Yes Means Yes

Please don’t ask my permission to re-use my work. YOU ALREADY HAVE PERMISSION. Please copy, share, re-use, redistribute, edit, modify, sell, etc.

Asking permission wastes your time, and mine. You might not mind wasting your time. Many people think asking for permission is a “sign of respect.” But what about my time?

Information (including all of my work) is not scarce. Attention (time) is.

Emails get lost in spam filters. They get lost amid the hundreds of other emails in my inbox. I’ve been known to take vacations and actually get away from my computer for a few days – something I should be doing more often. So what happens if you don’t get any response to your permission request? Do you not reuse the work? A work that has been explicitly made Free in the hopes you will reuse it? Not reusing the work harms the work, and harming a work is disrespectful. Delaying reusing the work likewise harms the work, in smaller increments.

Suppose a “respectful” email asking for permission which has already been explicitly granted doesn’t get caught in a spam filter or lost in some other glitch. Suppose it actualy makes it into my inbox. Now I am obligated to respond – the requester essentially said, “I’m not going to use this work unless you respond.” As “respectful” as this sounds, it places an unfair burden on me. The work, and any use of the work, should not be held hostage pending my checking and responding to email.

It is not “respectful” to make me do more, unnecessary work.

More importantly, asking permission is bad for the work itself. If you refuse to reuse the work unless I send you an email, you are blocking an expression or distribution of the work. How many days or weeks or months are you willing to put it off pending my ability to process email? Or worse, someone thinks it’s “respectful” to require me to sign papers and mail them back. Yes, this happens. I have such paperwork sitting right here, telling me that unless I sign it and mail it back, they won’t use the work they already have explicit permission to use. How is it “respectful” to make me jump through more hoops before they redistribute or remix a work I’ve made explicitly Free?

If you want to show respect, please send me something like this instead:

Dear Nina,

I thought you might like to know I’ve reused _________________  in _________________. Check it out at (insert URL here). Thanks for making the work Free!

Someone Who Understands Yes means Yes

Ahh, lovely. Thank you!

A complaint I hear often is that nowadays thanks to the inerwebs, not only do artists “have to give their work away for free” but they also “have to be businessmen.” HA! One goal of freeing my work is to free me of paperwork, contracts, and the role of manager – and what is having to oversee and administrate every re-use but management? In the “Intellectual Property” model, artists either have to do much more negotiating and managing and paperwork, or they have to pay someone else to do it for them. They have to be businessmen, or hire businessmen. And hiring businessmen (agents, lawyers, etc.) still requires much paperwork, negotiating, and contracts.

Some still insist that I’ve “maintained more control” over Sita Sings the Blues. The point is I have maintained no control over it, and that benefits me. The point is I don’t have to be a business(wo)man. The point is that other people, the crowd, distribute the work, and cost me nothing.

As long as they don’t ask for permission.


Author: Nina Paley

Animator. Director. Artist. Scapegoat.

32 thoughts on “Yes Means Yes”

  1. It must be annoying but truth to tell, they are probably only using the permission process as an excuse to bring what they plan to do to your attention. It is an unfortunate side effect of our culture. I cringe every time I see someone assail a celebrity on the street, for example, but it seems to be what humans do, they grab for attention without considering the other side.

  2. What if I want to use one of the Creator Endorsed signs? Do I just choose the amount of your cut and charge ahead? If “yes,” then shouldn’t I contact you to find out how to pay you?

  3. The CE Mark is a MARK, not a WORK. Do you really not know the difference between the CE Mark and my work?

    Do you understand the difference between a license and a work?

  4. The motivation is sweet. I genuinely like it when people send me notes telling me they’ve reused the work. That gets my attention, and my appreciation, and doesn’t demand any more work from me.

  5. There is one case where you really do need to ask, and that’s when it’s not clear if there may have been fraud (i.e. someone else posted your work and you didn’t really put the free license on it). It used to also sometimes be that artists would use a free license without really understanding it, and they’d get upset if you used it for commercial purposes. I think that’s much less of a problem than it once was.

    And of course, if somebody’s wanting to use the CE mark, they _do_ have to get your “endorsement”, if I understand the terms of use correctly. But seeing as they are planning to pay you for that, I think that’s “a whole ‘nother issue” (they also have to find out HOW to pay you for that). 🙂

    I’m going to be doing a whole LOT of that kind of contact this Summer.

    Awesome post, though. 😀

  6. I’m sorry if I’m not expressing myself clearly.

    I didn’t state that I thought the seal was your creation.

    I can read, and I fully understand that it is “A seal that enables artists to signal which distributors share revenue with them, while still allowing the artist’s work to spread freely.”

    I do understand that I’m not required to share any revenue for using your work with you, because you have said so. You’ve given permission to use your work.

    Seriously, that is understood (it’s the point of your post, after all).

    However, if I choose to share my revenue from using your work with you, then the questions I asked are relevant. Let me rephrase them for you:

    !. If I want to use the seal to show I’m sharing revenue with yourself, are you saying I should just pick your percentage of the revenue and use the seal?

    2. Given the content of the post, I’m assuming your answer to question #1 would be “yes, just do it”, and if that is correct, wouldn’t you want to be contacted so you could explain how to be paid your part of that revenue?

    I’m sorry if I offended you, but you seem to have misunderstood my questions. Please refer to the second paragraph of Terry Hancock’s comment, above, since that poster seems to have understood my intent.

  7. Hi Mark,

    No offense taken, sorry for any given. Answer to your question re: screenings:
    Answer to your question re: everything else:
    In general, permission to display the CE Mark must be negotiated – very much like “rights” are negotiated for enclosed works (but hopefully easier). For screenings, permissions and guidelines have been posted at the link above. The CE Mark is useful for organizations that need contracts for something.
    More on the CE Mark here:

  8. But some people get it. The other day some guy left a comment on one of my photos at Flickr telling me he’d uploaded it to Wiki Commons because he thought it would be useful in a certain way. So I thanked him for letting me know. But he didn’t ask permission, ’cause he read the license and knew it gave him permission to use.

  9. I’m being a big slowpoke here, but I feel the need to address this.

    @Laroquod, sometimes you really want the approval of whatever artist you take inspiration from, and I don’t think that’s fair to relate to bothering a celebrity. In the case of artists like this, it’s not a grab for attention, it’s a grab for approval, something I think all people would like, which is nothing to cringe about.

    @Abhilasha, I don’t think she wants to work. She wants to get paid to art. I’d like to get paid to make comics, but I cannot. I have to actually work to make sure I’m making things my audience would like and would want to pay for, and I actually enjoy working in something I’m passionate about. Saying everything is free, and no contracts and free culture and all of that stuff makes it it easier for her, since she has to put forth less effort. I prefer to not take the easy way out.

  10. love your work, really – you are my favorite cartoonist… But telling people to seed these books without a disclaimer saying that they are acting on their own and that they should ask before leaving them on public/government property or communal private property might be a bad move, as I have gotten my hand slapped for similar activities.

  11. I am dissapointed …is this a spektakel about copy rights?I will never understand this big problem…..ART IS ART…of course WORK….but SPORT IS ALSO WORK….do you get money for sport?I see ART not as a big diamant in the shop….more as a GIFT …not from your EGO…no no…it came with you in this life…you borned with a talent…also i see no point to be XXL Lowyer …be happy that you can make thousands of people happy!

  12. Dear Nina,

    I thought you might like to know I’ve reused Sita Sings The Blues in Home Again my new website to watch and share online liberated films.

    Check it out at: .

    Thanks for making the work Free!

    Love from Buenos Aires,

    maui alena (Someone Who Understands Yes means Yes)

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