<em>The Revolution Will Be Animated</em> <em>The Revolution Will Be Animated</em>

The Revolution Will Be Animated

A documentary by Marine Lormant Sebag about Nina Paley’s struggle with copyright while making Sita Sings the Blues. It’s difficult to meaningfully address copyright and public domain issues in such a brief piece, but I appreciate the film’s intimate look at the issue from the perspective of an individual artist who has to deal with the system. Bill Plympton also makes an appearance in the film.

  • elan

    Nina is clueless.

    Nina, they werent not letting you show YOUR work at the risk of fines or going to prison, they were not letting you show OTHER peoples work without permission. HUGE difference. Im glad Plympton shows more brains than you.

    And yes, giving your movie away works for YOU, the individual filmmaker who wants to get their name out there. But that doesnt work for studios of hundreds, if not thousands of people who rely on box office and DVD sales to live. I know you believe “copying is not theft,” but you couldnt be more wrong, because what you’re describing isnt copying. Its giving your stuff away for free. You should title your song “Giving away my movies is not theft because, I FUCKING GAVE IT AWAY.”

    Here is a perfect example of someone who is in error, but offers up a tone of righteous indignation to “fight” the system. Disgusting.

  • Chris

    Egh. Elan, Nina Paley is amazingly inspirational, creates beautiful animated things for me to look at, and is a true idealist who believes in the power of art to stand on it’s own without a bunch of arbitrary constructs to get in the way.

    Also, it seems to be working just fine for her, so why is it disgusting? Is it harming you personally in some way? Do you simply hate joy? Are you Mr. Potter from It’s A Wonderful Life?

  • Steven Finch, Attorney at Law

    Well, as long as she “creates beautiful animated things for [you] to look at,” that’s all that matters, right Chris?

  • optimist

    I wish the film “Sita” could be discussed just once with zero mention of this mess, all by itself, but that’s not what the short here is about, so…

    I love the film, but as far as I know the owners of the musical material in question here are not a “huge corporation”-far from it. For Paley to suggest as she does that it’s a case of an individual artiste against the big bad MegaCorporations of the world is just disingenuous. These are individuals, not corporate suits.

    It’s not as if there are NO 20s era tunes that could have been been used. How does Janet Klein record and sell her CDs? Is it just plain morally wrong for the heirs of an artist who inherit the copyrights don’t want to give any of their legally deserved fees away the one time someone wants to make a film with their property on the soundtrack(I thought it was pretty cool of them to radically lower the fees as they did, but anyway)?

    I’m with Bill Plympton on this one. I very much doubt he or Elan “hate joy” either.

  • someguy

    “And yes, giving your movie away works for YOU, the individual filmmaker who wants to get their name out there. But that doesnt work for studios of hundreds, if not thousands of people who rely on box office and DVD sales to live.”

    ok, your point? wasn’t this bit about an individual finding an alternative way to distribute work without going completely broke? Last I checked, large companies still had a firm hold on their copyrights and said profits (even if they AREN’T paying their employees fare wages). how does an indie filmmaker finding a successful way to distribute her film for free suddenly endanger a large film studio?

    also the use of copy written music is a separate although related issue from the distribution of a film that contains said music. She paid what was required for her physical distribution of material containing the music and was able to spread her film through digital, non-profit means which allows her to not have to keep spending $50k for every 5,000 copies accessed. She found a loophole that works. It’s smart FOR HER, which is the point. Any company would jump at the chance to exploit loopholes like that IF it were in their interest.

    although it touts sayings like, “revolution” I doubt this film was meant to completely strip down the copyright system as we know it nor has anyone argued that large corporations should follow suit. Also, Plympton didn’t come off as countering Nina’s actions, it seemed more like he was putting across the normal way of life for an indie film maker in which Nina’s approach seemed antithetical to, however she found a way to make it work. Not an argument, but posing what the status quo is and then finding the contrast that paid off.

    also a corporation can be as few people as a single individual. corporations have the rights of individuals. to imply that she’s talking a bout “megacorporations” is really putting words into her mouth and is irrelevant to the point being made. Seems more like knee jerk “anti-hippie” sentiments coming to the surface when, objectively, it doesn’t seem like that was what anyone was getting at. Sure, she’s got some very typical “love of art/anti business” sentiments, but she proved that she’s still IN BUSINESS.

    at least consider the argument before before becoming hasty in assumptions.

  • That’s a very interesting documentary. Thanks for sharing.

  • Annette Henshaw’s recordings are somewhat obscure, but they DO still get radio airplay. Shows like KSPC’s and Randy Skredtvedt’s “Forward Into The Past” regularly play her records, as do “The High-Tech Hobo”‘s Rapidly Rotating Records, available as streaming downloads. I’ll bet these radio programs don’t pay any music rights for the performances OR compositions, they are non-profit, commercial free stations, after all. So, the situation isn’t QUITE as dire as Nina paints it. “That’s All.”

  • Chris

    Yes Stephen Finch, Attorney at Law, it is. And if you don’t understand that then you’ll miss everything cool and die angry.

  • Chris Webb

    Nina is not ripping off individuals. The heirs of the song writers who wrote the songs in this movie were most likely paid off long ago. Music publishers bought all rights to these songs. So now when those songs are used, music publishers like Warner Unichapel Music benefit – not the songwriters or their heirs.

    Congress is not extending copywrite laws to benefit individuals – they are doing it at the request of large media companies that currently own the rights, and want to keep owning the rights. Congress should watch out – media consolidation is a bad idea. When a few companies own a lot of the culture, we’re on a dangerous path.

    Copywrite should not be extended indefinitely. Eventually, (say, 60-80 years) the ownership of a work of art should belong to humanity. These are terrific songs, the writers and their children are most likely all dead, why shouldn’t Nina be able to use them and help keep them a part of the culture? Who is being hurt? Just a company that doesn’t really care whether the songs are heard or not.

  • She seems a wonderful animator. Why she is so indignant and suprised that she can’t steal someone else’s work and property to enhance her own is a mystery. To claim that she is an advocate of “free speech” is simply wrongheaded. I think I will make a film. In my film, I will use sections of her animation. It’s OK, Nina. I am an advocate of free speech.

    Also, to cast herself as a David fighting Goliath is shameful. She is an artist stealing someone ele’s art. Period.

  • The assertion in the documentary that the songs had fallen into the public domain and were “retroactively” re-copyrighted by the federal government is not true. Surely everyone involved knows that by now.

    The recordings were afforded perpetual copyright protection by the state laws that covered them when they were made. That means forever. The 1972 revision to US copyright law wisely put an end to that and set 2047 as the date those formerly perpetual copyrights would start expiring. Even without the 1999 revision that extended that date to 2067, the recordings never had a chance to fall into the public domain. There was never a “28 years plus an option for 28 more” time frame for audio recording copyrights.

    read it here:


    We can argue that copyright lasts too long, but we can’t argue that the copyright had expired

    I’m not sure that the Hanshaw recordings are obscure because copyright is suppressing them. It may be that they are just not as striking or appealing to current ears as other recordings from that period (which are just as copyrighted and yet have an active life today). As I watched “Sita” I sensed a sameness to them all that wasn’t to the film’s advantage.

  • Bob

    Got news for you Nina, Once a song goes into public domain you can use the song If YOU preform it. You can not use the original recordings, by the original artist. You yourself have to re-record the songs.

    I wonder how Nina would feel if I took her characters and Made Sita Sings the Blues II. OR made some t-shirts and sold them. I bet Sita would be singing a different tune then.

  • Scott

    I’ve tried 3 times to sit through that Sita film, and can’t get through 5 minutes without falling asleep.

  • elan

    >>although it touts sayings like, “revolution” I doubt this film was meant to completely strip down the copyright system as we know it…at least consider the argument before before becoming hasty in assumptions.<<

    Im not assuming. Feel free to look up her articles on questioncopyright.org and you’ll find she’s definitely into “stripping down the copyright system as we know it.”

    And if you follow the blogs, youtube comments, and questioncopyright.org’s feature about the “Copying Is Not Theft” animation she made, you’ll find its intended to support internet piracy, “big studio movies” included.

    Im all for innovation and finding new and exciting ways for artists to distribute their work. But Im not into finding new ways of exploiting artists and not paying for pirated copies of, say, I dunno, Astro Boy. Thats what her videos do (especially the copying isnt theft video), even if unintentionally.

  • Ouch. Just re-read that. Skip the “Period” part. I hate when people do that.

  • So… stealing is okay – as long as it’s Nina Paley who benefits.
    I get it! Thanks for clearing this up.

  • Isaac

    Everybody agrees that you need copyrights to have control of your work. The only question is: why do copyrights last a century instead of a few decades? Do these lengthy copyrights really “encourage the development of the arts and sciences”, or are they stifling them?

  • Chris

    Bob – Nina has actually very clearly stated that people are free to use what she’s created in any way that they choose. So yes, she seems to be totally fine with that.

    Also, call me crazy, but the only person that nina would have rightfully paid died 25 years ago. Who but her deserves any payment for the use of these recordings? I’m sorry, but 80 years after the fact, I genuinely believe that any intellectual property should be free to use by the public in any way they see fit. So yes, in 2050 anyone should be able to use any beatles song any way they want. Anyone who had anything to do with their creation will be long since gone. It should belong to the public, not some holding corporation.

  • So, if I copy Nina’s movie, make a DVD of it and sell it, then I don’t have to pay Nina? Can I keep the money?

  • I would not want any one using MY work with out consent and compensation. Why did Nina think she could do it? Just because the songs are old does not mean a family member or corporation does not own the rights—I hope my family still gets royalties from my work LONG after I am dead!

  • Oh my, does Nina Paley come off as stupid and ignorant in this video.
    She obviously have no idea that some of us artists & writers actually have to pay our rent, get food on the table etc.
    But if it’s OK with her I’ll immediately start ripping off her Sita merchandising and start selling it for less than she does.

  • David

    Whether you agree with Nina’s position on copyright and giving work away for “free” or not (I don’t) you have to give her points for consistency :

    She has made all of her Flash source files from “Sita Sings the Blues” available for download and invites people to use the artwork she created to do their own versions of ‘Sita’ using her artwork.


    Nina writes:

    “All the Flash authoring (.fla) files I used to make Sita Sings the Blues have just been posted on archive.org, under a Creative Commons Share Alike license. Want to know how I got a certain animated effect in Sita Sings the Blues? Open up the .fla files and find out. Want to remix from the source? Now you can. Want to make a Sita Sings the Blues video game using all the assets? Go for it. (But I strongly suggest you negotiate my endorsement if you want to actually market the end product.)”

    “You may use these files any way you wish, as long as you

    1. attribute the source to Nina Paley / Sita Sings the Blues;
    2. properly attribute any modifications so it’s clear those are NOT by Nina Paley;
    3. Release any resulting work under the same Creative Commons Share Alike license.”

  • Chris

    Steve – I hope that my great grandchildren will learn to be productive members of society who can be self sufficient and don’t need to coast off of work I have done EIGHTY years past in my youth.

  • someguy

    I thought we were talking about the short, not the blogs and articles associated that are found on other sites that we’re all supposed to be clairvoyant enough to know about.

    you also assume that your point of view is correct while I’m just trying to be objective. The argument for the current status of copyright being wrong or right continues and I don’t assume one or the other is correct. If you want my personal opinion, I feel that there is definitely room for both approaches as copyright law for a large multinational corporation doesn’t necessarily work or benefit smaller independent productions and vice a versa, but I’m not here to call someone else a criminal or an idiot over it.

    you also assume she means to steal other people’s work and copy them when she’s talking about her own animation. Astroboy is not under a creative commons law therefore you can’t legally copy or “steal” it. And if it was under a creative commons law you STILL couldn’t say that you owned it as the original artist or owner behind it would still be credited and the cc mark would have to be perpetuated in order to even distribute it. It was pretty well explained and was created specifically for material by an artist with no other means of distributing without paying through the nose or having the advertising dollars to get the word out.

    people’s fears about copyright law on both sides of the argument seem to be very rooted in paranoia and the assumption that either everyone is out to steal everything or people are trying to hide things away from public eye. Neither of which I feel is anyone’s general intention, except for a few bad eggs like hot topic, Todd Goldman and people that torrent films and software.

    Those examples also point to the fact that, if anyone is going to ‘steal’ work, they’ll simply steal it regardless of whatever copyright mark is stamped on it. Most perpetrators rely on anonymity and the original artists lacking the funds or resources to take them to court; a process that will often cost the original artist more money than would benefit them. Large size Corporations are not in any real present danger, they have the money and the lawyers. if you think that they are, then you probably lack an understanding of business law, the power of money or are prone to unnecessary fits of panic.

    Small businesses may have something to be worried about and independent productions are practically shark bait. But that brings us back to the point that creative commons is a way for SMALL productions to protect themselves. For them, if it’s going to be out there, then give it away for free and make profit from tertiary means (merchandise, donations, speaking fees, etc). This is a structure that works for small productions. It is nearly impossible for that to work for a large corporation, which I think is where all the panic stems from, but CC was not created for them. What works for large companies cannot realistically apply to a small or independent business or the other way around.

    CC really isn’t meant for someone small to steal something from a big corporation. You can’t change an existing copyright to creative commons unless that copyright expired anyway so how can you steal it? Don’t confuse CC as a means of protection with using it as a way to steal, because it simply isn’t.

    regardless of Nina’s personal views about stripping down copyright law, I do think she has a point as far as small distribution is concerned. The debate on copyright expiration is an entirely different argument. Currently it is extremely disadvantageous for small companies and individuals to create using existing material. Yes, the smart thing to do is to simply make your own music or cough up the dough. Nina paid for the license to distribute, so why the continued heat? she didn’t steal anything and CC is not some insidious plot to do so.

    if anything, maybe Nina should change it to “copying isn’t stealing (so long as the original owner put a CC stamp on it)”

  • Chris – I know you’re addressing the “other” Steve.

    Why shoudn’t intellectual property be passed down to heirs? Land and physical property can be willed, sold or awarded to other people. Why shouldn’t an artists’ heirs benefit?

  • someguy

    the only time artists or writers need to worry about not getting paid because of a creative commons license means that a) the company large enough to hire however many hundreds of artists has the money to pay you regardless of how they distribute work b) the company large enough to hire you is INSANE or c) you’re an idiot for working for a company that is obviously run by madmen.

    if you made something and have the means to distribute and would like to make money from your work, then pay for and use a normal copyright. If you’re fine with giving your work away for free under CC because you have the confidence that you’ll make money through alternative means, then do so. You currently have a choice. Consider them before crying about the sky falling.

    artist, please look into copyright law and think LOGICALLY about what they mean for you and your well-being. No one is forcing anyone to choose one or the other.

  • Chris: It’s not a question of artists’ ancestors “coasting” of their work, as you state in an earlier post. It’s a question of an artist leaving their children and grandchildren a treasured legacy. By your philosophy, I could I could use much of Walt Disney’s work and use it to promote my products. Even if an ancestor is quite able to support themselves, they should still be allowed to use the legacy and heritage left to them as they see fit.

    I am not impressed at all with Nina’s willingness to let others use her work as long as credit is given. That’s her right and privilege, and at this point in her career, its simply a device to let others promote her work free of charge. If an artist, or an artists children and grandchildren, choose to not make their heritage and the legacy left them by their family public domain, that is understandable and their right as well. In Nina’s case, we have a woman that thinks because she is an artist the rules are different. They are not, nor should they be. Artistic work is property owned by the artist that produced it.

    Frankly, Chris, your view is insulting, poorly thought out, and smacks of a very insensitive. Oh, don’t leave your children any money or property when you die. They should be able to make it on their own without sponging off you, don’t you think?

  • Chris

    Steve S (my bad – too many steves! :P)

    I guess I think that after 3 generations of heirs benefiting from the proceeds of a piece of work, the art itself benefits more from being publicly available. I would not be aware of or have heard of Annette Hanshaw (and purchased copies of her recordings for that matter) had it not been for Nina Paley.

    I’m sure this also ties into my lamely self righteous feelings about entitlement in general. I believe that if each generation lives off the accomplishments of the earlier, they have no impetuous to make an identity for themselves. Would you really have any pity for me if I came on here and complained that I’m not getting royalties for something my great grandfather did?

  • RJ

    OK, your film looks great, but seriously Nina? You were surprised that there’s a thing called a COPYRIGHT? Even a blind man knows that! Also, are you saying that it’s okay to steal if your an advocate of free speech? In that case, I’ll put a Beatles song in my animated film, but that’s OK. It’s ALL for free speech!

  • Chris


    Insulting to who exactly? Why are you insulted by my opinion?

    Certainly every generation gives something to the next. I would not be here if it hadn’t been for the help and love I’ve received from earlier generations.

    Is it really insensitive of me to believe that three generations from now, I hope my family doesn’t have to rely on something I did to stand on their own?

  • Pedro Nakama

    Glad to see she animates in Flash.

  • FP

    Nice little documentary. I loved SITA, I hugely respect the accomplishment, and copyrights do last too long. Having said that…

    I’m with Plympton regarding his common-sense advice and mild admonishment. A well-established set of procedures is required to legally use most recorded music. Nina Paley should have been familiar with those procedures, but didn’t follow them for whatever reason. It’s too bad the impressive and entertaining SITA got caught up in the ensuing trouble.

  • Sahra

    How many times do we need to hear about this thoroughly average movie? Please CartoonBrew, can we have an embargo on all future Sita posts? Or at least give us a break for six months?

  • Chris: I’ll say it again: It’s not about future generations “relying on” a previous generation’s work, nor is it about future generations “standing on their own.” It is about a legacy passed down to future generations, and those future generations having the right to administer said legacy as they wish. It really is a simple concept, Chris. And, since meanings seem to evade you, your opinion is insulting to the generation in question here, regarding the song in question. Your statement is directly insulting to them.

  • Hi Chris,

    You’re assuming that the world is a fair place – that good things happen to good and deserving people. Unfortunately, that isn’t the case.

    Paris Hilton is a rich celebrity because her grandfather was a very clever man. Why should an artist’s heirs be deprived of the same opportinity? I would have loved it if my father had been a billionaire. I thnk that he would have loved it too. Instead, he was a cab driver. Those are the breaks. You play the cards that you are dealt.

    If this were a fair world, Nina Paley’s economic vision would make sense. Becaues we live in the real world, she doesn’t.

    STEVE LIGHT – Great website!

  • elan

    >>I thought we were talking about the short, not the blogs and articles associated that are found on other sites that we’re all supposed to be clairvoyant enough to know about.<<

    We are. She mentions in this video that she doesnt care if people steal her work, as long as she sells her 5000 copies. Then she goes on to sing a song about how copying isnt theft. Its all right here in this video.

    But theres also nothing wrong about me doing some additional searching of Nina’s opinion about all this. In fact, I asked her yesterday on her blog about downloading and watching illegal copies of big-studio movies. Here’s her response:

    “It isn’t theft.”

    see for yourself: http://blog.ninapaley.com/2009/12/15/minute-meme-1-copying-is-not-theft/comment-page-1/#comment-39038

    So you say:

    “you also assume she means to steal other people’s work and copy them when she’s talking about her own animation.”

    You’re teling me I assume things when Ive actually sought out the source and gotten straight answers. Nina sees nothing wrong with the illegal acquiring and using of unpaid for and copyrighted material. Plain as day. Its a very selfish and egotistical view, with absolutely zero consideration of fellow artists livelihoods.

    For me personally, I know lots of artists who have gotten laid off due to poor ticket sales or DVD sales, when all the while the same film or game or software has been one of the higher illegally downloaded movies of the year. Astro Boy is a great example of that, which is why I brought it up earlier. They recently laid off 100 after Astro Boy did terribly.


    I dont know about other people, but I plan on always paying for the movies, games, and software I get.

  • Warhead

    The problem is that Nina should have known that you could get into hot water if you just delibrately STEAL somthing from another artist. And “copying isn’t theft”? Far from it. Ever heard of Wierd Al’s song “Don’t Download This Song”? Although a satire, it sums up the consequences of illeagal copying fairly accurately, only more exagerated(not to mention the music video being directed by Bill Plympton). Cracks you up and you learn something at the same time.

  • Really a very well produced documentary on what is, essentially, a dry topic. A short documentary on copyright that’s interesting to watch??? Bravo!

    Discussing the issues around Nina’s work has become a major component of my Intro Computer Animation course. I’m happy I’ll have this concise and well presented film to share with the class.

  • Copyright law always (or from 1909 to Bono anyway) attempted to split the difference between the artist’s right to profit and the public’s right to participate.

    No longer. And though the new laws benefit Disney, its heirs and its stockholders, they may not benefit our society as a whole.

    Long story: as a grad student I had access to a wealth of cultural information via document databases like JSTOR. My institution paid dearly for the service, and I in turn paid dearly through tuition. Since graduation, I have attempted to pursue research as what is too generously known as an ‘independent scholar.’

    Almost impossible to do, even with “Google Scholar.” But there is good news. The whole of history isn’t shut off.

    My main area of interest is textbooks published from the mid-1800s to the mid-1900s. The date 1923 resonates. Why? Because books published prior are in the public domain, while books published since never will be, assuming current laws remain unchanged.

    The weird thing is, I can compensate. I can, and have, purchased many used textbooks from Amazon and elsewhere (and I don’t believe the copyright holder is getting any of that action). I am then able to extract content, quote freely, publish my work and even profit from it (assuming anybody would buy a book devoted to the history of old biology textbooks) thanks to a fuzzy but generally agreed upon “fair use” policy.

    Why are we okay with “academic” fair use, but not “artistic” fair use? I don’t know. Further, why should I (or Google) never be allowed to copy a textbook (or a movie or a song), in part or in whole, published in 1924? Surely, no teacher is assigning such a book to his or her Bio 101 class today. Here’s a crazy idea: if a corporation or individual wants to keep a work out of the public domain after it has aged reasonably, why don’t we ask them to cut a check to the Treasury? At some point, it could be argued, that corporation is profiting off of something that belongs to somebody else. Us. All of us.

    This whole thing relative to Sita sounds a bit like an accidental mission. Nina used the 1928 recordings, got in trouble, found a cause.

    But the questions she is raising are important. Naive or not, Nina is to be admired for at least challenging the “new” assumptions regarding our blind consent to the perpetual private ownership of the sights, sounds and symbols of our culture.

  • Ron Ladoucuer: Your “crazy idea” is just that: crazy. There is no logical reason why a corportion or individual should ever have to pay to keep something that belongs to them out of public domain if they have the rights to it. Art belongs to the people that created or have the rights to it, and yes that includes nasty corporations. Just because a piece of art has been around for a length of time, or has “aged reasonably” as you call it, it doesn’t automatically belong then to “us.” Imagine your logic with a piece of land, or a house. If my family owns a piece of land for a few generations, should I have to pay the treasure a fee to keep you from farming it, living on it, or selling it for your profit?

  • Drakar

    “Warhead” wrote: ‘Nina should have known that you could get into hot water if you just delibrately STEAL somthing from another artist.’

    Stop right there. Did Nina physically “STEAL” anything here? How, precisely, do you “STEAL” an 80-year-old recording, made by someone who’s long dead, written by other people who are also long dead? If I “STEAL” a candy bar from the store, they have one less to sell, despite already having paid for it themselves. When Nina “STOLE” Annette Hanshaw’s recordings to use in ‘Sita’, not only was the singer unaffected personally, as well as the writers, and current copyright holders, but in fact it made many people aware of Hanshaw’s very existence, who may never have even heard of her previously. All without depriving anybody of any personal rights or properties.

    This is “STEAL”ing how, exactly?

    “Warhead”, continuing to fumble in the dark: ‘Ever heard of Wierd Al’s song “Don’t Download This Song”? Although a satire, it sums up the consequences of illeagal copying fairly accurately.’

    The academic studies on the affects of illegal music downloading have only shown it to increase album sales. Go figure.
    Personally, my CD collection would be less than 1/10th its current size if not for albums which I downloaded illicitly first, and later went back and bought physical copies of once I was hooked (both to support the artists, and also to have a full-quality ‘physical’ copy).

  • Chris

    Steve, you are right – the world is not at all a fair place. But you say that I assume it to be one. I completely disagree. I know it is unfair, but would rather that work be done to make it more fair. If people don’t work to change things then what do you expect. Yes, it is obviously naive to believe it can be made into one, but why not try to improve it?

    Mykal, yet again, you simply say something is insulting without explaining what is insulting about it. What’s really a simple concept is that you simply disagree with me and don’t back it up with an actual argument. Since you’re not particularly good at this, let me help you!

    Mykal Banta says:
    Chris – you say that making artwork public domain would help the art itself while also encouraging future generations to go out and make their own work. But what if it encourages a different kind of laziness? What if being able to use that library of great characters and animation and film prevents them from branching out and creating a whole new set of work. Being blocked out of using copyrighted works actually inspires creativity!

  • Draker wrote: “Did Nina physically “STEAL” anything here?” Well, no, Draker; a song or piece of art isn’t an object that one can slip in their pocket and walk out of a store with. Your confusion seems to lie in the possibility of stealing something that isn’t an object, like the candy bar you use as an example. It is possible, however, to STEAL something that doesn’t have size and weight – a concept, say, or in this case; a song. Perhaps Webster’s’ can help here. Stealing is defined by Webster’s thus:

    1 a : to take or appropriate without right or leave and with intent to keep or make use of wrongfully; b : to take away by force or unjust means; c : to take surreptitiously or without permission.

    Nina is guilty of stealing – yes stealing – the song by all the above definitions. See, it is the owners of the song’s copyright whom can determine appropriate use of the song, not you or Nina. You may feel that the use of the song in Nina’s film was just fine and didn’t hurt anyone, but it’s simply not your call. Nor is it Nina’s, who stole the song without permission.

  • Joakim Gunnarsson says:
    “But if it’s OK with her I’ll immediately start ripping off her Sita merchandising and start selling it for less than she does.”

    Joakim, there’s nothing stopping you from doing so, and I’m sure she’d be happy to see you selling Sita merchandise. Why don’t you go ahead and do it? I bet you’ll make some good money!

  • elan

    Re: illegal music downloading

    Is this the academic study you were referring to?


    Kind of disagrees with your “academic studies” statement. Besides, theres no arguing that music sales have dropped over the last 10 years. There’s lots of studies, and lots of conclusions, so your claim that its been settled is unfair. In reality, theres no sure-fire way to know for sure.

    There’s two different discussions here, by the way. One about copyright and one about piracy.

    The piracy argument boils down to this: Can stealing or theft be defined by the loss of a sale due to an illegal copy downloaded?

    The copyright argument boils down to: Copyright must be protected, even though it can appear victimless, because without it there’d be rampant plagiarism and lots of revenue lost for the originator.

    At least, thats my take on it.

  • Drakar

    Elan says, “Nina sees nothing wrong with the illegal acquiring and using of unpaid for and copyrighted material.”

    I wish you would not put words in Nina’s mouth (over.. and over.. and over). I don’t believe she ever said she finds “nothing wrong” with it. She has written elsewhere that she fully supports the right of OTHERS to “protect” their work with copyrights and other idiotic and arbitrary IP restrictions. Her comment to you was a simple restatement of the plain truth:

    Downloading a copy of a movie: is it wrong? maybe (this is debatable). is it illegal? it seems so. is it “theft”? NO!
    In order for it to be “theft”, there must have been something physically STOLEN! When I download a movie, i am using MY isp, MY bandwidth, MY hard drive, downloading a copy posted by some other anonymous volunteer. I am not depriving anybody of any physical THING. This is simple, hard, pure, fact. Feel free to debate the merits of it, if you will, because that part is debatable. Should the artists be compensated for their work? Of course. Does downloading it compensate them? No – at least, not immediately. But they will be compensated. But it is not even debatable that when someone downloads something, they have NOT “stolen” it.

    Or, how about this: I go to the Louvre in paris. While there, I snap a photo of the Mona Lisa. Should they arrest me for having now stolen it? Is everyone else in the world now deprived from looking at it since I have now “stolen” it?

    (What happens when a great-great-great-great-great-great-great grandchild of Leonardo da Vinci turns up and insists copyright over the Mona Lisa? Not just the painting but all likenesses and copies — are they no longer public domain then?)

    If someone downloads a music album which they never would have even remotely considered buying, is that Theft? It may be illegal, but that doesn’t necessarily make it wrong or immoral (IMHO), and it certainly is not “stealing”. Now what if they decide they like the music they “stole”, and either decide to purchase physical copies, or memorobilia, or attend live events? I say it this way only because it has been proven that this is how things work.

    This is Nina’s only point: that “illegal” downloading is not financially detrimental to anyone — and also isn’t theft.

  • purin

    Wow, JSTOR is my best friend. It’s hard to imagine doing work without it, or a university research library complete with scrolling shelves, at my disposal.

    The tricky thing about art is that, as culture, you can argue it belongs to the people, since it exists in collective consciousness and not just as a consumed product. It’s kind of a language, and we speak “media-ese” now more than ever. It’s like selling knowledge you already know, I guess.
    There are some examples of strategically looking the other way when it comes to copyright infringement, like doujinshi, because it’s part of healthy fan base culture. It would be bad to, in a way, deny the fans’ ownership of their beloved fandom by denying their own use of it, so long as it stays in small, self-published runs. There’s a lot of remixing done without making money, but you’ll notice the DVDs warn this is illegal, too (but probably impractical to prosecute).

    On the other hand… We need money and financial security in order to be professional artists. It’s easy to rant about copyright when you don’t own anything valuable. Also, successful producers of stuff form corporations, companies, dynasties, and all those semi-permanent things. It’s a sign of success and stability for us and our families. Why should other industries have it and not artists?

    Now, I’m not necessarily behind her on this, but maybe her naivete about copyright calls for us to reexamine why we think these rules and standards are self-evident. I mean, in some of the few egalitarian societies out there, property and status don’t get passed from parent to child, so even that example may not be as self-evident as we assume.

    Also, what is an artist’s ultimate aspiration or measure of success?

  • Drakar

    Mykal continues to miss the big picture: “Nina is guilty of stealing – yes stealing – the song by all the above definitions.”

    You are completely wrong in at least 4 different ways. The first three are the three “definitions” of stealing, none of which apply to Nina.
    first: “to take or appropriate without right or leave and with intent to keep or make use of wrongfully”
    you cannot “keep” a song, “appropriate” or “make use of wrongfully”, since there is no solid definition of “wrongful use” of music, one way or another.
    second: “to take away by force or unjust means”
    she did not “take away” – there is no “away” to TAKE a song, and most certainly not by force nor unjust means.
    third: “to take surreptitiously or without permission”
    once again, you cannot “take” a song; she made use of them, for her own purposes, and this was against their copyright status, but most definitely not STEALING by any possible stretch of the imagination.
    fourth (and most importantly by far): NINA OBEYED THE COPYRIGHTS AND PAID FOR THE RIGHTS TO USE THE SONGS. Whatever “theft” happened at any point was undone (legally) by this action on her part. What she is doing now is simply to campaign against the silliness she has had to go through. If you need visual example of just how asinine the current copyright standings of these songs are, go to the movie’s website and view the chart showing the current copyright holders for each song (which differs depending on which country you’re in, etc). She is fighting against a system which, to her (and many others) feels outdated, unjust, unwise, and simply silly.
    All the same, she has said (in BIG BOLD CAPITAL LETTERS) that she supports the right of any artist to lock up their own work in copyright if they wish – she is not undermining the copyrights of others *at all*.

    Elan said, “Is this the academic study you were referring to?”

    No. I was thinking of the studies done at Harvard.
    I agree, though, it’s not very clear-cut. I also think there is a lot to the argument that in the age of iTunes, users tend to cherrypick their favorite songs instead of buying CDs (this, and the recession, are my prime targets for the declining CD sales in the previous 10 years. personally, i don’t have a problem re-buying a CD i like if i downloaded it for free… but hell if i’m going to buy a CD when i already paid $1 apiece for 3 of its singles.)

    “The piracy argument boils down to this: Can stealing or theft be defined by the loss of a sale due to an illegal copy downloaded?”
    No. The loss of a sale is highly debateable. Even if you could prove a 1:1 loss-of-sale to a downloaded work, it would still be very debateable. But it’s not provable, very likely untrue in many cases, and therefore not “theft”.

    “The copyright argument boils down to: Copyright must be protected, even though it can appear victimless, because without it there’d be rampant plagiarism and lots of revenue lost for the originator.”
    Copying is different from plagarism (please read the Creative Commons license for some bit of explanation). I am allowed to make copies of Sita Sings the Blues; i am not allowed to take credit for it, except for any modifications I may have made.

    I don’t think Nina is claiming it would be “okay” for people to go sell their own copies of ‘Avatar’ on DVD; what I do think she is saying is, it might not be such a bad thing, in the end, if the movie studio would let people do so. They’d still manage to get paid somehow.

  • sean

    Drakar says: “Or, how about this: I go to the Louvre in paris. While there, I snap a photo of the Mona Lisa. Should they arrest me for having now stolen it? Is everyone else in the world now deprived from looking at it since I have now “stolen” it?”

    Actually, no, the way the scam works is that you are not allowed to photograph in museums, but the museum hires ONE photographer to photgraph the works. Then that photographers work is copyrighted. This is the way that the museums get around lack of copyright in older works. This is apparently copy ‘fraud’

    I think we should be really focusing on how long after death of the creator should copyright be extended. If never, fine, work pretty much dies with the artist/ corporations use for profitting off of it.
    we need to destroy culture in order to make new things anyway.

  • Drakar: I don’t feel I am missing the pig picture. I believe that using an artist’s work without proper permission is wrong. Call it what you will, I feel it’s wrong. It just seems a fundemental truth to me. There may be no “solid definition” of wrongful use, like you say (I assume you mean a legal definition in this set of circumstances), but that seems to devolve the discussion into an argument over symantics. At any rate, it’s been a pleasure, and I enjoyed your take on things. Peace out.

  • elan

    “No. I was thinking of the studies done at Harvard”

    Those studies were conducted over 6 years ago. Newer studies have contradicting conclusions, especially when you consider how much more pervasive broadband internet and digital media acquisition has become in the last 6-8 years.

    “The loss of a sale is highly debateable”

    Of course, but we’ll never know, will we? But if we were honest with ourselves, couldnt we assume that some sales were being lost? Can that be a good thing for artists and studios?

    “They’d still manage to get paid somehow”

    And thats the big question here, isnt it? I think thats a big assumption.

  • elan

    “All the same, she has said (in BIG BOLD CAPITAL LETTERS) that she supports the right of any artist to lock up their own work in copyright if they wish – she is not undermining the copyrights of others *at all*.”

    It seems like shes playing a silly game of semantics, then, because it sure doesnt seem that way.

  • Mr. Pricklepants

    People who illegally download music, etc. and are caught are charged with copyright infringement, not theft. By law, it is not considered “theft,” though many media corporations try to make it out as being so. Of course, that does not make it okay. But they are two clearly different things.

  • Bob

    Nina is very cleverly using semantics. She uses the term COPY as physical duplication, then uses it in the terms of digital media where there is no physical (tangible) media. She is intentionally blurring the lines where and when it fits her argument.

    No making an exact copy of something is not stealing…but

    The non tangible copying of some ones design, idea, creation is looked at as stealing (the non tangible) object from the original creator,( again no physical stealing) but this is the whole reason why the copyright laws came to be. Nina seems to think once an artist claims the art and puts it out for free its okay to copy it. Now what if it was copied before the original artist was able to release the creation? It’s the same concept, but the original artist does not rise to fame because his creation was COPIED before the original came out.

    It just seems like Nina Planned all of this, and the documentary pretty much solidified that.

    1. she was warned before she even started working about the copy law and the music she wanted to use in particular.

    2. Songs in public domain, are free to use, But the original recordings or any one else’s recordings of the said song are not public domain. The sheet music and the lyrics are public domain NOT the recordings… but that didn’t work, Nina needed Annette Hanshaw’s “sound” and that’s what she had to pay for.

    3. She now “can charge high for speaking engagements” (not just animation festivals) Give the art away, but charge for the message… that seems pretty noble

    4. This whole board is talking about NINA and is making the ARTIST the STAR and not her ART. (which is extremely sad)

    Face it, with out Annette Hanshaw’s music, Sita sings the blues is awful bland. Just edit out the music and see for yourself. Whether Nina knew or thought or wanted the music to be free or in the in the public domain is besides the point, What Nina KNEW is that her film did not work with out the songs in question.

    Now assuming she didn’t plan all of this mess. What do you do when you have a film that you know has copy right issues and you can not sell it… You try and release it for free.

  • “Imagine your logic with a piece of land, or a house.”…

    Well, no, because copyright is not property. US copyright is based on Art. I, Sec. 8 [8] of the Constitution: Congress has power “To promote the progress of science and useful arts by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries”.

    Note: for limited times. The Founders recognized both the benefit to society of allowing authors and inventors to prosper from their work, and the benefit from not making that right permanent (i.e. not making it property).

  • i’m totally for copyright protection. as an industrial designer i wish i could just slap a copyright logo under my work to protect it. unfortunately i have to actively protect every new shape i create in every country i want it to be protected in, costing me thousands of dollars. the protection runs out after 5 years and i can prolong it for another 5. new inventions: i have to patent them costing me ten thousands of dollars. so i consider illustrators, photographers, musicians and animators to be very lucky.

  • Anyone wondering at the hysterical nature of some of the comments here, please read this essay: Redefining Property: Lessons from American History.

  • No matter how strongly any of us “feel,” there is nothing cut and dry about copyright. Personally, I am all for allowing any inventor or creator, even if that “person” is a “big bad corporation,” to exert their rights of ownership and their right to profit from their work.

    Just not forever.

    For me the question is how long is long enough. In 1790, the time limit was 14 years with an option for a 14-year renewal. In 1909, that limit was doubled to 28 years with the option for a 28-year renewal. 1909 was also the first year music was made copyrightable (If I remember, it was piano rolls that drove the discussion, but I might have that wrong). Today, thanks to the late Sonny Bono, copyright extends from the life of the artist plus 70 years. See article This keeps Disney, and Hollywood in general, safe, for the moment.

    But we do need to keep asking ourselves how long is long enough. Will there ever come a time when our collective culture will be so locked in by a multi-layer matrix of contested ownership that no one — except entities with huge legal departments for securing and defending ownership — will be able to create without fear of prosecution?

    I think of the historic marker down the street that claims to point to the house where “Yankee Doodle” was written. The claim is highly unlikely. “Yankee Doodle” was not an original work, but a work built on an older tune (like “My Country Tis of Thee,” by the way). Good thing for our revolution and ongoing patriotic culture that copyright law was once weak.

  • amid

    Mykal wrote, “I believe that using an artist’s work without proper permission is wrong. Call it what you will, I feel it’s wrong.”

    And yet, Mykal, you seem to have no problem posting this comic by Walt Kelly on your site in which Walt “stole” a poem by Clement Moore without, what you term, proper permission.

    What is the difference between what Walt Kelly and what Nina did? Nothing, except that in Kelly’s time, laws existed to facilitate the advancement of culture through public domain. Today, corporations have locked up intellectual property in perpetuity and made criminals out of people who desire to be the next Walt Kelly.

  • Great article, Nina. Thanks.

  • Amid: touché!

  • Further: after some consideration, which included reading the article Nina referenced and considering some of the thoughts put forward by Ron Ladoucer and others; as well as considering the question put forward by Amid; I think my initial judgement was hasty. The situation regarding the film in question has many more shades than I first thought. I leapt forward into battle when there was no need. My aplogies to Ms. Paley. — Mykal Banta

  • @Mykal – Wow, accepted with admiration. Thanks for considering other points of view.

  • elan

    The article you linked paints an unfair distinction between slavery and intellectual property, as if it can be a 1:1 analogy. Slave owners bought slaves, but artists create intellectual property. Plus theres a who slew of human right philosophies that always trump property philosophies.

    Look, we can complicate the issue all we want, and copyright CAN be a complicated thing.

    But the one question I have, which apparently cannot be answered by Nina or anyone else here is: if electronic media should be freely copied and distributed, how will artists and creators at large studios be compensated and make a living? I’d love for this to be answered, because it directly affects me, an artist at a large studio, who has seen the negative impacts of online piracy.

  • @ Mykal & @ Nina, yeah!

    I’ve not yet tried to think this through to “the bottom,” so I don’t have a serious opinion on the matter. But it’s been a loooonnng time since I thought copyright was created to serve the interests of individual creators. The historical record clearly indicates that copyright was created to serve the interests of publishers, not the interests of those who provide material to publishers. I think Nina is doing us all a valuable service by raising these issues, not only intellectually, but by putting her own livelihood on the line. I think we need to rethink this whole business from the ground up.

    We’re on the brink of a brave new world. Let’s not resign ownership of that world to those who’ve been joy-riding on the creative work of those who shaped the old world.

  • Drakar

    Bob wrote: “The non tangible copying of some ones design, idea, creation is looked at as stealing (the non tangible) object from the original creator”

    For what it’s worth, what you describe here is “Plagarism”, which is not the same as “copying”. You are, yourself, trying to blur the distinction between making simple digital copies of a released work, and plagarism thereof.

    “Now what if it was copied before the original artist was able to release the creation?”

    Once again, you are thinking of plagarism, which Nina does not attempt to condone (or participate in) on any level, in any sense.

    “Songs in public domain, are free to use, But the original recordings or any one else’s recordings of the said song are not public domain.”

    As far as I’ve heard (and if someone wishes to correct me on this, feel free, I don’t purport to be an expert), the situation with Sita was the opposite. The recordings are PD, but the compositions / sheet music are not (hence the sticky copyright situation with the film’s songs).

    “Now assuming she didn’t plan all of this mess. What do you do when you have a film that you know has copy right issues and you can not sell it… You try and release it for free.”

    I’m not sure whether you weren’t paying attention, but Nina actually paid off the initial licensing fees with her own money — meaning she was fully capable of selling it (or letting a distributor sell it, without a king’s ransom of initial fees), but chose to release it free anyway, in protest of the ridiculous copyright situation which put her in such a messy situation. Think about that one for a while.

  • Stealing? Pah, that’s small stuff. I believe using other people’s work is MURDER. How about THAT ehhhhhh?!

  • Casper the friendly executive

    Am I only person who thought Sita would have been better without all those bloody songs?

  • ZAR

    Great documentary, very crisp.

    Also interesting to read the different opinions about it in this blog.

    (Well, maybe except for “elan’s” very first posting, which seems rather to be another kind of “paid content”.)


  • Of course the question remains, would anyone be discussing this movie at all if it weren’t for the controversy over copyright?

    Sita is an okay movie – a niche market product at best. You have to give Nina credit for a brilliant marketing job. But its a trick that will only work once.

  • Hey, I just popped over to Nina’s site and watched the film. It’s very sweet, and the animation is very well done and interesting. The intro especially is cool. The Cat made me laugh, as I can see my own cat so well in the animation and the character development.

    As to the use of the song, I have one final thought. I fully understand that artists want to control the way their work is used and to receive not only credit but financial reward for it. I also understand that heirs of artists are the ones that deserve full control of said work. I hate when popular songs are downloaded illegally, as if these songs were simply part of the air we breathe, belonging to us all in some rarified air of art for all. Once created, art does not become “ours” by proxy.

    Yet have said all that . . .

    Amid pointed out to me that on one of my blogs, which deals with posting stories and art from kids’ comics, I had posted for the holidays a story by Walt Kelly in which he gave his illustration to Clement C. Moore’s famous poem, The Night Before Christmas. How is what Kelly did any different than what Nina has done? asked Amid. A fair question (and one Amid answered for me in the same breath, I might add! ;-)). In thinking it over, I realized that there was even a better example of the same copyright issue on one of my other blogs – a blog I have kind of forgotten about and don’t update much anymore.

    This other blog is one where I review science fiction films from the 1950s. One this blog, as a side feature, I have streamed several, old songs from the era dealing with atomic power – some comical, some not. When posting them, I thought very briefly – very briefly – about the copyright issues involved. What cursory consideration I gave to the topic went like this: Sure, the rights to the songs belong to some family member or record company, but why in the world would they object to this use? None of the songs are well known anymore, and, if anything, my use of them might stir up interest! What possible harm could my posting them do anyone! I blithely streamed them all. Besides, if some fussbudget objects, I thought, I can just scurry on over to the blog and hit the delete key, no harm no foul. I am the first to admit that, legally speaking, this is some pretty flimsy thinking, but there it is. In my earlier comments regarding this issue, I had sort of forgotten all that. Crap.

    The kicker is one of the companies that owns the rights to the some of the songs I streamed contacted me (I had contacted them asking if they had ever produced more atomic age compilations). They said that they had seen my blog and wanted to know why I hadn’t streamed more from the CD. I thought that was cool.

    The point is, though, I can’t blame Nina her thought process on this. I did the same myself and then some. — Mykal

  • Anthony

    Does copyright protect the interest of the artist’s heirs? Not necessarily.


  • dr. giraud


    Where in the world would Disney be without works in the public domain? Answer: In court with the heirs of Victor Hugo, Hans Christian Anderson, the Brothers Grimm, etc.

  • Dr. Giraud is RIGHT!

    Meanwhile, the rights to Sherlock Holmes are messy messy messy: