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.

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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.

New Merch at the Merch Empire!

Sita_Bag_magenta_640Handmade silk bags by Ubuntu@Work!
yhst-20024741711964_2100_6906620Laxmi Pins and Necklaces!

Laxmi_shirt_currantWomen’s Laxmi shirts in “currant”

yhst-20024741711964_2103_290972Stainless steel water bottles!

And lots of other men’s and women’s shirts, DVDs and CDs, and accessories for your scarce-goods-consuming pleasure.

Sita in L.A.!

Sita in LA

Angelinos! SITA SINGS THE BLUES comes to LA for a 1-week engagement on 4/23 at:

The Laemmle Music Hall 3
9036 Wilshire Blvd.
Beverly Hills, Ca 90211
tel: 310-478-3836


Sita #1 rated film on Rotten Tomatoes

Sita Sings the Blues is Rotten Tomatoes’ best-reviewed film of the year. Today, anyway. To preserve this precious moment, I took a screen shot.

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Sita PAL

My/QuestionCopyright.org’s Sita PAL DVD is finally available at the Sita Merch Empire!

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The PAL format is for European, African, Australian, and many Asian DVD players. (If you’re in North America, stick with NTSC.) Other new PAL distributions are also coming soon in France and Switzerland/Germany via Sita’s distributors in those countries. Stay tuned!

Sita water bottles?

Originally I was going to get something much cheaper, but I was just too enamored with this stupid expensive blank bottle. Now I have to decide: Which design? “Sita Namaste” or “Peacock Phonograph”?

water_bottle_fancy0002water_bottle_fancy0001

These suckers, should I  order them, are stainless steel, BPA-free, and laser engraved. They’ll cost me about $10.50 a pop ($8.29 + $1.20 for the engraving + $50 set up charge, not including shipping), meaning they’ll sell for about $20. Crazy I know, but apparently that’s what people pay for these things.

I’m going for the 18 oz. size because it seems more convenient to stash in a bag and carry around New York on foot than the bigger bottles. My merch philosophy is I only make merch I’d actually want and use, and the smaller bottle fits that bill.

I do bicycle in the warmer months, so I might make a “Sita” silkscreenable design for a 25-oz steel bike bottle too.

Sita now a FREE iPhone app!

Sita_iPhone_FREE

Hooray! The complete Sita Sings the Blues movie is now available FREE for the iPhone, rather than for $3.99. The former price was required because for every copy of Sita “sold,” I had to pay almost $2 to extortionate corporate licensors. That’s a flat fee; doesn’t matter what the sale price is. So selling Sita apps for the customary $.99 would result in a huge loss for me, since I’d be paying far more than that to the licensors.

The solution of course was to make it FREE. They’re all Promotional Copies. No sale, no license fee. To support Mars Yau, who created the app, and me, who created the movie, you can buy the Sita Wallpaper App for $.99. And of course you can always donate to the Sita Distribution Project.

If you have an iPhone please rate the app highly (5 stars? if that doesn’t violate your conscience) to help it spread.

SitaWallpaperLeft.480x480-75 SitaWallpaperRight.480x480-75

Sita Soundtrack now available!

You can buy it right now at CDBaby. Soon it will be at the Sita Merch Empire (where we’ll get more profit per sale), but with today’s snow it may take a while for the initial shipment of CDs to reach the order fulfillment warehouse.

http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/sitasingstheblues

In semi-related news, I mention the soundtrack on this podcast interview with the CommandLine. I was all worried about being inarticulate, but actually I said some smart stuff. Thanks to Thomas Gideon/cmdln for asking smart questions, making smart comments, and making a smart show.

Oh, and DC was fun! I spoke at American University. Great audience, great hosts. (And AU’s IP Law Clinic did all the initial legal research on the Annette Hanshaw songs I used in Sita Sings the Blues, for which I am forever grateful.) During my visit, everyone in DC was still talking about their weeks-past “snowpocalypse,” even though the snow was mostly melted, just some patches on the sides of the streets. I thought, “big deal, I wish we’d gotten more snow in New York.” Then I came back to New York just in time for a snowpocalypse here! I have a lot more sympathy for DC now.

Me at Kripalu April 16-18

Wanna spend a fun weekend with me improvising drawn stories on index cards at a renowned yoga retreat? I sure do!

Nina Paley’s Visual Storytelling Workshop @Kripalu
Friday April 16 – Sunday April 18, 2010
(with a screening of Sita Sings the Blues on the 16th)
Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health (in the Berkshires of Western MA)

Register here! Caveat: it costs money.

Me looking kinda yoga-y. I haven't done real yoga in years, unless art counts.

Me looking kinda yoga-y. I haven't done real yoga in years, unless art counts. But I'm looking forward to doing it again! In the Berkshires of Western MA!

Happy Evilest Holiday Ever Devised!

07.IceBed

To celebrate, there are not one but TWO count ’em TWO screenings of The Greatest Break Up Story Ever Told this Sunday, February 14th at Symphony Space:

Sun, Feb 14 at 1 pm and 5:30 pm

It’s a perfect non-date movie! And I’ll be there in person for post-screening Q & A’s.

Love to my single peeps!

Sita in San Francisco Feb 9-11

Sita-SanFranciscoCollage

I miss San Francisco, my former home! But not so much I’m willing to go through airport security. Those of you who are lucky enough to live in the Bay Area may enjoy Sita Sings the Blues on the big screen at the Red Vic:

Tues Feb. 9 – 7:15, 9:15
Wed Feb. 10 – 2:00, 7:15, 9:15
Thurs Feb. 11 – 7:15, 9:15

The Red Vic Movie House:

The Red Vic Movie House is located on 1727 Haight Street (map),between Cole and Shrader, just a block and a half east from Golden Gate Park. The Red Vic is also served directly by MUNI routes: 7,33,37,43, & 71.MUNI route 6 & N-Judah come within a few blocks.

Sita for the iPhone

demo-1

I don’t have an iPhone, but you kids that do can now watch Sita Sings the Blues on it for $3.99, thanks to Mars Yau.

Why so expensive? Well, $1.712 per “copy” (argh!) goes to these giant faceless corporations licensors that contribute nothing to culture. The breakdown is as follows:

List Price: $3.99
After Apple‘s 30% cut: $2.79
Profit after paying $1.712 (License fee): $1.07

So I will get 50% of the profit: $.535 (fifty-three and a half cents) per copy – less than one third what the corporate extortionists licensors get. A better way to support me is to just watch the movie for free on the web and then send me a donation. I certainly endorse this project, but I wish there were a way to support Mars Yau’s valuable service – bringing the film conveniently to the iPhone – without supporting anti-social Big Media corporations more.

Sita Sundays @ Symphony Space

Sita Sings the Blues plays the next 3 Sundays at Symphony Space in New York:

Sun, Jan 31 at 5:30 pm
Sun, Feb 7 at 5:30 pm
Sun, Feb 14 at 1 pm and 5:30 pm

I will be doing Q and A’s after all shows. Notice there are two screenings on Valentine’s Day, because what better to show on the evilest holiday ever devised than the Greatest Break-Up Story Ever Told? It’s the perfect non-date movie!



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]