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The Internet Archive launched a new service yesterday, bringing free access to more than 1 million books in the specially designed format to support those who are blind, dyslexic or are otherwise print-impaired.

This is great news just in terms of giving so many people easier access to books, but it’s also interesting as an application of a little-known provision of U.S. copyright law — the Chafee Amendment of 1996, which states:

“…it is not an infringement of copyright for an authorized entity to reproduce or to distribute copies or phonorecords of a previously published, nondramatic literary work if such copies or phonorecords are reproduced or distributed in specialized formats exclusively for use by blind or other persons with disabilities.”

The new service demonstrates the principle behind the Chafee Amendment: that copyright is a conditional monopoly, not a property right, and that when we decide the monopoly is hampering an important public purpose, we can change it. The Chafee Amendment is an open acknowledgement that monopoly-based distribution was not serving the needs of the blind, the visually impaired, or dyslexic people very well, and that fixing that situation is simply a policy decision. It reminds us that copyright itself is a policy decision, and that if it is not serving the public well, we can change the policy.

The Internet Archive’s press release is below:

More than doubling the number of books available to print disabled people of all ages, today the Internet Archive launched a new service that brings free access to more than 1 million books — from classic 19th century fiction and current novels to technical guides and research materials — now available in the specially designed format to support those who are blind, dyslexic or are otherwise visually impaired.

“Every person deserves the opportunity to enhance their lives through access to the books that teach, entertain and inspire,” said Brewster Kahle, founder and Digital Librarian of the Internet Archive. “Bringing access to huge libraries of books to the blind and print disabled is truly one of benefits of the digital revolution.”

Kahle also announced that the Internet Archive will be investing in the growth of its virtual bookshelf by funding the digitization of the first 10,000 books donated. Individuals and organizations are welcome to donate their favorite book or a collection of books. Books in all languages welcome. To donate books visit:

Dr. Marc Maurer, President of the National Federation of the Blind, said: “Blind people must have access to repositories of digital information if we are to reach our goal of becoming full and equal participants in society. Access to the books that have been scanned by the Internet Archive in a format accessible to the blind will be another step toward that goal. We are excited about continuing to work with Internet Archive to make access to more books a reality.”

The 1 million+ books in the Internet Archive’s library for print disabled, are scanned from hard copy books then digitized into DAISY — a specialized format used by blind or other persons with disabilities, for easy navigation. Files are downloaded to devices that translate the text and read the books aloud for the user to enjoy. To access books visit:

Jessie Lorenz is a 31 year old woman who was born blind and is the Associate Director of at the Independent Living Resource Center in San Francisco. She believes, “Knowledge is power – and like everyone else, blind and print disabled people need equitable access to books to help them be innovative, productive, contributing community members.”

Older books are available from the Internet Archive’s unencrypted DAISY library and modern books can be accessed by “qualified users” through their NLS key — an encrypted code provided by the Library of Congress’ National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS), that is dedicated to providing materials to the print disabled. Currently, over 800,000 people in the US are registered with the Library of Congress as being print disabled.

As of today, the Internet Archive offers over one million books for print disabled people. Other large libraries for the print disabled including NLS,, and Reading for the Blind & Dyslexic.

“This demonstrates why having open and public access to published works is so important,” said Kahle.

Ben Foss, President of Headstrong, an advocacy group for people with dyslexia said, “As dyslexic and print-disabled students scramble to complete their end-of-year research papers and projects, beginning today, there is a great new library of resources that will expand the tools these young people need to be successful in school and in life.”

By leveraging automated scanning and conversion processes, Internet Archive technicians can conduct a cost-efficient scan of more than one thousand books per day. Books are scanned at sites located in San Francisco, New York, Los Angeles and other major cities in five countries. Most of the older scanned books have been reformatted for the print-disabled from broad digitizing projects. Scanned physical books came from the collections of over 150 libraries, most of which are in the Open Content Alliance, but others as well. The funding of those scanning projects is coming from foundations, corporations and governments.

Most of the older books have been scanned from library collections, with newer books having been donated to the Internet Archive by companies such as the online bookseller Alibris, libraries and individuals.

The print disabled collection of books are now available through the Archive’s new Open Library site (, which serves as a gateway to information about millions of hardcopy books and more than 1 million electronic books.

The Internet Archive will continually increase the number books it makes available. They are currently seeking donations of books and ebooks from individuals, libraries and publishers. The Archive is announcing today its commitment to fund the scanning and automatic processing of the first 10,000 donated books. Any organization or individual that would like to make particular books or collections available are encouraged to donate them by sending them to the Internet Archive. For donations of large collections please contact the Internet Archive. Financial support is also welcome to expand the program.

To access all books, a United States resident with print disabilities must register with the Library of Congress

The Internet Archive is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that was founded to build an Internet library. Its missions are to offer universal access to all knowledge and provide specialized services for adaptive reading and information access for the blind and other persons with disabilities. Internet Archive, 300 Funston Avenue, San Francisco California 94118,, +1-415-561-6767.

Press contact: Pattie Haubner
(914) 833-7093, (914) 275-2984

The first official release of Copying Is Not Theft is now ready, with a new sound track arranged by Nik Phelps and sung by Connie Champagne:

Download the high-res version at

Question Copyright’s first Minute Meme is a response to messages that have tried to convince people that copying information is the same as stealing property, when it’s an entirely different (and generally positive) thing. Until the air is cleared on that point, it’s hard to have any kind of useful conversation about copying, sharing, copyright, or licensing.

The purpose of these Minute Memes is to give educators and commentators more tools to help clear the air. Copying is not Theft conveys its simple idea with a catchy tune, clever lyrics, and delightful animation by Nina Paley. Many thanks to Nik Phelps and Connie Champagne for a terrific sound track. We also thank the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts for supporting this meme and others with a generous grant. Copying Is Not Theft is released under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 license.

See the Minute Memes home page for more about the project. See the Copying Is Not Theft home page for more about this meme and for other arrangements, remixes, and mashups, based on the draft Nina released last December.

Brian Lehrer renowned radio host at WNYC (New York Public Radio) interviewed Nina Paley and Karl Fogel on his CUNY TV show Brian Lehrer Live on February 17th.  The conversation ranged from Nina’s distribution model for her film Sita Sings the Blues to the broader copyright reform movement, and they showed two of the Minute Memes as well.  The video is now available:

It’s the middle segment of a three-segment show. The entire show is worth watching, too. The first segment is a debate about the ACTA (“Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement”) treaty and how it tightens international copyright restrictions. If you follow copyright reform at all, you’ll be frustrated at how resolutely the participants neglect to question the assumptions (for one thing, copying is not counterfeiting). We tried to come back to some of those points during the middle segment. The third segment is a fascinating interview with Jen Bekman and Jonathan Melber of 20×200, with artist Clare Grill joining by video chat. In all segments, the host, Brian Lehrer, asks good questions; he’s obviously been thinking about the issues.

The U.S. Office of Management and Budget has put out a request for written submissions from the public:

SUMMARY: The Federal Government is currently undertaking a landmark effort to develop an intellectual property enforcement strategy building on the immense knowledge and expertise of the agencies charged with enforcing intellectual property rights.

Part I: …IPEC seeks written submissions from the public identifying the costs to the U.S. economy resulting from infringement of intellectual property rights, both direct and indirect, including any impact on the creation or maintenance of jobs. In addition, the IPEC seeks written submissions identifying threats to public health and safety posed by intellectual property infringement…

Part II: …IPEC requests written submissions from the public that provide specific recommendations for accomplishing one or more of the objectives of the Joint Strategic Plan, , or other specific recommendations for significantly improving the U.S. Government’s enforcement efforts. Recommendations may include, but need not be limited to: Proposed legislative changes, regulations, executive orders, other executive action, guidelines, or changes in policies, practices or methods. …

(Emphases ours.)  This a fine idea — it’s about time, really.  Below is the letter we sent, lightly edited. Please feel free to use it, verbatim or modified, to send in your own letters whenever public comments are solicited.

Subject: Re: Comments on the Joint Strategic Plan

Victoria Espinel
Intellectual Property Enforcement Coordinator
Office of Management and Budget
Executive Office of the President
Filed via email

Dear Ms. Espinel:

The Federal Government's initiative to develop a coherent and
public-minded enforcement strategy has the potential to do much good.

Any accounting of the cost of infringement must include the jobs lost
because of business models that are suppressed when the public's right
to enjoy and use its intellectual property is infringed upon.  For
example, Google scanned millions of books, many of which have no
discoverable copyright holder, and yet must now pay a ransom to make
the results of those scans available to the public even in restricted
form.  This infringement of the public's right to its own culture has
costs in economic terms, not only for Google, but for the authors and
publishers would like to build upon and add value to past works.

Many web sites are also forced to remove content when requested by
monopolists who hold an exclusive right to distribute that content,
and also by would-be monopolists who do not actually have the
legal right to enforce the takedown, but do so anyway because the cost
of resisting bogus requests is too great a burden for most targets.
These practices interfere with the business models of those web sites,
costing jobs and, again, infringing on public access to information
and art.

Regarding public health and safety concerns: copyright is used to
restrict public access to the computer code that runs medical devices,
thus preventing any public audit of code on which patient's lives
depend.  See
for just one example.  This too is an infringement on public access
that I hope the IPEC will give serious attention to.

Here are specific strategies that IPEC could undertake itself,
recommend to other agencies, or recommend to the legislature:

  1) Require open, unfettered access to source code for all medical
     devices, in order for those devices to receive FDA approval.

  2) Impose statutory penalties for bogus takedown requests that abuse
     the takedown provisions of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.
     If an entity delivers an improper takedown request, and cannot
     demonstrate that it did so in good faith, then it should either
     lose the right to deliver any takedown requests (and this fact
     should be recorded in a list kept by the Register of Copyrights),
     or pay a penalty sufficiently severe to deter future abuses.

  3) IPEC should take the responsibility to accurately measure both
     the economic costs of overzealous copyright restrictions, and the
     incidence of censorship, suppression, and credible threats to
     public safety resulting from abuses of copyright law.

     IPEC should never rely on figures gathered by holders of
     copyright monopolies, as those figures have historically been
     methodologically suspect and extremely inflated (as when the
     record industry counts illegally downloaded songs as "costing"
     the industry the same price as those songs sold on a retail CD).
     Common sense indicates that IPEC cannot outsource this research.

  4) Treat attribution separately from copyright.  Attribution should
     really fall in the domain of trademark law, which is also within
     IPEC's purview, but which is unrelated to copyright.  The
     current conflation of attribution with restrictions on
     distribution causes much confusion in public policy debates.

  5) Likewise, treat counterfeiting separately from unauthorized
     copying.  The U.S. has an unfortunate history of conflating these
     unrelated issues, for example through its participation in the
     Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA), whose very name
     undeservedly tars unauthorized copying with the same brush as
     counterfeiting.  Counterfeiting, whether of currency or trade
     goods, is simply fraud, because it involves lying about the
     provenance or uniqueness of the counterfeited item.  Unauthorized
     copying, by contrast, is not fraud; it is merely unauthorized.

  6) Most importantly, IPEC should phrase its solicitations for
     comments without bias in favor of a particular outcome.  For
     example, the solicitation recently sent by Thomas L. Stoll from
     your office said: "Explain why copyright is critical to you
     as a commercial artist, how infringement affects you, and what
     the U.S. government can do to better protect the rights of
     American artists."

     That is putting the answer before the question.  There are many
     artists for whom copyright is not critical, and who are in fact
     mainly hampered by its restrictions.  If IPEC does not solicit
     their input too, it will have an inaccurate picture of the
     effects of copyright.

Thank you,
-Karl Fogel
 P.O. Box 20165
 Stanford, CA  94309-0165
 +1 (312) 772-2726

Thanks to Public Knowledge for their post drawing attention to this public comment period, and also to reader Mark Ashworth, who wrote us independently about it.

Question Copyright welcomes two new members: legal interns Kat Walsh and Victor Cohen, who will be working with our counsel Karen Sandler.

Victor is a third-year student at Brooklyn Law School, and has worked with the Brooklyn Law Incubator and Policy (BLIP) Clinic helping to defend artists against copyright infringement suits. Kat is in her last semester at the George Mason University law school, focusing on copyrights, patents, and trademarks, and is currently the Executive Secretary of the Wikimedia Foundation, where she has been a board member since 2006.

You’ll see their names appear more and more here in the coming months, as they take a hand in current and upcoming projects. Welcome, Kat and Victor!

Filmmaker Marine Lormant Sebag has released The Revolution Will Be Animated, a twenty-minute documentary presenting multiple viewpoints on copyright in the digital age, focusing on Nina Paley, author of Sita Sings the Blues and now Artist-in-Residence at It’s very well-made, and includes some of the best selections of Nina Paley speaking to be found anywhere. Paley talks about how she ran into copyright restrictions herself, her decision to release her own film under a free license, and her experiences since taking the plunge into the audience-distribution model. The contrasting segments with well-known animator Bill Plympton (who continues to distribute his work under traditional copyright restrictions) are also worth a close look: his belief in the monopoly system is clear, and he says Paley simply made “a big mistake” in using music without first arranging permission.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but: what have we come to when an artist like Bill Plympton can say with a straight face that people should get permission to use music? One could hardly make a better case for radical copyright reform than his own words.

The Revolution Will Be Animated is itself released under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License. Spread the word.

Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts

We are pleased to announce that the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts has given their 2009 Wynn Kramarsky Freedom of Artistic Expression Award to our Minute Memes animation project. The award comes with a grant of $30,000 USD, to fund the creation of the first three memes (one of which is already available in draft form).

We thank the Andy Warhol Foundation for their support, and for their recognition of copyright’s effects on freedom of expression. Our application to the Foundation focused on this point:

The Minute Memes project is a series of one-minute animated videos about copyright restrictions and artistic freedom, to be made by award-winning graphic artist and animator Nina Paley — author of the film “Sita Sings the Blues”, adjunct faculty at Parsons The New School For Design in New York City (teaching Visual Narrative), 2006 Guggenheim Fellow, and Artist in Residence at

The Minute Memes are a response to widely-available videos and other materials from the copyright industry (see reference [1]), in which the message is that copyright is a natural and absolute property right that trumps freedom of expression and people’s ability to share and reimagine the culture around them. The Minute Memes will counteract this through visual storytelling, backed by still-image and written supplementary materials, to show how artists and audiences can thrive in a more permissive, less monopolistic environment than the one envisioned by the current copyright system.

The Minute Memes will offer an aesthetically engaging and intellectually consistent framework for considering copyright’s restrictive effects. Step by step, the series will build a new frame of reference to supplant received rhetoric about copyright — received rhetoric such as the notion of “balancing” the needs of creators and the public, which assumes that the two are in opposition; the idea that copying is a form of stealing; the idea that control over copies must be bound up with attribution; etc. We have already seen anecdotal evidence that there is a need for the Minute Memes; for example, see [2].

This grant from the Andy Warhol Foundation is also a kind of seed funding for the entire project, which will be a series of twelve or more memes (see the project page for details). We are actively seeking funding for the other memes, as well as for other projects that question and reframe copyright restrictions. If you are interested in supporting our work, or know someone who might be, please contact us or donate.

Sita Sings the Blues

Sita Sings the Blues will have a week-long run in New York City’s IFC Film Center, December 25th – 31st! January 5th! January 26

This is was a full theatrical run, with 7-8 screenings a day. The filmmaker, Nina Paley will be doing Q&A after the 8:25pm shows most nights. On Monday, Dec. 28th, the conversation will be about the film’s free distribution model and the free culture movement.

It’s kind of unbelieveable that this thing has been extended for 5 weeks. Granted, it’s down to just one show a day now. But we only thought it would run one week, so this run has exceeded everyone’s expectations.

Tickets are available online. Here’s a show schedule (click on the time to purchase tickets for that show):

Woo! New showtimes – Click on the time to purchase tickets for a screening.

Nina says, “I’m doing Q and A’s tonight and tomorrow after the 8:30ish shows, then Friday and Saturday after the 4:40pm shows. Then I might take a little break, who knows.” no more Q and A’s – they were fun for the first 3 weeks though!

IFC Film Center has beautiful screens and is located at 323 Sixth Avenue at West Third Street in the West Village, right at the W. 4th St. subway station (A, C, E, B, D, F, & V subway lines).

Sita Sings the Blues is a terrific film; it won all those awards for a reason. Please tell all your New York friends — let’s pack the house!

Sita Sings the Blues

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Copying Is Not Theft is the first meme in our Minute Memes series and was supported by a grant from The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts.

Animation, lyrics, and tune by Nina Paley. Music arranged by Nik Phelps; vocals by Connie Champagne. Released under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 license.

In addition to YouTube, we’ve also uploaded it to the Internet Archive, where you can not only play it but also download the entire video in various formats:

Just The Music:



Other Arrangements

Before we released this final version, we put up a draft version with a “scratch” track in which Nina Paley herself sang the tune, and asked others to do their own arrangements. The comments below link to some of the responses. The remixing doesn’t have to stop now, of course. In free culture, there’s no such thing as “a final version”, there’s only “our final version” — just because it’s final for us doesn’t mean it’s final for you. Any interested musicians/sound designers can re-release the whole thing with their own tracks and appropriate credits. Just add and remove sound credits as needed. The fonts are Gill Sans and Gill Sans Ultra Bold. Be sure to keep the CC-BY-SA symbols on all the credits — you’ll be releasing your modifications under the same license.


Copying is not theft. Stealing a thing leaves one less left Copying it makes one thing more; that’s what copying’s for. Copying is not theft. If I copy yours you have it too One for me and one for you That’s what copies can do If I steal your bicycle you have to take the bus, but if I just copy it there’s one for each of us! Making more of a thing, that is what we call “copying” Sharing ideas with everyone That’s why copying is FUN!

This track is 90 (or 180) beats per minute. The animation is 24 frames per second, with one beat every 8 frames.

There’s a great video of Nina Paley singing the song at a DIY conference — maybe worth watching to get a sense of how she hears the song in her head:

A real standout among the arrangements is this punk-surrealist remash by Norman Szabo:

copybunny floats in the clouds

Public Knowledge (Logo)

We Are Creators Too (Video)

Art Brodsky of Public Knowledge interviewed Nina Paley about copyright restrictions and her experiences trying to get her film Sita Sings the Blues past the copyright gatekeepers. The original interview is at “We Are Creators Too. Part 1 of 4. Today, Nina Paley’s Story”, part of the PK TV Series. We had it transcribed:

Art Brodsky: So this is Art Brodsky from Public Knowledge. We’re here with Nina Paley, who created a fabulous film called Sita Sings the Blues, which Roger Ebert raved about, and you can watch online but, unfortunately, not in a movie theater.

Nina Paley: No, no, you can watch it in a movie theater.

Art Brodsky: Oh, we can? Where?

Nina Paley: Yes.

Art Brodsky: Oh, good! Catch us up with what’s going on.

Nina Paley: Okay, so it’s having a very limited theatrical release. It’s legal. It’s totally legal, and there’s some confusion as to why I released it under the Creative Commons Share Alike license. If I had not paid off the licensors  —  that’s a polite way to refer to them, the “licensors”  —  it would not have been legal for me to offer the film for free download. I could have gone to jail for five years even for giving away for free.

It still would have been copyright infringement. So I’m not giving it away for free in order to not pay the licensing fees. I had to pay the fees in order to do that. Having done that, it’s completely legal, and because it’s completely legal, it’s like, well, I’ve got 35-millimeter prints, I’ll show them in cinemas! So it’s having an art house release, a very slow, gradual and unadvertised art house release.

Art Brodsky: So let’s back up a little bit. You became known as much for the quality of the film, which is fabulous, with your own animation and the Indonesian shadow puppets or shadow figures and the Indian stuff, as for the copyright issues that you encountered, and this is because you used some music from 1927. Is that right?

Nina Paley: Yes, 1927, 1928. Annette Hanshaw, the recordings of which are in the public domain everywhere in the world except possibly New York State, so at some point I may have to ban the film in New York State. We’ll see how that goes, but I figure most of the world is outside of New York State. And, of course, the real problem was the songs, the lyrics that underlie the recordings.

Art Brodsky: Right. The recordings are [out of copyright], but you ran into this thing called sync rights.

Nina Paley: Yes, sync licenses. I had thought naïvely  —  granted, naïve  —  that because covers  —  there was no  —  I guess I had been thinking like these songs are available as audio. Like lots of people have recorded them, so I was thinking, “Well, the compositions and lyrics, that can’t be that difficult to use.” What I didn’t know was that it’s legal to release them on albums, it’s legal to release the sound, but once you put a picture to that, that’s not legal anymore and that’s not regulated by the government, and the licensors are free to charge anything they want. And they did their best, you know. They came up with a number, $220,000.00 approximately. That was their estimate. That’s their like little, tiny, independent feature filmmaker amount, and I couldn’t afford it.

Art Brodsky: So what eventually happened with that?

Nina Paley: I should mention all this went through intermediaries because they wouldn’t actually talk to me directly. They would  —  they only have time to  —  they’re very busy because the system is  —  it’s a crazy system, right? (Laughter) Like you need  —  everybody has to ask you permission. There’s only so much time to grant permission, so they don’t have time to talk to everybody who comes to them. They only make time to talk to paid professionals that they have relationships with, so I had to pay a lawyer at first to talk to them, and I ran out of money on that, and…

Art Brodsky: Who is the “them?”

Nina Paley: Warner/Chappell, Sony… There’s a whole list at Sita’s  — 

Art Brodsky: Yeah, on your Web site you list all the licenses that you had to get, which is quite amazing.

Nina Paley: Yeah. Actually, why don’t I just go there since we’re all here? Hang on a second. Okay, so the great question of who owns culture. Warner/Chappell, the biggest one. I can even tell you  —  I might allow  —  no, I think. That’s the thing. Like I’m not supposed to  —  I got these contracts and one of the terms of the contracts is you’re not allowed to reveal the terms of the contracts.

Art Brodsky: Ah, or else they’d have to kill you.

Nina Paley: Well, the thing is you’re supposed to  —  you must reveal the terms of the contracts to the distributor, but you’re not supposed to reveal them to anybody else, but the thing is the public is my distributor. So I have to reveal the terms of the contract to the people who are distributing my film, which is everyone, especially because if they want to sell DVDs, they have to pay these extra licenses. I want to make sure that they get paid, right? I mean I have to comply with the law. That’s the law. I signed a thing that said they’re gonna get paid, so I have to let people know how much to pay these corporations if they want to sell Sita DVDs. But, anyway, I can tell you the licensors are mostly Warner/Chappell, EMI Music Publishing, Sony ATV Music Publishing, Songwriter’s Guild of America, Williamson Music, Cromwell Music, Memory Lane Music and Bug Music. Most of it is held by Warner/Chappell, Sony, Williamson. Yeah, those are the ones.

Art Brodsky: And those are for the songs from 1927 which should be in the public domain.

Nina Paley: Yeah. They were supposed to be in the public domain at the very, very latest by the ’80s, but they didn’t quite make it. If they had been from 1922, it would have been okay, but they just  —  Congress just keeps extending copyright terms, and this is what happens and mostly, you know, one of the obvious results of this is that Annette Hanshaw’s music has become extremely obscure and many people had never heard her songs until they saw this film, which is remarkable, and the only explanation for it is copyright.

[musical interlude]

Nina Paley: And I should even mention that the CDs that have been released of her music all come from outside the United States, because no American audio distributor would want to deal with releasing something that couldn’t be sold in New York State. Maybe. They just don’t want to deal with it. So every other country in the world has more access to American cultural heritage than Americans and especially New Yorkers.

Art Brodsky: Yeah. Well, you were warned off of doing music in your film originally, right?

Nina Paley: Yeah. I mean it’s  —  the people in film, they just don’t want to deal with this. It’s like it’s such a mess, and you can put all this work into a film and then have it be illegal and most people respond to this climate by just  —  it’s like just don’t go there. Like don’t touch this. Just don’t. There’s this big gap in music starting in 1923. (Laughter) It’s just not gonna show up in films, certainly not by independent artists. Giant companies can use it. In fact, I was really struck when I was watching Wall-E, the Pixar Disney film, they had these clips from “Hello, Dolly.” And, of course, they can do that ’cause they have, you know, millions and millions of dollars and that’s what it costs. But independents like me, there’s no way we’re gonna be able to do stuff like that.

Art Brodsky: Yeah, that was one of the things that struck me. I was reading one of the interviews that you did and the first comment was, “She should have checked her rights.”

Nina Paley: Yeah.

Art Brodsky: Is there a limit to like one per  —  and you said you’d had a whole team of law students and professors doing this for months, right?

Nina Paley: Yeah, for years actually. I was doing  —  you know, I was doing my best. It’s like you’re not supposed to make a film unless you have millions of dollars to start with, like an enormous part of your budget is supposed to be just legal, which is a real disincentive for independent artists to make film. And we’re in this freaky time where suddenly the technology has become cheap enough and powerful enough so that independents, just ordinary people like me, can make films, but we’re not supposed to. Like there’s this whole legal thing that is supposed to keep us out, and so the technology is beginning to let us in, but the legal system is not.

Art Brodsky: So what has to happen for the legal system to catch up to the technology?

Nina Paley: There are so many things. I mean I think one very simple thing that would help a lot would be to annul these copyright extensions. Copyright was just never supposed to last this long, and the result of it is that you can only comment on or include our shared culture, and the thing is culture builds on culture. It’s a living thing. It’s a lineage. It’s a heritage. And what these copyright extensions have done is made it only legal for the very, very rich to comment on culture. If you have enough money, yeah, you can, you know, put just about anything in your film. If you don’t, you can’t. And so one great thing to do would just be to  —  it’s even a really conservative thing to do  —  just maintain copyrights according to the terms that the works were created in.

I mean another thing is that it’s entirely possible that copyright extensions are violating artists’ moral rights, if they have any. It’s quite likely that a lot of the people that created these works in the ’20s and onwards, when they were signing over the rights, which they had to do in order to be published, they knew that the terms were only 28 years and so that could have been a comfort to them. Like, “Okay, I have to, you know, sign this over to a corporation, but it’s only gonna be 28 years and after 28 years, people can sing my song.”

And then, of course, if the corporation extended that then that would be 56 years and then, you know, with these like unlimited extensions it means never. So it’s entirely possible that had artists known that they wouldn’t have done this or, you know, there’s no way to get the consent of the artists from history to say, “Is it okay if we lock up your work forever and ever?” That really might not have been all right with them.

Art Brodsky: One of the items I read about is that your next project, speaking of copyright, after Sita was going to be some sort of project on copyright and copyright fundamentalism.

Nina Paley: Yes.

Art Brodsky: Tell us about it.

Nina Paley: Here. Here’s my…

[shows her shirt, which says “©ensorship” on the front]

Ta-da! (Laughter) That’s what I think of copyright. (Laughter) Yes, the Minute Memes. and I wrote out little descriptions of 12 of these little shorts, each of which will have a little song and cartoon, and they each deal with a fundamental aspect, or concept, related really to freedom of speech. They’re not specifically about copyright. They’re about freedom of speech.

Now copyright happens to be the main form of censorship in the West, so if you are concerned about freedom of speech, freedom of expression, you’re naturally gonna be dealing with these concepts that have to do with copyright that are misunderstood. And one of them is called “Copying Isn’t Theft.” And we aim to explain that copying isn’t theft, this radical concept that, yes, that is actually true. We hope to bring the laws of physics back into the discussion of copyrighting. That’s really what it is. The big media industries have been lobbying for so long. They have these massive propaganda campaigns that just say, “Copying is stealing. Copying is stealing. Copying is stealing.” And after enough years, people just go, “Copying is stealing.” It’s not stealing! It’s making another of something. It’s adding; it’s not subtracting (laughter). Copying is good. And I have a little song about that which I’m sure you’re gonna
ask me to sing…

Art Brodsky: Yes. We couldn’t get through this without it, Nina. You know that.

Nina Paley: All right. I’ll try to sing. I’m  —  as you can tell, I’m coughing.


Copying isn’t theft.
Stealing a thing means one less left.
Copying it makes one thing more.
That’s what copying’s for.

Copying isn’t theft.
If I copy yours, you have it, too.
One for me and one for you
That’s what copies can do.

If I steal your bicycle,
you have to take the bus;
but if I just copy it,
there’s one for each of us.

Making more of a thing,
that is what we call copying.
Sharing ideas with everyone,
that’s why copying is fun!

Art Brodsky: Fabulous, fabulous.

Nina Paley: Yes, we need to have this professionally recorded and arranged and  — 

Art Brodsky: And licensed.

Nina Paley: Hopefully  —  yeah, licensed. (Laughter)

Nina Paley: Yeah, it needs to be licensed. It needs to be ShareAlike-licensed.

[intermission animation]

Art Brodsky: Here’s the question. I mean we’re start… we touched on this. You know, copyright doesn’t seem to benefit you at all. It benefits the studios and the big moguls and everything but, you know, you seem to not have any benefit, and you’re theoretically one of the people that’s supposed to be protected by it, right?

Nina Paley: Right. And people keep saying, “Oh, well, copyright, it just comes down to money.” But it doesn’t. It comes down to control. The big studios are not making more money. I don’t think so. I don’t think so  —  I think that the total wealth is limited by copyright. What it does do for big studios, as I mentioned before, is it eliminates competition. When you have a system where only the extremely wealthy can create art or create media, then you shut out this huge number, this vast number of people that now have access to the technology to make that stuff. That’s what it does. It simply makes it not possible for independents to participate in mass culture.

Art Brodsky: Have you come across the orphan works issue in doing either your strips or your cartoons or other things?

Nina Paley: I know about it and because I’m a cartoonist, I know  —  you know, I hear from a lot of cartoonists who are such copyright fundamentalists for the most part. Which is really interesting  —  I think it’s because simply artists are vulnerable and terrified, and we’ve been told for so long that this is our source of power, we  —  you know, of course we want to believe that. We want to believe that we have this kind of power to tell other people what to do, but what we forget is that you need incredibly expensive lawyers. And I actually know small artists that take this gleeful joy in suing someone smaller than them. Like they find like some tiny, tiny little operator, you know, and it’s like, “Ha, ha, I sued them. I got them.” I know an animator who apparently  —  on the streets of New York someone was selling pirated DVDs of his film, and he just grabbed them all off of his table, and he was so proud of himself, you know, so proud of taking the day’s income away from this immigrant (laughter) this poor guy. But, you know, the seller was smaller than him, less powerful than him.

Art Brodsky: Yeah. When you did your shadow figures, were those ones you made up by yourself or were they from someplace else?

Nina Paley: Those are derivative works. Those were derived from designs of existing shadow puppets, traditional shadow puppets that I found in books and photographs and online and whatnot.

Art Brodsky: So you didn’t get into any trouble for those.

Nina Paley: Not yet. I could be, you know. It’s very unlikely. The designs are really traditional, so they’re not  —  they’re  —  it’s very unlikely that the copyrights are registered. On the other hand, I know that the World Intellectual Property Organization is trying to basically privatize all culture, that if we say, “Well, some stuff’s owned and some stuff’s not,” then it’s like, “Oh, well, the problem is that some stuff isn’t owned, so let’s just privatize absolutely everything and how we distribute that.” Well, we won’t… maybe there’ll be some problems there (laughter). We’ll probably distribute it the same way we’ve distributed the  —  you know, all the profits that come from corporate industrialization. (Laughter) We’ll just use that system.

Art Brodsky: Sure. Can we have a copyright-less world, I mean without it at all?

Nina Paley: We did. We did for the entire history of humankind. You know, many  —  most works, most like great works, that people refer to all the time were created, amazingly, without copyright! Beethoven worked without copyright, Bach, you know, like Mozart, Michelangelo… There was no copyright then. And yet somehow they created these brilliant works. How did they do it? They couldn’t do it today. And another thing about these brilliant works is that they’re not disconnected from the culture around them. They all are of their time. You know, perspective was around before Michelangelo. He didn’t invent that. You know, if you look at the whole history of art, there is a kind of evolution to it. You don’t have like cave paintings one day and then Michelangelo the next day. There’s this whole like gradual change in art. I mean it comes and goes. Cultures rise and fall, but artists are actually connected to the culture around them and they learn from other artists.

Art Brodsky: And with no entertainment lawyers in the middle to screw things up.

Nina Paley: Apparently not. Now people can say like, “Oh, well, that was when there were patrons or, you know, then there was the church.” The fact is that there… this gets like really complicated. I recommend reading the book “The Gift” by Lewis Hyde, even though unfortunately it’s copyrighted; hopefully he’ll come around. But artists historically and even currently have been supported by many, many means other than copyright and modern artists, except for perhaps the top, you know, one-half of 1 percent primarily are supported by means other than royalties.

In fact almost every artist I know is supported by some means other than royalties, and I looked at my entire career and realized I was not living  —  you know, that royalties amounted to almost nothing of the money I got. It was mostly commissions, grants, you know, work for hire, which I know is a terrible thing, but most artists do it. And it’s funny that copyright actually  —  copyright in a way makes even more people do work for hire, like they believe that  —  it’s like, “Oh, you shouldn’t do work for hire. You should sell your rights.” That’s the same thing. It’s exactly the same thing, licensing your  —  the rights to your work for a really long period of time. It’s the same thing as doing work for hire. You know, you can’t sell to someone else, you can’t let anybody else use it, you can’t share it, you can’t allow people to share it. That’s work for hire, you know. Your stuff is owned.

Art Brodsky: Well, Nina, thanks very much for taking the time to talk with us today. This has been a fabulous discussion, and I threatened when I saw you in New York to get you involved in stuff down here and this is the first step, but there will be more.

Nina Paley: Okay, I’ll come on down and testify. You can see I like to rant. I can take lessons or something.

Art Brodsky: You do. You can rant very well. We all appreciate that.

Nina Paley: (Laughter) I can also be very calm and sweet and stuff, but not when it comes to copyright.

Art Brodsky: Oh, but we wouldn’t want that.

Nina Paley: Okay, good. Okay, good.

Art Brodsky: You gotta show the artistic passion that’s in there for the films and everything.

Nina Paley: (Laughter) Yeah, I’m very passionate. Thanks very much, Art.

Art Brodsky: Bye.