Music Industry Killing Internet Radio, Sita Sings the Blues

First, read this:
Music Industry Killing Internet Radio.

Now read this:
Spreadsheet of what same Music Industry wants me to pay them (.xls).
View spreadsheet as html here.

To recap:

Sita Sings the Blues includes 11 songs recorded by Annette Hanshaw in 1927-1929. The recordings themselves are not protected by Federal Copyright. The underlying compositions are. So we (my sales rep’s law firm, to whom I now owe additional thousands of dollars) approached the so-called music publishers to negotiate rights. After all demanded $500 per song to permit the film to play at festivals (for which I make no money and am in debt), here’s what they “estimate” for me to legally sell DVDs:

$15,000 to $26,000 per song.

Said “publishers,” entrusted with compositions that should have been in the Public Domain decades ago, include:

Universal Music Publishing Group (UMPG):



None will accept a royalty based on the film’s revenues. Right now the film has no revenues, because it isn’t released; but no distributor will release it without the rights cleared first. Catch-22. Historically, distributors would sometimes front large sums of money for such rights-clearing purposes, but not this year. American distributors are going bankrupt and offering miniscule sums (if anything) for indies right now.

Of course $220,000 is peanuts to a big studio, but it exceeds the entire budget of Sita. Do the publishers know that? We’ve informed them. Do they care? No. It’s fine with them if Sita is never released. Which makes them a bad parasite. Successful parasites don’t kill their host bodies. If they actually paid attention and negotiated realistically, they could make some money. Instead, they ensure Sita – and countless other independent films – will never have a legal release.

Yes, yes, I’ve already heard this other professional advice: hire a seasoned Music Supervisor who is on drinking-buddy terms with Music Industry reps. Over drinks, the Old Boys lower the price. Thus the money gets spread out over more and more industry middlemen. I’ve also been advised to just “raise more money” (the music publishers are likewise advising the internet radio stations they’re killing to “make more money”). Only by paying off Music Industry extortionists can I court professional distributors. But given today’s film glut and weak market, it’s highly unlikely I’d even make money doing this. The Music Industry would be enriched while I continue to starve.

As long as I’m not making any money (I’m just going further into debt, actually) I’m sure as hell not going to pay any to the Entertainment Industry. I can not make money on my own just fine, thankyouverymuch.

Pirates grow more attractive every day.


P.S. – To the well-meaning ignoramuses who keep sending me helpful emails telling me to “just swap out the music”: shame on you. I know you mean well, but you should actually watch the movie before telling an artist to destroy a work of art in order to satisfy extortionists. Your advice only confirms the artistic and moral bankruptcy of the movie business. Beyond that, the authentic songs from the 20’s make a point inherent to the film, which fakes inherently cannot make – possibly there’s a Fair Use argument there. But my first point is more important.


Author: Nina Paley

Animator. Director. Artist. Scapegoat.

41 thoughts on “Music Industry Killing Internet Radio, Sita Sings the Blues”

  1. It’s truly stunning to witness this. How do three companies get to own 100% of something? I eagerly await the dissolution of music publishers… their demise is inevitable the way that digital downloads are working these days, but it will still take decades and decades to wear them down from the cash-fat entrenched positions, and for them to run out of money to pay lawyers with.

  2. Having seen Sita at the Seattle Film Festival Memorial Day weekend, I’ve been waiting for the day when I could >BUY

  3. I’ve never had to deal with this – besides, I compose and record my own music. It seems like they should just get a percentage of any profits made instead of killing any creativity right out. What sense does that make? Sounds like they just want total control of all media produced. Then artists don’t have any opportunity to experiment or cultivate any skill. I guess that’s why we have ended up with modern alternative music and rap where all you have to do is strum a few chords on a guitar, drone out some bass notes and wail atonally in to your home studio mic. I can’t believe what I hear half the time.

  4. My original reply was cut off… what I meant to say was that having seen Sita at the Seattle Intnl Film Festival Memorial Day weekend, I’ve been eagerly awaiting the day when I could BUY DVD’s of the film for myself and as gifts for my daughter and some friends. Presumably that would not only mean a small royalty to the publishers in the short term but also introducing the music to a new generation unfamiliar with it. Instead, they forgo the potential new income and buzz for their publishing “property.” This isn’t short-sighted or inflexible: it’s just plain stupid on their parts.

    But what really gripes me about this is seeing this literally kill the chance for many to see this wonderful work and due recognition for the incredible feat of Ms. Paley’s labor of love. I’m donating a couple DVD’s retail worth via her PayPal link. That way, even if Sita does end up on or some other free venue, I’ve had the opportunity to thank her for her work and to say thank you.

  5. Just one question: do UMPG, Warner & Co. own the rights to the music compositions only in the US or also in the rest of the world?
    If they own the rights only for US, what about finding a distributor in Europe, expecially France? After having seen the success of Sita in Berlin and Annecy, where usually also distributors come, I guess some arthouse distributor in France could take the film into consideration.
    Of course, if the big music companies own the rights worldwide, forget all what I said.

  6. Not to throw salt in your wounds, but did you not know when you were first selecting these songs that there would be some sort of payment required? Before you became too attached to them maybe you could have found cheaper/freer music?

  7. Hi Ignoramous (sic),

    I was more concerned about the recordings (which through much research found were in fact PD) and hoped (not assumed) that payment could be negotiated for the compositions. Re: “Before I became too attached to them” – have you seen the film? Of course I knew from the beginning I could have “found cheaper/freer music” – AND NEVER MADE THE FILM THAT NEEDED TO BE MADE. I could make a pile of shit like most filmmakers, and not have to actually stand up for what’s right – but hey, the music would have been cheaper/freer!

    Your choice of words, Ignoramous, evades assigning responsibility to ACTUAL HUMANS. “There would be some sort of payment required” – by whom? First corporations (and their executives and lobbyists) claim to own culture, including works that were created with the understanding they would be in the Public Domain long ago. Then they demand outrageous fees to people who can’t possibly pay them, including 12-year-olds who file-share, Internet Radio, and me. Do you really think the abuses of Warner-Chappell, UMPG and Sony are facts of nature? That they have no responsibility? Your grammar reminds me of the classic, “mistakes were made.” Here’s a metaphor, Ignoramus: if someone is kidnapped in Brazil, and her captors mail her family a videotape of her ear being cut off, do you tell them, “did you not know that there would be some sort of payment required?” Do you tut-tut her for being so foolish as to leave the house in the first place?

    Even when I started “Sita”, I knew culture is being held hostage, and I knew making art would entail risk. Unlike everyone in the “film business” for which I have infinite contempt, I wasn’t willing to ruin, compromise or kill my art first. I still made the right decision, and I can still take pride that I didn’t let my fear kill my art. What I am doing now is called fighting. Luckily, I’m not the only one – see comments throughout this site,,,, Stay Free Magazine (R.I.P.), The Grey Album, Negativland, etc..

    In spite of calling you an Ignoramus, Ignoramous, I hope that we can someday convert you from being part of the problem to part of the solution.

  8. I don’t understand this sort of mentality …why it can’t just involve a small royalty fee coming from the sale of DVDs. It’s a similar situation with Internet radio. Can’t these businesses see that it’s free advertising for music that might not otherwise be known?

    Those ingrates — I ended up buying an Annette Hanshaw CD after seeing a Sita clip on the internet. Otherwise I might never have heard of her, as I’m sure is the case with many other people.

  9. i saw your film at annecy.
    This is heartbreakingly frustrating!!! 🙁
    And all so typical of an industry which is modelled in such a way as to suck as much money out of artists as possible. the music industry will eventually have to remodel the way it does business.

  10. This is another symptom of a much larger problem that will require a much more expanded view to understand. The good news is that the truth always simplifies a subject, not complicates it. In astronomy, Ptolemy’s ‘Earth is the center of the universe’ model (approved by the authorities) became unworkably complex as more data about the real motions of the planets became available. As the internet makes more information available, many areas of life involving personal interaction are becoming exceedingly complex as well. There are truths currently coming to light that are the modern equivalent of ‘Hey, the SUN belongs in the middle!’ that will simplify political concepts and will lead to real world solutions, not just Utopian talk.

    Some examples:

    Here is a chapter (dealing with intellectual property)of an entire book that you can read and listen to as a podcast with no payment required.

    In order to have a free culture, we must all own ourselves. This seeming ‘self-evident truth’ has far reaching implications.

    Nina, you nailed it by observing that ACTUAL HUMANS need to take responsibility for their actions. It’s time to challenge the moral legitimacy of the system.

  11. i actually think misspelling ignormus is actually kind of classic, but whatevs.

    i was just wondering, how do you know that annette hanshaw (sp?) created her works “with the understanding they would be in the Public Domain long ago”. if she were alive today how do you know she would not want payment? she might be a 100 year old greedy capitalist.

  12. At least the ignoramii have a sense of humor! I am hopeful.

    i was just wondering, how do you know that annette hanshaw (sp?) created her works “with the understanding they would be in the Public Domain long ago”.

    Because the law at that time specified that copyrighted works would enter the Public Domain after only 28 years. It was possible to renew copyrights and get another 28 years, but the labels never bothered to do that, and even if they did, they would have entered Public Domain in 1983-1985. But that’s just the recordings. They are not covered by federal copyright law, and they’re not what the publishers are demanding $220,000 for. They want the $ for the “synch rights” – the license to use the compositions in a film.

    The compositions were created under the same law that promised they would be in the Public Domain by approximately 1983. That was the legal deal at the time. It was changed retroactively, mostly by Sonny Bono, who was later killed by a tree. If only the tree had killed his horrible legislation instead of the man himself!

    if she were alive today how do you know she would not want payment? she might be a 100 year old greedy capitalist.

    Ms. Hanshaw, like all recording artists at the time, signed off her rights to her own art at the moment she made it – work-for-hire was the way of the music business. Any copyright on her recordings (which have long expired because they were never renewed) never protected or benefitted Ms. Hanshaw, they benefitted only the labels, who didn’t even recognize her worth – Columbia destroyed all their Hanshaw masters in the 40’s for scrap metal. But again, this isn’t about Annette Hanshaw’s recordings, it’s about the underlying compositions.

    We should nonetheless acknowledge that any and all preservation of Hanshaw’s work is due to the efforts of music-loving record collectors, not the Music Industry. The corporations vested with all legal control of her work have failed to preserve it, and failed to distribute it. They have succeeded only in blocking the circulation of her work via threats, which is why all Hanshaw CDs are made outside the United States.

    Keep asking good questions, Ignoramous/ignoramus, we may be getting somewhere.

  13. ok. one more question. if warner bros. wants to use part of your film in “batman 23” and “batman 23” goes on to make 300 trillion dollars, do you or your heirs want any part of those profits? or are you just glad that millions of people will have seen a part of it? what rights do you have in your film and do you put any monetary value on those rights?

    (don’t flip out over the example of commingling your film with a studio movie. it’s just for arguments sake).

  14. I want myself and my heirs to have freedom of speech. In order to ensure this, copyright needs reform. With copyright reform, my heirs will be able to sell copies of Batman 23 (or at least not be sued for watching a copy) and to dine out on having a famous ancestor. They may even be able to dig out the master copy of my film and any notes I’ve left and do a deluxe release of that or arrange for showings on the arthouse circuit.

    So: Freedom of speech, network effects, keeping the masters and selling something people actually want to buy are all more important than myself or my descendants rent-seeking and causing chilling effects on expression.

  15. Hi Nina,

    I watched “Sita” twice with my sweetie, Dian. It is incredible. I love the Ramayana. I love the blues. I love the way you expertly wove these together with your own story. “Sita” is pure genius- the age old tale of love found, lost, found, lost…

    You are an amazing filmmaker and I wish you every success in your fight. I hate the DCMA and the lying sell-outs in Washington who now attempt to steal America’s right to art and subvert this same right across the globe. Is there anything worse than the recent legislation from the camp of Leahy et al.? People need to smarten up.

    PEOPLE!! Please simply Google “leahy recording rights” (without quotes) and read for yourself the outrageous proposals coming from our representatives; proposals to virtually end open airwaves, seize property, imprison citizens and even impose the death penalty. Leahy seriously proposed “maximum penalties for trafficking in counterfeit goods or services from 10 to 20 years imprisonment for knowingly or recklessly causing serious bodily injury, and to life imprisonment for knowingly or recklessly causing or attempting to cause death.” Crash into someone while listening to a song you downloaded without permission from the rights holder- sorry scumbag, you get life in prison, hmmmm, this is Texas, maybe you get the death penalty!! I smell a big suitcase full of money from greedy recording right executives.

    I wrote Leahy and guess what, the great representative of the people did not even have the guts or the courtesy to answer me!

    I am very afraid of what is happening to our great Country at the hands of greedy sell-out politicians. It is truly disgusting and I will not tire in writing to them to let them know they are not unchecked and to vote them out of office whenever possible.

    I wish you every success in your fight.



  16. Knowdoubt the big 3 will take full copyright ownership of your work and offer you the royalties.

    Unfortunatly the music/movie business is alligned to a industrialised model. This model will not last long when artists form there own production and distribution companies.
    The thing is; artist’s need to make money too, and they often opt for selling there copyrights as a work-for-hire type model today, If an artist wants to forge an existance in todays climate they have to be truley independent.

    wheather independent or not you have to make sacrifices for your craft and that means the lesser of 2 evils,

    Creative Commons or Copyright?

  17. Give out some names and contact info for the music publishers that are being such stupid quasi masochistic assholes.

    They make no money at all if your project dies.

    If they offer you a contingency option that pays them in full if the project makes money; then they are way better off than they are letting it die and getting nothing anyway.

    They are only hurting themselves by being so stupidly stubborn.

    This actually discourages indy film makers from ever using this kind of material.

    For Ebert to go as far as he’s gone to publicize this situation, this must be a damned good film. For the publishers to continue with their belligerence in the face of this is beyond stupid and enters the realm of bizarre and unsane.

    Who *are* these people? Names????????

  18. You see it is not the fact that these labels will not make money anyway if this film is not realised, they want a full proof way of earning funds should the film not provide the investment returns.

    The way this is typically done is by owning all or 75% of the copyrights, then if the film does marginally well they can make up the loss by merchandising, create books, create a screen play, or sell the product in a bundled compolation fashion to diffrent networks etc…

    This is the business end; from a creators perspective they have the passion end, but know it’s becoming more and more important to be a prosumer in the internet world.

    If for instance this film had been done with Creative Commons material, this film (with it’s huge publicity) could go to air and realise abnormal download profits not to mention merchandising, CD’s, book deals, advertising, director recognision….

    If the game is played right the 3 big monopoly labels will be shuddering in there boots right know.

  19. I’m not sure if this was suggested yet, but can’t you distribute the movie for free (promotional material) and ask for Donations?

    I know others have done it, although I don’t know how successful they have been.

  20. You may be a great animator, but the fact that you seem to think that people should only charge you what you can afford (as opposed to charging what the item is worth in a free market) for what they own will keep me from ever watching any of you films. Maybe you should just learn the lesson, quite whining, and get permission (or at least find out if you need permission) BEFORE you decide something is free for you to use.

    Just a thought.

  21. To Astonished:

    The current holders of the composition copyrights are not owners; they can only impose their restrictions because they have been granted that privilege from the state. In a free market Nina would have no problems, since she could have inexpensively obtained the material to construct her movie from any of a number of parties and would have no one to pay now. It is only the mercantilist monopoly imposed by the state on trade in Hanshaw’s compositions that is causing trouble and reducing value. (The capitalist writers argued against mercantilist policy, but very few people understand or speak about this now. You can actually read Adam Smith to understand this yourself, though, if you are interested.)

    It’s hard to fault any particular artist for misunderstanding how copyright works, since very, very few people can follow the details completely. The most important thing that people generally get wrong is to mistakenly think that copyright provides money to artists, when easy research can demonstrate that this is extremely rare. This can be very confusing and painful for artists in particular, who are most likely to be taken advantage of by being lied to about the workings of copyright. You should be careful that you are not a contributing part of this harm.

    Please take this as an opportunity to do some open research yourself to verify what actually happens. Don’t, for example, accept as true the figures handed out by the record industry on how much musicians are paid; look for the only independent research that uses aggregate tax data from England and Germany. I hope that you see this response and take this request seriously, and it leads you to question your current views and to broaden your understanding. People like Nina deserve to be treated better.

  22. I don’t understand the statements about copyright in these posts. The sound recordings cannot be in the public domain, because almost no sound recordings have entered it (as Naxos found out when they tried to release some Capitol Recordings). See the chart on sound recording copyright duration at They may not be protected by Federal copyright, but state law would protect them. You might need a sync license from the recording company.

    As for the compositions, if the music publishers did not renew the copyrights after 28 years, they would have entered they public domain. The publishers may charge, but they have no right to do so.

    Lastly, are you sure that the work was done as work for hire (which is unusual in the music industry) – or did the composer sign over the copyrights? If the latter, then her heirs can terminate that grant of copyright and get it back themselves.

    Can you explain more the copyright status of the recordings and the underlying compositions?

  23. It always amazes me that given how convoluted the lawmakers have managed to make copyright issues, any independent films manage to get made at all. This is when a good guide like [spam deleted] before you even start planning projects. It’s a great book that explains the issues in clear language so that even a copyright dummy like me can understand it.

  24. Hey Ms. Paley, I just watched Sita and it’s awesome; I’m going to be sharing it with all my friends.

    And eff big corporations, and their lobbyists who persuade our government to allow them to stamp down on creativity.

    Funny thing, though, no matter how hard the MPAA, RIAA, etc. have tried, no one’s paying for their crap music anymore.

  25. Going on a tangent here, any thoughts on adapting Sita Sings The Blues into other media? An audiobook/EP or graphic novel Sita might be interesting forays, and (you might like to hear this) these might not suffer the same copyright restrictions the film does.

    Based on your current production & distribution model, you can get fans to help out in producing these as well for free. There’s ample proof online of what people is willing to do, in their free time, without getting paid, for the sake of fandom. And I’m sure lots of people will want to see these too. More power to ya!

  26. Dear Nina

    I’m sad to say that you have made a capital mistake. You had a law firm contact the publishers.

    In the past I’ve dealt with CMG Worldwide for the rights to use the name and likeness of Marilyn Monroe for my tribute album “My Marilyn”, a jazz hommage to Marilyn Monroe. I have to admit, that I fell on a very understanding person there, who could understand my financial situation and we came to an agreement that worked for both sides. However, this took weeks of negotiating. Had I not called there personally, this would never have happened. For the foto of Marilyn by Bert Stern (Marilyn the last Sitting), I also contacted Mr. Stern personally and we came to a mutually satisfying agreement.

    Same situation for my CD “Selma”, for which I had to secure the worldwide exclusive rights to put the poems of Selma Meerbaum-Eisinger to music The owner of the rights is the publisher Hoffmann und Campe, one of the biggest publishers for books in the world. I met countless times with the woman from licensing to convince her of the project. Had I let a law firm represent me, I wouldn’t have worked in a million years.

    There is only one person in the world, that can make people understand where you’re coming from and where you’re going: YOU!

    Best wishes

    P.S. Tonight I’m going to see your movie in Basel, Switzerland :-)!

  27. @ David,

    They wouldn’t talk to us. We tried many times. The licensing offices gave us the runaround – they really don’t talk to individuals, which is why the whole system is such a racket. And we couldn’t contact the composers directly, because they’re all DEAD.

  28. I saw your movie on PBS in NYC on Saturday, and loved it. I agree that you made the right choice in the music you included in the movie, it worked 100% with the animation.
    I don’t understand the copyright issue though. The recordings by Annette Henshaw are no longer copyrighted, but the compositions are? Does that mean that copyright vests with the successor to the the person who wrote the words and music (the companies you’ve mentioned)? I wonder how that’s possible. Books written by (now) dead authors are in the public domain, why not compositions? Works by Shakespeare, Dickens, Twain, etc. are all copyright free, shouldn’t the music and lyrics written 70 or 80 years ago be too? You mentioned above that Sonny Bono got the law changed retroactively, to copyright things which had already lapsed. It sounds unconstitutional to me.

    Good Luck!!

  29. What a truly wonderful piece of art! “Sita” is great! And…the music “industry” is total crap, and is stealing American culture. We need to seriously overhaul copyright law (and go farther than repealing the “Bono(r)Law”. Very little of the money involved ever gets to the artist.
    Nina, thank you so much for your work, and I love your stuff in “Funny Times” as well. I’m on Social Security, so I can’t donate a lot, but look for my $10 soon (if I can figure out how to send it!)

  30. Based on what should these songs be in public domain? Based on the fact they are old? So is the Mona Lisa, would like to buy it for $12,000? The copyright law has been extended and I hardly think it is fair to begrudge people who make a living by songs as I do–including one in your film–from asking royalties. Most of the catalog I own was written for hire but the composers do get composer royalties regardless. Sorry art isn’t free. Clearly you don’t appreciate the quality of the songs in your own film if you value them so little. Would you argue with three Sondheim or Beatle songs asking a fair market price?

    Cara Coslow

  31. If your film includes the songs of Annette Hanshaw from the 20’s — and her songs are art… and the composers who composed the songs, their compositions are art – why are you saying this is your total “art?” I’m thinking the relatives of Annette Hanshaw are, in fact, irritated at themselves for not keeping the copyrights up to date. If the publisher (sony, universal, etc.) owns the copyrights to those compositions, they are entitled to payment re: DVDs. The film business is a business, after all. You want to make money from your sale of your DVDs but your film includes compositions that are not yours. Not a Catch 22. This is the way it is. Yes “art” is the product to be sold… but my feeling is, “do what you love and the money will follow” and simply take this as a lesson learned.

    From what I’ve read above your film sounds excellent although I have not had the pleasure of seeing it… Use it as a fine example of your work to get funding for your next project and simply consider not wasting anymore energy on the thought of DVDs and how much money you own your attorney, etc.. Forget the DVDs. As quickly as possible, move onto your next project. Call me a “well-meaning ignoramuse,” if you like. Just sayin’ be good to yourself. Good luck.

  32. Nina,

    It’s people like you that change the system with your Creative Commons licensing. If they had (cc) back in the ’20s, maybe there would be a lot of public domain Blues to choose from.

    Are there no indie film companies still making indie films? Can they not help wade through these issues? I hate to break it to you, but (cc)’ing a movie of this quality kind of makes you a pioneer, so like any big brother or big sister, you’re going to have to test the rules and teach us the ways of how to do it. (I’ll keep buying from the merchandise store, maybe that will keep you out of bankruptcy.)

    I have to agree with some above, I never would have heard of these compositions if not for your movie. I would not have bought the audio CD (which makes me think some things may have been settled) if not for you.

    Did the compositions copyright actually expire, to be retroactively reinstated? It sounds like it. There are so many issues with the DMCA, I don’t know where to begin, if that’s the legislation that renewed it.

    I think people should be entitled to their creations, their art. Unfortunately, it’s usually held hostage by some agreement, some corporation, someone who seriously took advantage of someone. If it actually flowed to the creator, the artist, I’d be the first in line to pay. Just like I drop a dollar into that guitar case of the guy playing on the street, who is likely making more for his song than the royalty check being mailed to a working-class musician.

  33. The woman who writes songs believes they are absolute property, and I ask her where did your mind come from, where do songs come from? I have written songs for 55 years and there’s not a one I wouldn’t give my eye teeth to hear in a movie theater let alone make a dime from. The best of them were written as a deckhand or a hitchhiker or on a motorcycle, and the origin was Freedom, they come from the ether. Are you an artist or a businessman?
    Use of the songs in any format and at any stage in the independent life of the song simply gives it more life, and how can that be wrong? I don’t go for the extractive model of capitalism, you claim the right to the value of something which is part of nature simply because you don’t want to work for a living like everyone else because you’re so special, an “artist.” Phooey. Go Nina!

  34. Cara Coslow– a correction. Not a woman who writes songs, a woman who has inherited the rights to songs.
    Your dad or grandpa wrote “Daddy Won’t You Please Come Home?”, right? A little gravy train. Right.

  35. Tom Conser: it is likely that when Ms. Coslow wrote that comment she needed the money because she had lost it all since… well, you can look up all that drama if it is of any interest.
    Having said that, Ms. Coslow likely gets a few cents here and there for the “rights” of that song given the structure of the “business.” She was, though, part of “the industry” all her life so my guess is she was defending the status quo (Hollywood accounting, anyone?). It is now 11 years later and things have decidedly changed and now Ms. Paley’s new film is out there “in the wild.”

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