Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Sita Sings the Blues

I was totally engrossed in this animated movie by the first five minutes. It is one of my favorite independent animated films. Not to mention that parts of the soundtrack are done by one of my favorite contemporary jazz artists, Rudresh Mahanthappa...
Unfortunately, other tracks for the film are older blues and jazz songs which are under such strict copyright control that paying for those songs would have made it financially impossible for the artist to produce the film as a commercial release... Her final conclusion to the problem was to just make the movie available on the web copyright-free, which may have been the best thing to ever happen to it. It seems to have gone viral. This entire endeavor is almost a case-in-point experiment into the areas where copyright law breaks down when it meets useful creativity. Duchamp's "Readymades" and  Jasper John's "Flag" come to mind as violators when it comes to "creative appropriation"...  She has a link where you can donate, please do.
Donate to the filmmaker here: http://questioncopyright.org/sita_dis...
Buy DVDs, etc, here: http://questioncopyright.com/sita.html

 "Sita Sings the Blues" is based on the Hindu epic "The Ramayana". Sita is a goddess separated from her beloved Lord and husband Rama. Nina Paley is an animator whose husband moves to India, then dumps her by email. Three hilarious shadow puppets narrate both ancient tragedy and modern comedy in this beautifully animated interpretation of the Ramayana. Set to the 1920's jazz vocals of torch singer Annette Hanshaw, Sita Sings the Blues earns its tagline as "the Greatest Break-Up Story Ever Told." It is written, directed, produced and animated by American artist Nina Paley.

"Sita Sings the Blues" was released in 2008 only after long negotiations with the copyright holders of the 80-year-old songs recorded by Annette Hanshaw. Following the experience of almost having her film blocked from distribution, Nina Paley released it freely under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike license, and now devotes a significant portion of her time to free culture activism. She is Artist in Residence at the non-profit QuestionCopyright.org.

If you'd like to help pay off the $50,000.00 loan she took out to pay the music monopoly fee, you can donate to the Sita Distribution Project (tax-deductible in the US) at http://questioncopyright.org/sita_dis... . Donations to that project go exclusively to that purpose and other expenses Nina incurred in releasing the film. You can also purchase DVDs, prints, shirts, and other Sita-related merchandise at http://questioncopyright.com/sita.html ; revenue is shared with Nina Paley.

For more about the film and about Nina Paley's other work, see http://sitasingstheblues.com .

For more about how retroactive copyright restrictions almost prevented the release of the film, see this interview with Nina Paley: http://questioncopyright.org/nina_pal... .

For more information about QuestionCopyright.org and its projects, please see our web site: http://questioncopyright.org .

QuestionCopyright.org is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, and donations are fully tax-deductable to the extent permitted by law. You can support our work at http://questioncopyright.org/donate .


Karl Fogel said...

Paul, so glad you liked the movie! And thanks for posting all the information about its release, and about how to donate to Nina Paley.

One correction: releasing the film for free was not a "solution" to the problem of the monopoly-restricted (i.e., copyrighted) songs. Nina still had to pay licensing fees to use those songs. Having done so, she then decided to release the film under a free license because she had had enough of the copyright system -- she didn't want what happened to those songs to ever happen to her film.

You can read her blog post about it here:


Paul Booker said...

Karl, Thanks for the correction. I didn't know that she was still having to pay the licensing fees. So it's not so much that she was avoiding the fees by releasing it copyright-free as much as it was a statement about how copyright law itself is in bad need of an overhaul in the digital age.

Karl Fogel said...

Exactly right.

For more information than you ever wanted to know about these licensing fees, see