Sita Sings the Blues; or why music licensing stifles creativity

Sita Sings The Blues

Sita Sings The Blues is a wonderful film mixing a Sanskirt ancient epic with great 1920’s music and incredible animation. Nina Paley spent 3 years doing this I think partly autobiographical animation – in parts incredibly breathtaking, laugh-out-loud funny, charming, and moving.

So can you see it? I mean those 1920’s songs must be out of copyright, right? Until very recently, no:

I really recommend all of you watch the above video – the history and situation of music licensing aka ‘sync rights’ is in the dark ages, and confusing especially for stuff which has lapsed mechanical copyrights – ie. you can copy it, put it in your iPod, even create compilations of it and sell them for small amounts – but put them in a movie? No, you’ll get charged 15-20,000 dollars for something where everyone is now long dead, even if you’re a non-profit, or not planning to make any money off it, or even have to play $500 dollars per song JUST to show it at a festival! Does that sound like a cartel to you?

I mean in this day and age the whole ‘we have to pay money upfront’ just seems stupid, and rather like blackmail in this era of micropayments, royalties and subscriptions. I think artists should get paid if something commercially takes off, yes – but in the areas where it doesn’t make money I cannot see how it can harm – in fact it eventually harms the artist and their families because they get less exposure and less royalties because people avoid their music. It’s really protection money.

Well Nina Paley has not only fought this, she has taken out a $50k loan (she beat them down from 220k!!!!) to put this film out, and as well as the DVD she has distributed ‘promotional copies’ online under a Creative Common license – so you can watch it, download it, remix it:

Google video is rather low res – a higher res but non-embeddable version can be seen here at or download in other formats here.

You can donate to her here – I recommend if you do enjoy her film and support her fight, give her a few dollars – because I think it’s a beautiful film (even Roger Ebert is a fan) and worthy of support, and her points about ‘self-censorship’ over copyright, even supposedly long-dead ones, of music is being internalised now in schools and by artists, everyone is running scared over culture they should partly own – and also because of the alternate funding and distribution model which will eventually be the norm, but at the moment is seen as somehow lesser.

As an artist I totally understand the need to ‘create’ something, and think about the consequences later, or not let them affect your work – because that mindset destroys everything and does let the corporate side win. So we need people like Nina who are willing to fight back and fight for their work – because the 1984 mindset that you should only do what is legally or monetarially sanctioned is not only destructive, it doesn’t allow for the fact people do change the world all on their own.

Relatio Clash

Tim B Written by:

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