The Bright Side of the Dark Side of the Rainbow


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


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

But it’s a bit of a pain to do. You have to turn on your music player, and turn on your video player, and pause one while you start the other. It would be so nice if there were some shareware available that played video from one source with audio from another source. Something that would resolve the inconveniences Dark Side of the Rainbow fans currently endure:

Real or imagined, the effect is usually created by pausing a CD of the album at the very beginning, starting the DVD or tape of the film with the TV volume muted, and un-pausing the CD when the black-and-white MGM lion roars for the third time. (Note some versions have a color lion also. The black and white lion is the right one to use for the sync.) A minority of devotees argue that un-pausing the CD on the first roar produces a superior alignment. The effect can be repeated during the film by restarting the CD when the ‘Cowardly Lion’, during his initial scene, roars for the third time.

Another factor that could affect the quality of the perceived synch is the version of the film used. The NTSC version, used in the United States, runs 101 minutes while the PAL version, used in Europe, runs 98 minutes (due to the system’s transfer rate of 30(NTSC) rather than 25(PAL) frames per second). Most users who have made websites touting the effect appear to be based in the USA. When using a PAL version of the DVD, digitally speeding up the album by 4.16% prior to starting fixes any problems with syncing. (link)

What a lot of hassles, huh? Free software could sure improve consumers’ viewing and listening experience. Such software would also facilitate audio description for the blind, and commentary tracks. Wouldn’t it be nice if people could easily share their own commentary tracks? In fact there’s already at least one company that just makes commentary tracks for existing movies, that offers its own proprietary player. So it’s not impossible to design a player. But of course it should be free, open-source, and easily work with common audio formats people already have like .aif, .wav, and .mp3.



If you haven’t been following my adventures trying to release Sita Sings the Blues, catch up here.

Per Wikipedia:

(Music rights) take four forms:

(1) royalties from ‘print rights’
(2) mechanical royalties from the recording of composed music on, CDs and tape
(3) performance royalties from the performance of the compositions/songs on stage or television through artists and bands, and
(4) synch (for synchronization) royalties from using or adapting the musical score in the movies, television advertisements, etc.

Good news for Sita: the Annette Hanshaw recordings I used – the performances, or “master rights” – aren’t protected by federal copyright (the original copyrights were never renewed), and ‘print rights’ don’t apply to releasing the film since it doesn’t involve publishing sheet music or lyrics.

It’s synch rights that are the problem here.


Now suppose someone wanted to distribute the soundtrack to a film such as Sita Sings the Blues. At most they’d have to clear mechanical rights. Luckily, those are much more affordable than synch rights, since they’re federally regulated: $.091 cents per song (per unit, I assume, which would mean per CD or Audio DVD). For Sita’s soundtrack, licensing would cost, at most, about $1.00 per disc. Cheap, legal, and fun!

And let’s say someone – me, maybe – distributed a DVD or video file or streaming video of Sita Sings the Blues, with all the contentious songs omitted. (I own all the visual artwork, and I have permission from the composers to use all the new music.)

And let’s say the consumer obtains the soundtrack fair and square, and also obtains the movie fair and square. And then they decide to listen to the soundtrack and watch the video at the same time. Like Dark Side of the Rainbow.


And then they could play all kinds of audio with all kinds of video! How totally excellent for consumers. Excellent for everyone! Except maybe certain bloated parasitic corporations who couldn’t collect “synch rights” any more.

Someone should really write that software.


Author: Nina Paley

Animator. Director. Artist. Scapegoat.

17 thoughts on “The Bright Side of the Dark Side of the Rainbow”

  1. I am a giant corporate Legal-Critter and your post has inspired me.
    Those Dark Side of the Rainbow punks are going DOWN!

    Starting with Pink Floyd. Clearly they themselves owe MGM money for the synchronized nature of Dark Side of the Moon.

    The purchase cost of the cd certainly did not grant the owners of that CD the right to use it in the fashion you described.

    Where you people get the idea that you OWN things is beyond me.
    Have you even looked at the copyright code?

    Thinking you can do THINGS with OTHER THINGS is is just the first step to accidentally turning yourself into a criminal.

    Don’t blame me when you get a C&D from me and an anticipatory fine (that will not be less than $5000) that presumes without evidence that you are guilty. Good one. Real nice.

  2. Good points John Not Actually a Corporate Lawyer, but actually I think it’s MGM that owes Pink Floyd money. Go get ’em!

  3. Wikipedia mentions that synch rights apparently only apply in the USA. Is there any use in having, say, a company in canada put your film out on DVD, and then sell it here fully legally as an import?

  4. Hi Pat,

    yeah, I noticed that too. But everyone seems to pay for them anyway. Could it be as simple as releasing outside the US?? I’d think my lawyer would have known, but heck, just in case – anyone out there know?

  5. hello nina
    please read this as a not very enthusiastic “boo… hisss”
    you should not give this show away- i can understand this has become a financial and emotional black hole but it would be so very cool to see this show on the big screen where it belongs before it is available on DVD- even when you release the DVDs you should still tour the film ala the grateful dead or the spike and mike festivals
    i sincerely apologize for probably annoying the heck out of your already painful day (hope you have some ice on that toe) but i really hope you make it work nina

    sign me
    willin to buy tickets and disks!
    and jerks in suits are just like hoover vacuum cleaners

  6. Hi rick ap,

    it would be so very cool to see this show on the big screen where it belongs before it is available on DVD- even when you release the DVDs you should still tour the film

    No worries! I’m doing exactly that. There are 5 prints doing the “festival circuit” right now, and I expect them to keep circulating at art houses and independent cinemas. DVD is no substitute for 35mm!

  7. Would there be any problem for releasing the video on one disc, the soundtrack on another and package them together?

    BTW, we saw Sita at SIFF, and absolutely loved it. I hope it comes back for another screening in Seattle so we can drag all our friends along!

    And in case you haven’t already, anyone that’s a fan of Annette Hanshaw should also check out Ruth Etting and Lee Morse, both from the same era.

  8. Hi! Just wanted to say I linked to your Golden Snip Award image and page because I got mine today, let me know if the hotlinking is a problem. (email above)

  9. It’s a crazy concept, until you try it. I think another crazy mash is Echoes and Space Odyssey:2001. Until you realize that Kubrick first hired Pink Floyd to do the music. Echoes and the end of Odyssey are the exact same length. Also the last part of the song (the freaky sounds whaling) is on both song AND movie!

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