Copying Is Not Theft (Minute Meme #1)

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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

43 Comments on "Copying Is Not Theft (Minute Meme #1)"

  1. What the? I get the meaning of the catchy little ditty — copying not harming the owner. The implication (or my inference) that copying is not harmful is too much of a reach. See, you’re only looking at it from the point of view of the consumer, who views the thing being copied as the thing owned. The law is about the point of view of the content creators, who view the right to distribute the thing being copied as the thing owned. Handing somebody a copy of something — say, a movie — decreases the likelihood that that person will buy that thing. It’s not a straight correlation — the recipient may never have purchased that thing anyway, or perhaps receipt of the copied work may actually inspire the recipient to go purchase the original — but it’s probably safe to say that overall, recipients of copies will be less likely to make purchases of originals. Therefore, the right to distribute is harmed, because the audience is decreased. So, from the point of view of the content creators (the group whom copyright law was created to protect), copying does in fact equal harm. The copiers are stealing the right to distribution.Bias disclaimer: I fall more on the fair-use side of the argument than the DRM side, but I think that this argument is too weak to use to impugn existing copyrights.

  2. The words and pictures are very simple: copying is not theft. Anything else you find in the cartoon, you put there yourself. Thus proving “consuming” art is a highly creative act.

    1. Heh, but without ‘creatively listening‘ to it, one thing it makes reasonably clear is that it mixes musical CD’s with bycicles. As if they’ve never heard of illegal distribution, being actual theft, and ironically licensed the video itself under a creative commons attribution and non-commercial right of distribution.

      1. You very creatively imagined “non commercial” there. Read the license, please. It’s Share-Alike, all are welcome to sell copies.

        We don’t use non-commercial licenses because they’re un-free and monopolistic, hardly different from copyright.

  3. Delightful song and animation. Could you please post a version in a patent-free video format like Ogg Theora?As it stands we can legally copy this file as much as we like, but we can’t play it without either breaking patent law or surrendering our freedom to proprietary software.

  4. I love the video Nina.  I wish I knew something about music and could help out!  Thanks for all the hard work.  We’re all looking forward to Minute Meme #2, etc.

  5. I love the video Nina.  I wish I knew something about music and could help out!  Thanks for all the hard work.  We’re all looking forward to Minute Meme #2, etc.

    1. This remains my favorite of the remixes I’ve seen so far. I frankly didn’t think Nina’s voice recording would work that well, but after you’ve reprocessed it, it sounds pretty good (sounds like you added some reverb, which helps a lot).

      The only thing that really bothers me about it is that you didn’t synch anything to the bunny when he bursts through the FBI warning. I’m not sure what he’s supposed to be doing, but his mouth is moving. Seems like it ought to just be “hey!” or something like that, but I never figured out what it should be.

      I just noticed that YouTube has an “HD” option, which will probably give me a better quality video, but I was going to ask if you’d considered uploading an NTSC/DVD quality video to Internet Archive or some place similar?

      I’m currently making a DVD ISO from some of Nina Paley’s earlier work (“NinaVision”), and I used a version of this video as the “Menu Intro” video (it plays before the video — the idea is that that’s where a proprietary DVD might place an FBI warning). There were some noticeable transcoding artifacts though, presumably due to using a low-quality video source — it would be nice to work with higher quality video.

      (I will try with the “HD” flv video from YouTube and see if it gives me better results, though).

  6. Thank You so much for making this! I LOVE the song.It’s the best thing I’ve heard in SOOO long.I had to do music-and-sound to it (oh yeah, added a little voice too)….I started as soon as I first saw it, and ended up staying up all night to finish.SEE WHAT I DID:   I’d love to work with you (more directly) at some point in the future too. I do animate as well. Yours is absolutely Lovely!You’re an incredible artist. Keep up the good work!All the Best,Michael Rosen (idiom Creak)Samplistic

  7. I love it! Can’t use it as the “official” meme, as it’s not in synch and goes off on a very entertaining tangent, but I still love it. 5 stars!

  8. Hey there, Nina!  Yeah, it was fun to do and I’m glad you like it! Shame you can’t use it as the official meme, but, well, it will still be there if you change your mind. 🙂

  9. I’ve tweaked the comment input form to be less broken. It’s still not as easy to use as I’d like, but I’m waiting for Drupal to get a really smooth WYSIWYG form editor, sigh (I’ve literally tried them all now, and none quite do the job. It’s apparently a hard problem).

  10. French subtitle :

    00:00:01,350 –> 00:00:04,800
    Copier ce n’est pas du vol.

    00:00:06,000 –> 00:00:08,500
    Copier ce n’est pas du vol.

    00:00:08,750 –> 00:00:11,500
    Voler c’est léser quelqu’un

    00:00:11,800 –> 00:00:14,000
    Copier c’est crée une chose en plus;

    00:00:14,250 –> 00:00:16,500
    c’est pourquoi nous copions.

    00:00:16,900 –> 00:00:19,000
    Copier ce n’est pas du vol.

    00:00:19,250 –> 00:00:22,000
    Si je copie le tien, tu l’auras encore

    00:00:22,200 –> 00:00:24,750
    Un pour moi et un pour toi

    00:00:24,700 –> 00:00:27,000
    C’est ce que la copie peut faire

    00:00:27,500 –> 00:00:29,700
    Si je vole ton vélo

    00:00:29,750 –> 00:00:32,000
    Tu dois prendre le bus,

    00:00:32,250 –> 00:00:34,900
    mais si je le copie juste

    00:00:34,900 –> 00:00:37,100
    il y en a un pour chacun de nous !

    00:00:38,000 –> 00:00:40,300
    Crée plus de quelque chose,

    00:00:40,300 –> 00:00:43,300
    C’est ce que l’on appelle “copier”

    00:00:43,500 –> 00:00:45,700
    Partagez ses idées avec tous

    00:00:46,000 –> 00:00:48,000
    C’est pourquoi copier,

    00:00:48,000 –> 00:00:50,500
    est AMUSANT !

  11. Hi Nina !

    It’s Tzitzimitl from the day of free cultures in Bordeaux

    I love your little song and I’m trying to help it to be known by french musicians and CC supporters.

    To do that I uploaded it to dailymotion (more used by french people than youtube and more CC friendly as long as I know) and I made a few sound designs with it… more is coming.

    Here’s a piano version :

    And a 8 bits version :

    Here’s the videos in dailymotion :

    Bye !


  12. People who create works deserve to be compensated – and making a “copy” is taking away their right to be compensated.  You can’t live on Donations.

    I am PRO (Very PRO) Fair-use and Copyright reform as well as a BIG supporter of the “Free Orphan Copyright” movement 🙂

  13. Hi Nina.  This track I’m going to link you to isn’t a mix of “Copying…” but does contain samples of your vocals to create the percussion.  The vocals were cut to make the hi-hats and other various “Sss” sounds you hear throughout the track. During the repetitive drumming section you will hear some “aaaaaaaaah” vocals slowly fading in. That’s your voice during the “Fuuuuuun” part of “Copying…”. All the other samples I used for this mix are listed in the video’s info section.

    The only problem that I have with this mix is the bass drums.  When I mixed this on my music computer, the drums sounded great.  But when I listened to it on my laptop, they didn’t sound loud enough.  It’s probably just differences in both computers’ sound settings, but I’m not sure.  I hope you enjoyed the way I mixed in your vocals. 

  14. I’m sure the manufacturer of the bicycle in the cartoon will be glad that making a copy of the bicycle is so easy. This will free him from the burden of actually manufacturing and selling bicycles which used to be a high-paid technical position. User-generated copying saved him just like it saved the music industry.

  15. >I’m sure the manufacturer of the bicycle in the cartoon will be glad that making a copy of the bicycle is so easy.


    Whoever enters into the business of manufacturing cartoon bicycle is heading for bankrupcy.


    Nina or else : Where can I find the soundtrack (I want to play it as mp3) ? I usually can do it myself, but my video editor does not recognize the format (I know, I should use better softwares…)

  16. Sure, it isn’t theft, but the bicycle manufacturer is going to stop manufacturing bikes now that the bike can be duplicated by anyone.  Only one person needs to buy one, and then everyone else can get one for free.  That means that the creator of the product will stop making money, and therefore stop making further innovations in bicycle technology.


    There are problems with both sides of this arguement.  The far right wing side is what we have now, and while it doesn’t work perfectly, it works.  However, it does hurt non-corporate innovation and art.


    The far left socialistic view that this video promotes is even worse though.  If there are no profits or benefits for doing the work, there is no motivation.  If there is no motivation, there is no innovation.  Think about it.  What kind of societies have created the greatest advancements in science, art, human rights, and living conditions?  Certainly not socialist societies.  In socialist and communist countries, people just aren’t motivated enough to do the extra work that benefits society, and end up being forced to work by their government.  Culture stagnates, and these societies die slow and painful deaths.


    I’m not saying that copyright law does not need some sweeping reforms, but we need to dismiss childish and completely absurd notions like the one promoted in this stupid video as well, because they are completely unrealistic.

    1. I don’t think this is a right vs left issue, insofar as those terms mean anything at all.

      It is a freedom-of-expression and freedom-of-communications issue.  If you’re going to claim that without copyright monopolies people won’t create new works, there needs to be some evidence to back that up.  History shows otherwise, after all.  Copyright is a relatively recent invention — it was a regulatory reaction to the printing press.  Artists did not ask for it, and they created before it existed.  There are countless demonstrations of its suppressive effects; this web site links to some of those examples.  Copyright subsidizes distribution, not creation.

      Is there any actual evidence, beyond simply taking it as an article of faith, that copyright is necessary to subsidize creation?

  17. I continue to be fascinated by the reactive responses to this video which promotes a very simple and true fact. Copying is never “theft” or “stealing”.

    That doesn’t mean it’s never _harmful_. Obviously if the only revenue model that artists have is selling copies of their work, then flooding the market is damaging to them, and they will be unable to produce more work.

    But this is a _second order_ effect.  It’s only operative if it becomes a social norm — lots of people have to make copies to flood the market and eliminate revenue for the artist.

    The _first order_ effect of copying is positive — two people have the work instead of one. This is terrific if you want to share an idea. It’d be awesome if we could do this with bicycles and other physical needs (ignoring for the moment another second order problem, which is landfills), and it _is_ awesome that we can do this with intellectual works. This is a social benefit that can make the world a much better place.

    “Stealing” on the other hand, is bad even in the _first order_: it directly deprives someone of property which they may need. That’s why it’s a bad metaphor.

    Trying to equate the two constitutes a serious attempt to pull the wool over our eyes, and it’s important to make this distinction.

    Once you clear that up, THEN you can have a conversation about whether those second order problems obviate the value of the first order benefit of copying. And more importantly, you can start asking a much more important question — how come the only way artists can get paid is by selling copies? That’s a losing business model, and one which depends on depriving society of a great benefit.

    But if you don’t first realize that copying is basically a good thing, then you never even realize the importance of changing this model.

    That’s why the Minute Memes matter, and that’s why this one has to be the first.

    1. Just chiming in with a “me too”.  Terry’s point about how the first-order positive effects of copying are ignored, while the second-order harmful effects are emphasized, is right on & exactly what we’re trying to change.

  18. I think the problem is this…as soon as we became able to copy, u intrinsicly reduce the value of anything copyable but they havn’t reduced their prices to match this fact.

  19. Oh, please. Not every kind of work is innovative. There’s nothing innovating in printing identical copies. People who innovate today aren’t the CEOs, nor the accounting, nor the lawyers, nor conveyor belt fodder. Used to happen, rarely happens now.

    Right you are, if somebody invented a way to copy bikes at near-zero cost, the owner would have to lock the mass-producing factory (essentially, a crude and inefficient copying machine), throw the key away and seek fortune elsewhere. Bike designers, on the other hand, would still be required. More than that, with the mass production’s (essentially, copying) costs and restrictions lifted, they’d be able to create the bikes of their dreams: whatever they conceived of would only have to be put together once, the magical copying machine taking care of the rest. Alternatively, they’d be able to create the bike of someone else’s dreams, and get paid. Duplication dies, but creativity stays.

    Now, commies. I was born in the USSR when it was strong and feared, and I witnessed its fall. And tell you what. It didn’t kick the bucket because nobody paid for uncreative physical work. On the contrary, the “working class” was not only hallowed as possessing divine powers, factory workers were actually paid much better than all those useless teachers, engineers, musicians, artists and the like. Duplication was all, creativity was nothing. For bike designers, this made it all but impossible to get their newly invented bike into production. There were plans. Plans to create copies. Neither novelty, nor demand mattered. Except for weapons, but bikes are no weapons. And that’s exactly what made Soviet Union the Feared crumble: worshiping duplication and giving creators no chances to create.

    If you want to see sovietisation today, get a job in a really large US corporation. The larger, the better. Same production plans, same concentration on copying, and same disrespect for the creative folks. And those corporations, too, die slow and painful deaths. Ever heard about DEC? Sun Microsystems? Gone, slowly and painfully, burying lots of creative work and innovations in their rotting.

    And just for the record. Even in the Soviet Union cops didn’t arrest teens for copying otherwise legal songs. Even in the Soviet Union you could board an airplane without a jail-style personal search.

    Choose sides wisely.



  20. The very idea that the bicycle innovation would stop once people don’t _buy_ them from the manufacturer is not entirely true. The innovator may still charge for a new design for anyone who wants one designed according to his needs. He may not get the same amount of money per design he’d get from the corporate manufacturer who’d sell it for profit. But he’d be working on more designs (for his living) … and there’d be more innovation. However unlikely, but if suppose, nobody wants a better bycycle (by paying) than what they already have … that’d be the point they probably don’t need that innovation in cycle anymore.

    With the ability to sell the bycicle .. there comes this gap between the designer and the customer. This gap is the reason why a serious innovator never gets a chance to showcase his designs to people who’d actually use it.

  21. Pay attention to all of those making a living and very motivated despite allowing (and even encouraging) others to make unlimited digital copies. Did you know that the best server software in the world generally speaking is open source software? The facts don’t agree with your claims.

    [To name but one creator,] Nina’s own experiences also completely disagree with your claims. She released Sita Sings the Blues CC-by-sa and has made a bunch more money that she was told she could make “even” if she had kept copyright restrictions in place.

    Strong copyrights restrictions favor corporate profits. Liberal restrictions (if any) favors author profits. The reason? Because authors generally don’t have the means to efficiently spread their works except by allowing many to copy and help them along. Fans also sympathize and want to help authors. Meanwhile, corporations have investments in channels that the typical author lacks, and “fans” of corporations are few and far between.

    As for communists states, we are not one and encouraging monopoly restrictions is generally a move away from healthy free markets.

  22. Houses and cars are expensive and not every person can buy it. Nevertheless, loan are created to support people in such kind of hard situations.

  23. Please upload the subtitles to the video on Youtube at !

    Providing srt subtitle files to download is great and I know what to do with them, but it’s too complicated when you just want to watch it online.

    YouTube supports srt subtitles perfectly. It will show for example spanish subtitles automatically if your browser is set to spanish language. But only the uploader (the Youtube user “questioncopyright”) can add subtitles to the video.