table in the Exhibit Hall.View of the Exhibit Hall from the table.

We’re at the Open Video Conference in New York City right now, and it’s terrific: a gathering of creative people who are dedicated to building freedom into both the technical and the legal infrastructure of the Internet. Today I heard a great talk by Prof. Gabriella Coleman of New York University: The Politics and Poetics of DeCSS, on the connection between computer code and legal theories of free speech, and how the kind of Internet we get depends in part on how that connection fares in courts.

If you’re at the conference, come stop by the table the exhibit hall. We’ve got shirts, stickers, DVDs, and more. The stickers are free, and they fit on a laptop — there’s even one for netbooks.

Saturday we’re on a panel (I say “we” because either Nina Paley or I will be a panelist, depending on logistics) at 5pm entitled “Who Owns Popular Culture? Remix and Fair-Use in the Age of Corporate Mass Media”:

Our shared popular culture is driven by Hollywood movies, television shows, video games and the latest musical hits. Due to its ubiquitous nature, it is entrenched in our everyday lives, becoming part of the language we speak to each other and also shaping how we see the world around us. Since pop culture is largely created, distributed and owned by a few major media corporations, copyright laws restrict its public use. Given the tight control of these powerful institutions, how can remixers, artists, educators, youtubers and filmmakers find ways to speak using our shared pop cultural language? How does fair-use intersect with copyright regarding our artistic rights to create, criticize and build on the past? This panel will attempt to demystify fair use and re-imagine what a truly public popular media culture might look like.

I’m looking forward to it a lot; the other panelists have all been doing very interesting work:

See the conference schedule for what else is happening Saturday.

Then on Sunday (the Hack Day), there’s a showing of Nina Paley’s film Sita Sings the Blues at 2pm in the Tishman auditorium at the conference venue, Vanderbilt Hall at New York University. Anyone can download the film, since it’s released under a totally free license, but it’s much better to see it on the big screen with a lot of other people. Come if you can; you’ll be glad you did.

Rick Falkvinge celebrating with Swedish Pirate Party after EU Parliament win.

Sweden’s Pirate Party has just won at least one seat in the European Parliament, and possibly two if Sweden’s delegation to the assembly expands (through ratification of the Lisbon treaty).

This is great news for European civil rights. The Pirate Party’s platform spells out the link between copyright restrictions, censorship, and surveillance. If the government is watching your downloads to make sure you don’t “pirate” anything, the crucial fact is: the government is watching your downloads. And when copyright law prevents information and culture from flowing freely, well, that’s censorship. You can’t enforce copyright restrictions without infringing on civil liberties. The Pirate Party gets this, and apparently a lot of voters in Sweden do too — thanks to the Pirate Party’s relentless campaigning on these ideas over the last few years.

Congratulations to the Party and to Rick Falkvinge, who has been working hard for this for a long, long time. The decisive popular lift came from the conviction in Sweden of four operators of the Pirate Bay filesharing site, but it was the Party’s careful preparation for this moment that allowed them to take advantage of it.

All creators get to decide what happens to our work. We can keep it secret, and not show it to anyone. We can keep it private, and limit access to private parties. Or we can make it public, by publishing it.

Once you’ve made a work public, it is public. So if you don’t want people sharing your work, please, please, keep it secret or private.

I’ve often wondered why “creators” (or corporations) get so upset when the public accesses their work, after they’ve made it public. If you can’t stand people looking at it without your permission, why not keep it locked up in a vault somewhere? No one’s forcing you to publish; why insist on doing so, and then claim to be victimized by your own audience?

The answer is that a work has little or no value unless it’s shared. The more people take it in, the more valuable it becomes. A work has no cultural value except what the audience gives it. In other words, A WORK’S VALUE COMES FROM THE AUDIENCE.

Sita Sings the Blues is tremendously valuable now, and its value increases every time someone watches it. Back when I finished the film in 2008, and hardly anyone knew about it, it wasn’t worth much. The very worst thing that can happen to a film is nobody sees it: that makes it worthless. Lots of people seeing the film make it valuable.

Artists make an enormous mistake when they believe a work’s value comes from themselves. Some of it comes from the artist. Most of it comes from the audience.

Most filmmakers get paid on the “front-end,” for their time (by investors, patrons, grants, etc.), and even with strict copyright and commercial distribution, make almost no royalties on the back-end. The audience isn’t paid for their time at all.

I contributed about 7,800 hours to making Sita. That’s a lot of time, and every hour I put into it makes the film more valuable. I conservatively estimate the audience has contributed at least 300,000 hours to Sita, probably a lot more. Every hour they put into it makes it more valuable too. They’ve put a lot more hours into it than I have, and I haven’t paid them a dime. Yet I enjoy attribution for the film, and all this value accrues to me! Sweet.

But if you still don’t believe that the value comes from the audience, and is instead inherent to the work itself, then by all means please keep your work safely locked away, and don’t publish it.

By Nina Paley and Karl Fogel

When the copyright industry lobbies for extensions to already-long copyright terms, they always present it as a way of giving the artists of the past their due — as a further protection of the “moral rights” that artists have in their creations.

But consider this: many artists of the past were forced to sign over their copyrights in order to work at all. They may have taken comfort in the fact that copyright would expire after a set time, and in knowing that people would eventually be able to share their work freely. Today, when copyright terms are continually extended, we should stop and wonder if these extensions go against the wishes of the works’ dead creators. Few artists of the 1920’s or 30’s had the option of saying, “I want people to share my work”, but they at least knew that copyrights would expire after 28 years — if the terms had been left alone, that is — and this may have made a temporary lockup more acceptable to them.

How many of those artists are rolling over in their graves now, as copyright is continually extended? Just because the Disney Corporation thinks copyright should be forever doesn’t mean the thousands of artists whose works are now locked up thought so, or would think so now. The fact that so many artists are adopting Creative Commons licenses today indicates that many artists believe otherwise. If artists have “moral rights” to their works, surely extending copyright terms without their consent violates those rights.

Content is an unlimited resource. People can now make perfect copies of digital content for free. That’s why they expect content to be free — because it is in fact free. That is GOOD.

Think of “content” — culture — as water. Where water flows, life flourishes.

content is free, like water in a river

Containers — objects like books, DVDs, hard drives, apparel, action figures, and prints — are not free. They are a limited resource. No one expects these objects to be free, and people voluntarily pay good money for them.

containers are not free

Think of “containers” — books, discs, hard drives — as jugs and vessels. These containers add utility to and increase the value of the water. If you can get water for free in the public river, great — that doesn’t reduce the value of vessels. Quite the contrary: when rivers flow, the utility and value of water vessels increases.

free vs not free; use the unlimited resource to sell the limited resource

Continuing this metaphor: copyright monopolies are an attempt to dam up and control all the rivers, reducing them to a trickle. When Big Media succeeds locking up culture, it’s like in closing off water: they get a stagnant pool that turns to poison. Fish die and mosquitoes swarm, because the water has no source to flow from nor destination to flow to.

a stagnant pool with mosquitos and fish corpses (That’s how we get things like this.)

Artists don’t “own” culture, but we do own our names (attribution). Any artist who has enjoyed a community of fans knows how the power in their name is generously granted by audiences. Our audiences want us to thrive. They want their money and support to reach us.

artist and audience

Therefore an artist’s cooperation with a merchandiser is valuable. A signed book is worth more than an unsigned one. Merchandisers who cooperate with artists — share revenue with them — get the blessing of both artist and audience and can sell more objects for more money.

publisher as exchange agent between artist and audience

Under the Creative Commons Share Alike license, Sita Sings the Blues-containing objects can be manufactured and sold by anyone without my permission. But whoever shares revenue with me gets my “creator endorsed mark” or signature, and gets my fans sent to the product (via community word-of-mouth and my web site).

the creator-endorsed mark

Competing products can nonetheless be sold without my endorsement. If they’re cheaper, of better quality, or more accessible, they might sell better than my endorsed products. Why shouldn’t they? Competition can be good. All the more incentive for any business I partner with to make their products high quality, reasonably priced and easily available. There’s no incentive to compete with a good product; if there’s a good affordable Sita Sings the Blues coffee table book or graphic novel, why should anyone bother publishing another? If they do, the competing book must have some important quality lacking in the first. If that competitor’s quality differential is so high it’s worth more than my endorsement, then good for them for doing something right.


Free Enterprise is Free Culture too.

Common Questions about Free Content:

Q. Why make a book when you can get the content free on the Internet?

A. Because there are limits to the Internet. You can’t touch it or smell it. Images are restricted to screen quality and may cause eyestrain.

straining to read a screen

Books have value as objects beyond the intellectual wealth they embody. They are portable, tactile, and invulnerable to power outages. Art books can have even more valuable attributes: glossy coatings, embossing, reflective and matte inks, paper textures, super-high resolutions. Books can be beautiful objects in their own right. Signed books are works of art. Books can have value as collector’s items, because they are LIMITED.

a beautiful book

Audiences seek a connection with creators. Even if the content is free, many fans desire a physical token of the work. They also want to support the artist. Merchandise — objects, like books, DVDs, apparel — acts as a medium to conduct these artist-audience transactions.

Q. Why make it free on the internet if it’s available as a book (or DVD, CD, etc.)?

A. Because if it’s free, it can spread. If it’s good, the audience will quote it, cite it, share it, review it, and promote it. Free accomplishes everything advertising does, except it’s good not evil, free not controlled, voluntarily shared not forced down throats. Instead of spending vast sums on crappy advertising to sell “content” you’ve locked up, just free the content and let it advertise itself. Use the unlimited resource to sell the limited resource.

Q. But even with the internet, I still have to advertise!

A. Maybe. Depends on what your content and how much time you have. If what you have is good, just give it time. “Viral” growth is exponential, but it can take a while. Or you can use advertising to artificially direct audience attention to something they wouldn’t care about otherwise. If the work is not good, interest will drop off when advertising does.

graph comparing free culture growth with restricted culture growth

That’s our vision of Free. It’s not communism. It’s not capitalism as we know it. It’s definitely not monopolies. It is Free Culture, and Free Enterprise.



A few days ago, we asked musicians to do their own arrangements of Nina Paley’s song “Copying Isn’t Theft”. The response has been great! We’ll try to keep this list of remixes and rearrangements up-to-date as they come in.

First, Nina’s original:

Nina Sings

Others’ versions below…

From C. Michael Pilato, a complete re-imagining of the song:

C. Michael Pilato Rocking Out

From The Matthew Show:

The Matthew Show

From Jonathan Mann:

From Christian Cosas:

… who also made sheet music for his version!

From Daphné Kauffmann, we have a “soft” version:

A “hard” version:

And a French version (!):

From SamECircle:

One of our upcoming projects is the Minute Memes video series (we’re hunting down funding for that and other things right now — leads welcome). Nina Paley, award-winning animator of Sita Sings the Blues, wanted her next work after Sita to be about copyright restrictions and censorship, and hit on the idea of “Minute Memes”: short, viral videos that use visual storytelling to spread truly revolutionary ideas. You know, radical stuff, like the notion that people should be able to share music without asking permission, or that making a derivative work is an act of homage not destruction. The sorts of ideas you’re not likely to hear from the MPAA or the RIAA, who, of course, are busy making their own videos to convince you that culture should be owned.

The first Minute Meme will be a video called “Copying Isn’t Theft”. It’s not ready yet, but Nina’s written a song to go with it. Or at least the lyrics and the tune — the rest of the arrangement comes from you. Musicians out there, what can you do with this?

Go wild. Rearrange it, re-dub the vocals, do whatever you need to do. When you think you’ve got something good, post it somewhere and leave a comment here (or contact us). If it’s close enough to what Nina was aiming for, we may be able to use it in the Minute Memes.

The lyrics are:

Copying isn’t theft
Stealing a thing leaves 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!

She sang that as part of a longer interview conducted by Reel 13 (WNET New York), at the Software Freedom Law Center:

Thanks to the folks at Reel 13 (WNET New York) for interviewing Nina, and thanks to the Software Freedom Law Center for the use of their space.

Also, a terrific article, “Sita sings the copyright blues”, came out on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation site today. Word is getting out…

Can't Keep A Lid On It

Creator-Endorsed Mark

(See also this article at PBS MediaShift about the Creator Endorsed Mark, and this example of the mark being used in commerce.)

The Creator-Endorsed Mark is a logo developed by and first used in June 2009 that a distributor can use to indicate that a work is distributed in a way that its creator endorses — typically, by the distributor sharing some of the profits with the creator.  The mark is not an alternative to a free license; rather, it’s meant to be used in conjunction with free licensing.  You release your work under a free license, and then grant or withhold permission to use the CE Mark based on how distributors behave.

As more and more creators freely circulate their works on the Internet, the mark provides a reliable way for non-exclusive publishers to signal to their customers that they are supporting the artist.  The mark enables consumers to distinguish distributors based on how supportive of the artist they are, and to allow creators to encourage — not necessarily require, but encourage — particular methods of distribution for their freely-licensed work. Our experience is that given a choice, audiences will often prefer sources that support the artist, when they have a reliable way of recognizing such sources.

How it works:

A distributor may only use the mark with permission from the creator of the work, and creators may grant blanket permission to use particular versions of the mark to anyone who meets certain conditions. For example, the creator might say that anyone who shares any profits at all with them can use the generic “proceeds support” version of the mark:


Furthermore, a creator might grant permission to anyone who shares a certain percentage of their profits to use a “percentage” version of the mark, as long as it does not exceed the actual percentage shared. For example, a distributor sharing 25% of profits could use this mark:


Or an artist might grant permission to use a mark unrelated to revenue-sharing, because she endorses that distributor’s distribution for some other reason:

"Author Supports This Use" version of CE MarkBlack-on-white version of "author supports this use" CE mark.

The default terms of the marks (see below) allow certain of these uses without prior permission, as long as reasonable conditions are met and the creator has not explicitly disallowed the use.

The marks come in “artist” and “author” versions:

ce-mark-artist-white-on-black  ce-mark-author-white-on-black

…and in black-on-white versions:

ce-mark-artist-black-on-white  ce-mark-author-black-on-white

Use and enforcement:

The trademarks for these marks will be registered and held by (but note that we never charge for use of the marks — anyone may use them under these terms).

We define a “creator” to be the original copyright holder of the work, or in the case of public domain works, the person or entity that held the original copyright.

Any creator is free to grant others use of the marks in connection with the distribution of that creator’s work. Anyone other than the creator is free to use the appropriate mark when distributing works by that creator, so long as the creator has given permission for (“endorsed”) the use in question and the conditions for the mark continue to be met.

The creator may at any time prohibit a particular party from using the marks in reference to that creator’s work(s). (This gives creators a way to avoid being associated with distributors or causes that they do not approve of. The distributor might still distribute the work without the mark, but there will be no implication that the creator endorses that distribution.) retains the right to alter these terms or the terms for any particular use in its sole discretion, which it may be likely to do if it finds that the use of the mark(s) is confusing or otherwise misleading.

Nothing in these terms of use grants you permission to distribute a work on terms other than those granted by the relevant copyright holder(s).

You may resize the marks, as long as their vertical and horizontal proportions remain the same, and you may change their foreground and/or background colors.

You are encouraged, but not required, to link back back to this article when using the marks online:


If you are a creator and someone is using the marks on your work in a way you disapprove of, please send them a letter telling them to stop, and make sure gets a copy of that letter (email is fine). If the disallowed use persists, let us know; we will either cooperate with you in enforcing the mark or grant you the necessary legal agency to enforce it yourself.


The Creator-Endorsed Mark design was done by Nina Paley.

The marks:

(See here for a list of all available SVG files.)

ce-mark-artist-white-on-black  PNG  /  SVG

ce-mark-author-white-on-black  PNG  /  SVG

ce-mark-artist-gold-on-black  PNG  /  SVG

ce-mark-artist-black-on-white  PNG  /  SVG

ce-mark-author-black-on-white  PNG  /  SVG

ce-mark-artist-10-percent  PNG  /  SVG  /  Encapsulated PostScript

ce-mark-artist-15-percent  PNG  /  SVG  /  Encapsulated PostScript

ce-mark-artist-20-percent  PNG  /  SVG  /  Encapsulated PostScript

ce-mark-artist-25-percent  PNG  /  SVG

ce-mark-artist-30-percent  PNG  /  SVG  /  Encapsulated PostScript

ce-mark-artist-35-percent  PNG  /  SVG  /  Encapsulated PostScript

ce-mark-artist-40-percent  PNG  /  SVG  /  Encapsulated PostScript

ce-mark-artist-45-percent  PNG  /  SVG  /  Encapsulated PostScript

ce-mark-artist-50-percent  PNG  /  SVG

ce-mark-artist-55-percent  PNG  /  SVG  /  Encapsulated PostScript

ce-mark-artist-60-percent  PNG  /  SVG  /  Encapsulated PostScript

ce-mark-artist-70-percent  PNG  /  SVG  /  Encapsulated PostScript

ce-mark-artist-75-percent  PNG  /  SVG

ce-mark-artist-100-percent  PNG  /  SVG

Black-on-white version of "author supports this use" CE mark. PNG  /  SVG

Black-on-white version of "author supports this use" CE mark. PNG  /  SVG

Distributing 'Sita Sings The Blues' Worldwide

Film-maker Nina Paley is close to having her award-winning feature film Sita Sings The Blues out of copyright jail and onto the Internet for free, decentralized distribution.

Our goal is to have the entire film available online by Saturday, March 7th.

We’ll need some “seed” sites to host it: Internet servers with the capacity to offer around 10 GB of data for public download (so we can make the film available at various resolutions). If you or your institution has the bandwidth and storage for that, please contact us. We’ll work out a way to get the data to you.

Why March 7th?

That night, Sita Sings The Blues will be broadcast on New York’s public television station WNET — Channel 13 (see here for details). Public television has a special exemption written into U.S. copyright law, such that they can show the film even when it’s still in copyright jail for everyone else. However, Nina Paley has made progress on finalizing contracts with the music composition copyright holders, and we believe we’ll be able to release the entire film by then. Since the New York showing will expose the film to a large new audience, when those people go to recommend it to all their friends, we want their friends to have an easy way to get it.

Note that free distribution really means free: you will be able to watch the film on your computer, make DVDs and distribute them, and hold public screenings (the film will circulate online in high-resolution formats appropriate for screenings). Your activities can be commercial or non-commercial, that’s up to you.

Our thanks to all who have donated so far to enable this experiment in decentralized distribution! But we can still use help: the rights clearance process — or rather, the “restrictions clearance” process — is not cheap. So if you’ve been considering donating to support Nina’s effort, here’s that link again.

Nina Paley came up with a great phrase about the music and movie industries the other day: “It’s like Night of the Living Dead Business Model“, she said.

Now comes her reaction to today’s New York Times article Digital Pirates Winning Battle With Major Hollywood Studios:

Night Of The Living Dead Business Model

Knowing Nina, I’m sure she’s fine with it being reproduced here — and anywhere else on the Internet. Go for it, folks :-). (Use her large version of the poster if you want.)

I’ve written a letter to the Times in response to the article, pointing out how there’s no need to adopt the industry’s terminology (e.g., “stealing”) when discussing the issue, and mentioning how copyright primarily subsidizes (non-Internet) distribution rather than creation.