Ahimsa: Sita Sings the Blues now CC-0 “Public Domain”

I am hereby changing Sita Sings the Blues CC-BY-SA (Share Alike) license to CC-0.

A few years ago I started thinking about taking a vow of non-violence: a commitment to never sue anyone over Knowledge (or Culture, Cultural Works, Art, Intellectual Pooperty, whatever you call it). Copyright law is hopelessly broken; indeed, the Law in the US is broken all over the place. Why would I resort to the same broken law to try to fix abuses that occur within it?

We live in a messed-up world. My choices, however principled, will not change that. People will continue to censor, suppress, and enclose Knowledge. Share-Alike – the legal requirement to keep Knowledge Free – has ironically resulted in the suppression of same.

Not using knowledge is an offense to it,” wrote Jeff Jarvis, reflecting on the death of Aaron Swartz.

I learned of Aaron’s death on Sunday; on Monday, the National Film Board of Canada told me I had to fill out paperwork to “allow” filmmaker (and personal friend) Chris Landreth to refer to Sita Sings the Blues in his upcoming short, Subconscious Password, even though Fair Use already freed the NFB from any legitimate fear of Share-Alike’s viral properties. I make compromises to my principles every day, but that Monday I just couldn’t. The idiocy of NFB’s lawyers was part of the same idiocy that Aaron fought in liberating documents from JSTOR. I couldn’t bear to enable more bad lawyers, more bad decisions, more copyright bullshit, by doing unpaid paperwork for a corrupt and stupid system. I just couldn’t.

So the NFB told Chris to remove all references to SSTB from his film.

There are consequences for taking a principled stance. People criticize you, fear you, and pity you. You get plenty of public condemnation. You lose money. Sometimes the law goes after you, and although that hasn’t happened to me yet, it could as I do more civil disobedience in the future.

But the real victim of my principled stance isn’t me, it’s my work. When I took a principled stance against Netflix’s DRM, the result was fewer people saw SSTB. When countless television stations asked for the “rights” to SSTB and I told them they already had them, the result was they didn’t broadcast it. When publishers wanted to make a SSTB-based book, the Share-Alike license was a dealbreaker, so there are no SSTB books.

My punishment for opposing enclosure, restrictions, censorship, all the abuses of copyright, is that my work gets it.

Not using knowledge is an offense to it.

So, to the NFB, to Netflix, to all you publishers and broadcasters, to you legions of fucking lawyers: Sita Sings  the Blues is now in the Public Domain. You have no excuse for suppressing it now.

Am I still fighting? Yes. BUT NOT WITH THE LAW. I still believe in all the reasons for BY-SA, but the reality is I would never, ever sue anyone over SSTB or any cultural work. I will still publicly condemn abuses like enclosure and willful misattribution, but why point a loaded gun at everyone when I’d never fire it? CC-0 is an acknowledgement I’ll never go legal on anyone, no matter how abusive and evil they are.

CC-0 is as close as I can come to a public vow of legal nonviolence. The law is an ass I just don’t want to ride.

I cannot abolish evil. The Law cannot abolish evil; indeed, it perpetuates and expands it. People will continue to censor, silence, threaten, and abuse Knowledge, and our broken disaster of a copyright regime will continue encouraging that. But in fighting monsters, I do not wish myself to become a monster, nor feed the monster I’m fighting.

Neither CC-BY-SA nor CC-0 will fix our flawed world with its terribly broken copyright regime. What I can say is SSTB has been under CC-BY-SA for the last 4 years, so I know what that’s like and can share results of that experiment. Going forward under CC-0 I will learn new things and have more results to share. That seems like a win even if some bad scenarios come into play. I honestly have not been able to determine which Free license is “better,” and switching to CC-0 may help answer that question.


Author: Nina Paley

Animator. Director. Artist. Scapegoat.

46 thoughts on “Ahimsa: Sita Sings the Blues now CC-0 “Public Domain””

  1. Congratulations, Nina. I wish you every success in fighting for the right of everybody to access, share and exchange knowledge and culture freely. Your work is great and such a refreshing change from the locked-down corporate-produced entities which instill an air of fear over even those who legally buy copies of their films, music, etc. Keep up the activism.

  2. Nina, you are doing a great job. I promise you all of this difficulty is worth it. I make an active effort to release everything I do that I can (I don’t get to control the copyrighting of MY SCIENTIFIC PAPERS – yet) to the public domain. I’m using copyheart. Other people are, too.

    This past weekend, I went up on a road trip to just talk with friends – friends from grad school, a friend from kindergarten, friends from high school and middle school that I’m still in touch with. I gave a small academic lecture in a chemistry lab at Stanford, and I just told my friend (now a professor) that I am not interested in “IP” in any way, that he could use any ideas that I gave him without any reservation, that he could use my slides, I didn’t care.

    I had dinner with my middle school friends in Berkeley – and to my surprise, they were also very much in agreement about the silliness of intellectual property but also the damage that it causes. So i told them about sita, and they will be watching it this week – but more importantly, I think we gain courage by knowing that there are others who believe in what we do and in who believe in us, we gain courage by seeing that perseverance and even success is possible in the face of adversity, as sita has proven. I certainly have gotten strength from you.

  3. Some friends of mine who own a gaming media company once asked for my permission to translate and reprint some of my articles. I pointed out that they were CC-BY-SA. They hadn’t even noticed the license note, and of course they wouldn’t have it. Since they’re my friends, I expressly licensed the articles to them… and they never reprinted them anyway.

    This has nothing to do with the viral character of CC-BY-SA. (Which I had waived.) Rather, it’s the same mentality that makes book publishers flatly reject anything that’s been already published on the Internet, or anywhere else: they want to be gatekeepers. They can’t or won’t imagine a world where the public comes to them not because there’s no other option, but because they offer something of value. Therefore, they stay clear of anything they can’t control. Have you noticed how even films based on old public domain works take many liberties with the source material? That’s so they create enough copyrightable elements that their new work cannot be further copied — the only way they understand to “participate” in the world’s culture.

    Oh, and they’re not afraid you’re going to sue them. (You can’t afford it.) They hate not being able to sue you. It’s a nuance. 🙂

  4. Perhaps cynically, my fear is that the reason why CC licensed content doesn’t see wide distribution is because people perceive that the value is in the exclusivity of the license as much as it is in the content itself. If that’s the case, then moving to CC-0 will paradoxically result in less exposure of the work.

    I fear that it’s not until a new generation of content creators and remixers, versed in the paradigm of open creative work, move into decision making positions and overthrow the monolithic thinking espoused by the RIAA, MPAA and its ilk that we’ll see this model gain widespread acceptance.

  5. Great article. I had the same thoughts recently when I was going to make my new short non commercial share alike but then realised all the extra restrictions just limit uses and then worry people.

    The only restriction I thought won’t worry people is attribution which most people without a suspect motive instinctively will do anyway.

    So I have moved away now from CC-BY-NC-SA to just CC-BY. I didn’t chose public domain because copyright law is such a mess and still doesn’t map well to laws everywhere internationally.

    My new short is a portrait of frustrations of sharing culture and copyright. Take a look if you like.


    Thanks for promoting these issues.

  6. While I am a supporter of free culture, my personal quibble with the CC-BY-SA and CC-BY licenses are the restrictions.
    For example, while in many cases it makes sense to give attribution, in some cases, it’s an annoying procedure that doesn’t really make much sense in the situation.
    For example, my friends organize a veg*n parade every year, and, to make the parade more lively, CC music is played. However, it’s very bothersome to have to attribute each recording.
    (And to be in complete compliance with the law, a person also has to research how to attribute.)
    Another example — I make mockups for the LibreOffice design team from time to time. When I use Gnome’s toolbar icons in these mockups, I’m knowingly breaking CC-BY (though I know the Gnome icon designers, and I’m sure that it’s no problem). A bigger problem for me is that I can’t share these mockups under a CC0 license, because it’s partly derivative work. (In this case, a CC0 license really makes most sense, as the goal is to encourage people to play with the design of LibreOffice, suggest better ways of doing things. Attribution isn’t necessary, at least not for me.)
    Lastly, as part of an animal welfare/rights group, we’re in the process of making an informational flier. We’re being careful to pick out only CC0/PD images for the flier, as we don’t have the room to accredit the artwork (usually silhouettes from the Noun Project) we use.

  7. As a Canadian, I’d like to apologize for the NFB’s actions and tell you we’re not all like that. Please keep making your art and bringing copyright issues more attention.

  8. Share-Alike – the legal requirement to keep Knowledge Free – has ironically resulted in the suppression of same.

    THANK YOU! THANK YOU! THANK YOU! You’ve come to the same realization I’ve come to years ago: that even “copyleft” is too restrictive and if you want free, you have to make your work so free that you should even allow others to make locked-up works. Otherwise, you’re enforcing your freedom in such a way that is paradoxically “unfree”. So I tip my hat off to you, Nina! Bravo!

    However, I do have a question: Do you have the master rights to the audio? I thought you ran into © troubles before and you couldn’t do it. Would that lessen its PD status? Because I want to share this with the world!

  9. Samuel, I think copyleft is very useful for software. There is a key difference between cultural works and technical works that can be divided into source code and binary. Culture doesn’t control people in the way that software does. I find it perfectly reasonable to use copyright law to make sure one’s source code doesn’t get locked in a box by future developers. I do agree though, that copyleft for works like SSTB isn’t necessarily useful and can just complicate matters.

  10. As another Canadian, we’re drowning in lawyers too. Anything that “gets legal” attention gets delayed or stopped; good, fair, life improving stuff gets shut down. Law is vital, and professional parsing is important, but are means and not ends.

    I’m convinced that the only way to end a corrupt system is to not play its game. Irrelevance kills the beast. I love the self-reinforcing ideas of copyleft, but I’m not sure they actually do help.

    What about trademarks? Trademarks enable you to exclusively make money on the limited resources (as is my understanding of asinine law). I still think people will try to support artists, rather than knockoffs. I’m not asking for trademark freeness, just wondering how it fits into the new philosophy.

  11. @Peter :

    “Culture doesn’t control people in the way that software does.”

    I can’t let you say that. Culture is what makes you think one way or an other.
    If some ideas come to your mind now and wouldn’t come to the mind of other people, it’s because of your culture. If you use certain arguments to defend your point of view in a debate, it’s because of your culture. The creations that come out of your imagination are based on what you saw, heard, felt and experienced during your life and would’nt be the same if you had a different culture. The jokes you make are based on your culture and most of them are fully understandable only by the people who share the part of your culture your joke is based upon.

    Do you speak with people from different cultures sometimes ? I mean, _very_ different cultures. It’s very hard to laugh to their jokes and make them laugh to yours, because those jokes are based on cultural references that are not shared by both of you. Same thing for arguments : you quickly realise that the arguments with which you convince people from the same culture as you so easily don’t have the same impact with people from a different culture. Same thing for art : when some creations mean a lot of things to some people and don’t mean anything to you, it’s because of this difference of cultures.

    It even happen to yourself : haven’t you ever realized that you were wrong on the validity of an idea or an argument, just because it was referring to a way of thinking that was taught to you by your culture ? Haven’t you ever said to yourself : “This argument is wrong, but I would probably have been convinced by it, like everybody else, if I haven’t questioned this part of my own cultural origins before.” ?

    The tragic part of this is that when you exchange with somebody, sometimes you will express things that need a piece of proprietary culture to be properly understood. In fact, if everything you express was managed like the Debian project, a big part of it would be in a “contrib” repository, because, although they are free, they need proprietary dependencies to be accessed.

    Culture is a tool, like a software (I don’t say a cultural work is a tool, though : what is comparable to _a_ software is culture in general, not cultural works). And like a software some people try to hack it. There are even people who hack it to do evil things, like propaganda, advertising and mind manipulation of any kind.
    But this is not the worst part. The most disgusting and revolting thing about culture is that some people try to own it, to control it, to keep the privilege to do any kind of hacking with it, to make what spreads in the mind of people their whole property, instead of letting it be the property of mankind.

  12. gnuzer says, “I can’t let you say that. Culture is what makes you think one way or an other.”

    I understand that. So my point is that software isn’t a psychological influence. It is governed by math, not persuasion. Software engines are different than culture because they are simply mathematics.

    What I mean to say is that culture is not (literally) a tool (metaphorically it’s a ‘tool for indoctrination’). However, software engines are clearly technical tools and they have no direct relationship with indoctrination (or awakening) of their users. That is, engines can limit or enhance the expression of users’ minds but they do not persuade their users. I think this difference is very important and should influence the argument regarding the use of copyleft on works that the law determines “copyrightable”.

    I think I get what Nina is saying, but her angle is from the perspective of an artist, not a coder. When someone compiles source code and separates it from the binaries, those bits are very different than, say, a jpeg file.

    I heard that Nina wants free software to do her work. I don’t care if she doesn’t copyleft what that engine generates. But, I’d care if the engine itself is copylefted. That would be disheartening if a proprietary extension was added that fragmented our community because we couldn’t afford the rights to a patent or couldn’t reverse engineer a useful function (we may be forced to try if the source code is hoarded as a trade secret). These are not issues for people who release pictures or films or books or music.

  13. I’m a Canadian filmmaker who had some (minor) informal discussions with a couple of NFB folks re: Creative Commons issues a few years ago and they seemed cautious, but open to filmmakers using CC licensed content. I don’t know what the NFB’s lawyers exact concern was regarding Chris’ film (it does sound a bit ridiculous) but I suspect it was probably related to Errors and Ommissions issues and the nature of BY-SA itself.

    I’m currently producing a documentary (without any connection to the NFB to be clear) that uses some CC-licensed material and I have to obtain exactly the same kind of waiver when I use material with a BY-SA license and possibly even for CC-BY (although that is more in the form of a signed affidavit that verifies the author created the work).

    This is annoying and cumbersome, but a necessary evil sometimes. I’m a big supporter of CC, but I don’t have any problem jumping through a few extra hoops when necessary to avoid costly issues down the road. I’ve never taken personal offense to being asked to do it, in the end the lawyers are trying to protect everyone’s best interests. They’re paid to imagine horrible, awful, worse-case scenarios.

  14. I, too, apologise on behalf of Canada. The NFB is in some ways brilliant and free but in others strangled by partisan bureaucracy. Last I heard, CBC (our national public broadcaster) refused to allow any CC content at all. And of course our government just passed a new copyright law (per US government requirements) which allows us all sorts of new freedoms on the one hand (we can now commit parody and satire!) but the presence of DRM trumps everything, including fair dealing.

    The real motive for free culture supression is control. If you are crazy enough to make a film independent of the gatekeepers, you are supposed to sell it into the slavery of their distribution system. If you don’t, you are direct competition, and they surely don’t want that. So I fear CC0 won’t get any more traction than CC by-sa does in mainstream distribution channels, but maybe it will.

  15. nina, nooo..! your principled stance let sita live in a microcosm where terrible copyright rules didnt exist, and we got to visit every time we saw her.

    what if someone starts using netflix because an ad for sita caught their attention? if someone makes an sstb book and sues someone else for distributing a digital copy of it, i dont think ill want to live.

    think of the children!

  16. Congratulations, Nina! And thank you. You’ve done (voluntarily) exactly what copyright was supposed to do: create something new, which the public gets to own at some point down the track. Four years is admittedly less than most, but anything finite is good.

    So I’m curious what this means for the music in the movie. Despite being over 80 years old, none of that is out of copyright in a few places in the world. Clearly the public doesn’t own all the movie, right?

  17. Screw that! How can I purchase my copy of the film now so that you directly get the money?

  18. First of all Nina, congratulations and thank you for your fantastic movie.

    I believe in copyleft (for as long as copyright exists) and use CC-BY-SA for my writings. I see it not just as a means of preserving freedom in the work, but of spreading the idea of free culture. I’m sorry it didn’t work out for you.

    It’s also sad that the proprietary music licenses will continue to limit the film’s freedom more than any Creative Commons license ever could.

    I join you in looking forward to the day when copyleft becomes redundant, and the public domain is all that exists.

  19. I’ve wanted to see this movie for years, ever since I heard of it through Sanjay Patel. My (non-Indian, Houston-raised) child loves his work. I appreciate your stance on the copyright issues. But we’re here to tell you: “Dear Nina Paley. We love your movie. And Mr. Patel’s books. Our favorite character is Sita. We like how you used jazz music to tell this story. I am in kindergarten. I hope I get to see this movie a lot more times.”

  20. Thank you Nina for sharing your experience.
    I’m very proud to have been part of the team who have translated your post into french : http://www.framablog.org/index.php/post/2013/01/21/Nina-choisit-la-CC0
    As an author, I have trusted Public Domain with my novels and plays with CC0 (my jump was almost a year ago, from CC-BY-SA-NC to CC0, and it felt great ! So liberating !). I could never have come to such a conclusion without people like you leading the way.

    The “public vow of legal nonviolence” is a wonderfull way to explain CC0. Thank you so much for this.

  21. Nina, thanks for doing this and for sharing your great film. I come across it every so often on Free Speech TV on a public access channel here in PDX. Also found it in our library so I could watch it with captioning. Wish FSTV would include closed captions too.

  22. Thank you for freeing your wonderful work, Nina. I am from Thailand and my friend and me are inspired by you and learn so much from your talk, your work and articles from QuestionCopyrights.

    One year ago, we decided to free our comic by using CC-0. It’s been a year and so far the result has been incredible. While there are people who still ask us for a permission to do something with the comic, many understand and do whatever they want with the comic. They print it and put it on their doors, they draw fanarts, some even compose music for the comic. Our comics are translated into languages that we don’t even know how to speak! I think it would be very hard to achieve this, if we didn’t free our work.

    Currently, we are running a crowd-funding campaign so we can print all the comics so far into a book. It’s going really good so far and I think of all this is thanks to freeing our work. It’s just like what you said. People value physical product. Even though they’ve already seen the content on the web, true fans would still pay for the container. You can check the campaign here

    The campaign seems to grab attentions from artists in Thailand too and more artists are now interested in Free Culture. I’m really happy since many artists in Thailand suffer from low revenue from the publisher and many are still struggle, but they are still afraid of freeing their work. I’m going to do as much as I can to spread Free Culture in Thailand.

  23. Nina, I just watched my DVD of Sita for the umpteenth time tonight. I love this film so much. Decided to pay a visit to your blog to see what you’re up to these days and read this. I am so sorry that you have had to put up with so much crap for this beautiful art that you so generously share with us. You are a very brave woman, and I wish you all the best. Thank you so much for being the fabulous artist and copyright warrior that you are!

  24. I just wanted to take the time to thank you so much for such a brilliant film. Sita Sings the Blues has been my all time favorite animated film since its release. I have purchased a few copies from you and shared it with wonderful compliments. Despite some of the hardships in releasing Sita Sings the Blues, it has been a treasure and honor to view.

  25. Thank you Nina not only for your wonderful SSTB but also for your stand. The stand you are taking is both beautiful and inspiring.

  26. TV broadcasting, yep. it was here in europe broadcasted only by ARTE. is there anything else to tell? commercial stations would rather broadcast a infinite advert loop instead a free movie, that’s obvious.

    it’s simple, to have a robot that searches for possible copyright infringements in the web, is far easier as to work.

    it will come to a bitter end when finally basic things like water supply get sold to companies. “let’s just squeeze the tube and the money flows, the more we squeeze it, as more we earn”
    a scenario like “mad max” isn’t very far away from now. it has already begun.

    what i ask myself sometimes is: why do common ppl like me have scruple?
    i know, it’s more comfortable and far more easy.

    the happiest days in my life was when i worked for a small wage in a carpentry, when i still lived together with my children and wife, what more can a man ask for?
    wisdom perhaps, but that’s wisdom already.

  27. Well, re my comment above in support of copyleft, today, 8 months later, I changed all my stuff from CC-BY-SA to CC0. It wasn’t in response to any event; just a growing realisation that fighting copyright with copyright is like bombing for peace. You were right Nina; the law is an ass none of us should wish to ride.

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