on. Big players – “publishers and film studios and so on” – need your Endorsement. If they cross you and your fans, they have a huge publicity problem; if they obtain your endorsement and cooperation, they sell more copies. The Creator Endorsed Mark increases the monetary value of distributed works, and is an essential investment for a distributor to make. But unlike a commercial monopoly, it doesn’t legally threaten or punish all those other players who are so crucial to a thriving cultural economy: schools putting on plays, other creatives building on the work, and otherwise unimaginable scenarios.