Correction, again

I’m reposting this (originally posted July 2009) because misinformation continues to spread all over the interwebs. Maybe I’ll post it every month.


Dear Journalists Dear Journalists, bloggers, commenters, etc.,

Some of you are writing that I was forced to choose the Creative Commons Attribution Share Alike license because the film is violating copyright. That is completely untrue, but has become the dominant motif of stories I read about the project. The confusion is understandable, so I attempt to sort it out below.

Sita Sings the Blues is 100% legal. I am free to release it commercially, which is why the film is gaining a number of commercial distributors in addition to its free sharing/audience distribution, which is also legal, and wonderful.

Sita Sings the Blues is in complete compliance with copyright regulations. I was forced to pay $50,000 in license fees and another $20,000 in legal costs to make it so. That is why I am in debt.  My compliance with copyright law is by no means an endorsement of it. Being $70,000 in the hole reminds me daily what an ass the law is. The film is legal, and that legality gives me a higher moral ground to stamp my feet upon as I denounce the failure that is copyright.

Having paid these extortionate fees, I could have gone with conventional distribution, and was invited to. I chose to free the film because I could see that would be most beneficial to me, my film, and culture at large. A CC-SA license does not absolve a creator of compliance with copyright law. The law could have sent me to prison for non-commercial copyright infringement. I was forced to borrow $70,000 to decriminalize my film, regardless of how I chose to release it.

Note that in some ways the film is not, and never will be free. For each disc sold, distributors must pay $1.65 to these faceless money sinks.  Transaction costs raise that amount to about $2.00 per disc. That is why my own Artist’s Edition is limited to 4,999 copies. I’ve already bled $50,000 into their vampiric maws; I have no intention of paying more.

Thank you for your attention.




Author: Nina Paley

Animator. Director. Artist. Scapegoat.

11 thoughts on “Correction, again”

  1. I see a great many people (musicians, mainly) who think Creative Commons itself is a kind of copyright. They will say things like “You shouldn’t use Creative Commons copywrite [sic] for your music because it can be stolen by unethical web designers who will use it on some corporate webpage. If you want your music copywritten [sic], you have to register it with US Copywrite [sic] Office” (not an exact quote, but a paraphrase of several different things people have said, including the misunderstanding between ‘right’ and ‘write’).

  2. Dear Ms. Paley!

    Well, about that Copyright….
    In 2007 I mixed some Bhajans. I wanted to give them to you, Ms. Nina Paley. She can have all the copyright and use them as she wants (IF she wants)

    You can get them at my Page:

    I think you will like the Aarti of Shri Gayatri!

    Yours Sincerely,
    CrippLeD SaM

    P.S.: Your Movie is the very best! Best Greetings!

  3. Thank you Nina for having the patience and the presence of mind to be able to calmly explain the truth in the face of the relentless “sucktastic suckage” that constitutes so much of the “information” in this Information Age. Hmmmm. Sucktastic Suckage Age has a nice ring to it, actually.

  4. Dear Ms. Paley:

    I just wanted to say that I finally got to see your film ‘Sita sings the blues’ and I enjoyed it very much. I’m a clerk in a public library so the only way I could see it was to request it through inter-library loan. But I’m getting the word out to as many people as I can — this is too good a film to miss! Looking forward to seeing more of your work.


  5. I just heard an interview you did on NPR over the weekend. Your film sounds so interesting and I hope to watch it soon – I’ve already spent some time browsing the Sita website. You may have heard of some variations on the origin of Sita and her relationship to Ravana. I don’t know the literary merit to these theories but one is that Sita was Ravana’s daughter and he abducted her to keep her close to himself but not out of lust. Another is that he simply wished to have her nearby to admire here but did not attack/molest her in any way. Clearly ancient epics such as the Ramayana are rich with material for modern interpretation. I admire what you’ve done. One thing I learned in college is that these great works (same with the Iliad, the Odyssey) wither away if kept under lock and key without room for retelling and reinterpretation. You are making this story come alive for many people! And, by the way, I am Hindu and totally support your effort and admire your desire to educate yourself on another culture’s ancient literature.

  6. Thanks R!

    I have indeed heard of many Ramayana variations. It’s a pity I couldn’t find the most interesting-sounding variations themselves in English, only articles about them, like the Paula Richman anthologies Many Ramayanas and Questioning Ramayanas.

    I agree that stories need to be constantly retold to remain alive. Likewise songs need to be resung, paintings repainted, drawings redrawn, etc. At the same time, older legacy versions can and should be preserved while diversity increases. Art honors its ancestors! The living Ramayana was a big influence in turning me into a Free Culture advocate.

  7. [quote]The film is legal, and that legality gives me a higher moral ground to stamp my feet upon as I denounce the failure that is copyright.[/quote]

    If the law is ass (which I agree), then why would your compliance put you on higher moral ground? If anything, it (to my way of thinking) puts you on [i]lower[/i] moral ground.

    That’s not a criticism of your actions; but I do disagree with your interpretation on this point. (For what it’s worth, I also don’t agree that it’s important that the songs were recorded decades ago, and should already have lapsed out of copyright. The songs should be free no matter when they were recorded!)

    [quote]The law could have sent me to prison for non-commercial copyright infringement.[/quote]

    One thing I’ve not been clear on is how dependent this would’ve been on [i]where[/i] you had released it. Would you have been okay releasing it everywhere [i]except[/i] New York state?

    Anyway, GREAT movie; and many props for fighting the system!

  8. Just saw ‘Sita’ (for free) at the White River Indie Festival. It was wonderful, and I just ordered a copy.

    You are most amazing!

  9. sh-tbrain:

    “If the law is ass (which I agree), then why would your compliance put you on higher moral ground?”

    Because that gives her first-hand experience of the evil that is modern copyright law. Her assertion that “the law is an ass” carries more weight than your agreement does.

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