Yes Means Yes

This is crossposted from, the home site of our Artist-in-Residence Nina Paley.  Even though it’s a very personal message, we decided to cross-post it here because it raises an important point: the “ask-permission-first culture” has become so pervasive that even people who explicitly release their art to be shared freely still get asked for permission to share!  To be fair, there are many other people who don’t ask permission, but the absolute number of those who do is still significant, and it points to how far we still have to go.  Nina says “[A]pologies for the peevish tone – I really appreciate anyone who copies Sita Sings the Blues, Mimi & Eunice, and any and all of my other works.” –The Editors

Please don’t ask my permission to re-use my work. YOU ALREADY HAVE PERMISSION. Please copy, share, re-use, redistribute, edit, modify, sell, etc.

Asking permission wastes your time, and mine. You might not mind wasting your time. Many people think asking for permission is a “sign of respect.” But what about my time?

Information (including all of my work) is not scarce. Attention (time) is.

Emails get lost in spam filters. They get lost amid the hundreds of other emails in my inbox. I’ve been known to take vacations and actually get away from my computer for a few days – something I should be doing more often. So what happens if you don’t get any response to your permission request? Do you not reuse the work? A work that has been explicitly made Free in the hopes you will reuse it? Not reusing the work harms the work, and harming a work is disrespectful. Delaying reusing the work likewise harms the work, in smaller increments.

Suppose a “respectful” email asking for permission which has already been explicitly granted doesn’t get caught in a spam filter or lost in some other glitch. Suppose it actualy makes it into my inbox. Now I am obligated to respond – the requester essentially said, “I’m not going to use this work unless you respond.” As “respectful” as this sounds, it places an unfair burden on me. The work, and any use of the work, should not be held hostage pending my checking and responding to email.

It is not “respectful” to make me do more, unnecessary work.

More importantly, asking permission is bad for the work itself. If you refuse to reuse the work unless I send you an email, you are blocking an expression or distribution of the work. How many days or weeks or months are you willing to put it off pending my ability to process email? Or worse, someone thinks it’s “respectful” to require me to sign papers and mail them back. Yes, this happens. I have such paperwork sitting right here, telling me that unless I sign it and mail it back, they won’t use the work they already have explicit permission to use. How is it “respectful” to make me jump through more hoops before they redistribute or remix a work I’ve made explicitly Free?

If you want to show respect, please send me something like this instead:

Dear Nina,

I thought you might like to know I’ve reused _________________  in _________________. Check it out at (insert URL here). Thanks for making the work Free!

Someone Who Understands Yes means Yes

Ahh, lovely. Thank you!

A complaint I hear often is that nowadays thanks to the inerwebs, not only do artists “have to give their work away for free” but they also “have to be businessmen.” HA! One goal of freeing my work is to free me of paperwork, contracts, and the role of manager – and what is having to oversee and administrate every re-use but management? In the “Intellectual Property” model, artists either have to do much more negotiating and managing and paperwork, or they have to pay someone else to do it for them. They have to be businessmen, or hire businessmen. And hiring businessmen (agents, lawyers, etc.) still requires much paperwork, negotiating, and contracts.

Some still insist that I’ve “maintained more control” over Sita Sings the Blues. The point is I have maintained no control over it, and that benefits me. The point is I don’t have to be a business(wo)man. The point is that other people, the crowd, distribute the work, and cost me nothing.

As long as they don’t ask for permission.

10 Comments on "Yes Means Yes"

  1. It’s hard to get over the feeling that you have to ASK to reuse work. 

    Elton Robb

    1. And realizing how hard is it for so many people is frustrating and irritating.

  2. If you read the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License that Sita Sings the Blues is licensed under, it states quite clearly in the Waiver that “Any of the above conditions can be waived if you get permission from the copyright holder”. Even with the stance for copyright reform, Nina Paley is seen as the copyright holder for Sita Sings the Blues.

    Not everyone is ‘clued up’ on CC licenses, what if someone was not entirely sure what the ‘Waiver’ in the aforementioned License entailed?, just telling everyone to not ask permission is a direct contradiction to that Waiver.

    If asking permission is bad for the work itself, exactly what is not adhering to the very license it is under doing to the work?.

    1. You need “permission” to NOT re-release under the same license.  If you want to release it under more restrictions, you need permission; if you want to force others to get permision, you need permission.

      If you’re not out to force others to get permission, you don’t need permission.

      So sayeth the CC-BY-SA license.

  3. I think, in a loose interpretation, the waiver is in the fact of companies who are asking the right to SUE anyone who copies their derivative or transformative work based on Nina Paley’s “Sita Sings the Blues.” 

    Elton Robb