QCO Artist-in-Residence Nina Paley’s interview with at Baixa Cultura, conducted by email with journalist and photographer André Solnik. The English below is the original; Baixa Cultura translated Nina’s answers.
1. When your interest on free culture has begun?
For a long time I thought copyright terms were too long and the law could use reform, but I didn’t really understand Free Culture until October 2008, after months on the film festival circuit with my then-illegal feature Sita Sings the Blues. Free Culture was too audacious a concept for me to think about clearly until then. One morning I finally got it — freeing my work would be better for the work — and I spent the next half-year preparing for a Free, legal release of SSTB. That finally happened in March 2009, when I finally cleared all the necessary (and bullshit) licenses at a cost of about $70,000 to myself.
2. Tell me in short why artists should free their work. Is it a good choice for both renowned and new artists?
Why should you Free your work? To make it as easy as possible for people to share your work — as easy as possible for your work to reach eyeballs and ears and minds — to reach an audience. And to make it as easy as possible for audience support — including money — to reach you…. Copy restrictionsplace a barrier between you, the artist, and most forms of support. By removing the barriers of copyright, you make it possible to receive money and other kinds of support from your audience, both directly and through distributors, thereby increasing your chances of success.
3. Creative Commons has recently released the final draft of the version 4.0 of its licenses. What changes would you like to see? Do you think CC should keep on supporting the nonfree licenses?
Yes, CC should stop supporting the non-free licenses. What kind of “commons” is that?
4. Although they are probably the most known alternatives to more restrictive ones, they still remain unpopular compared to the “all rights reserved“. Why is that? Do you reckon people get confused by the many possibilities given by the CC licenses?
Most people who use CC licenses don’t understand what the different licenses mean; they just call all of them “Creative Commons” as if that means anything. CC’s modular system was a good idea, I see it as an experiment that was worth doing. But the results are in: it didn’t work. What we have now are a mess of incompatible licenses, most of which fail to contribute to any real “commons,” and an increase of confusion and misinformation.
You can’t really blame Creative Commons though — the problem is copyright law. Nothing can fix it at this point. Even CC-0, a valorous attempt to opt out of copyright, doesn’t work in practice, as my experience with the Film Board of Canada showed — even after placing SSTB under CC-0, their lawyers refused to accept it was really Public Domain, and made me sign a release anyway, just to allow one of their filmmakers to refer to it. I will be saddled forever with permissions paperwork even with CC-0. I’ll probably keep using CC-0, of course, but I have no expectation it will work as it’s supposed to.
5. The BY-NC-SA license, although nonfree, it’s pretty popular. Why do you think so? What are the main issues about licensing a work using it?
People are high-minded when they choose the -NC restriction, but it accomplishes exactly the opposite of their ideals. They want to “protect” their works from abusive exploitation from big corporate players. They don’t realize those big corporate players LOVE the -NC clause, because it’s a commercial monopoly. Big corporate players are all set up to deal with commercial monopolies: they have licensing departments and lawyers. It’s the big corporate players who can afford to license your -NC works. It’s your peers, small players with no legal departments and limited resources, who can’t. The -NC clause screws over your fellow artists and small players, while favoring big corporations.
The way to avoid abusive exploitation is to use CC-BY-SA, a Share-Alike license without the -NC restriction. This allows your peers to use the work without fear, as long as they keep it Free-as-in-Freedom. Big corporate monopoly players, however, are unwilling to release anything Freely: if they want to use your work, they’ll have to negotiate a waiver of the -SA clause. For this they will pay money. It works like a regular licensing deal: for $X you waive the -SA restriction and allow them to re-use the work without contributing to the community. I have had many corporate licensors offer me such contracts, although I didn’t sign any because I was such a Free license booster.
The only reason BY-NC-SA is popular is because people really haven’t thought it through.
6. Money seems to be one of the main worries artists have when they hear someone saying “free your work“. Is this “fear“ justified? Have you recovered all the money spent in the making of Sita Sings the Blues?
7. You have recently announced that SSTB is now in the public domain. Although now you are finally free of burocracy envolving copyright stuff and this action could help your movie to have more visibility, on the other side it could favour restricted modifications of your work (e.g.: a book inspired by SSTB released under “all rights reserved“). How do you weigh these two sides?
Eh, honestly I just don’t care any more. Let’s just put it out there and see what happens. If something terrible happens because I shared freely, I’ll learn from that. But I think it’s stupid to worry about what other people do, and try to control it, especially with broken laws. Even Free Share-Alike licenses require copyright law to be enforced, and copyright law is hopelessly broken. I don’t want to validate or support it in any way.
Licenses are not going to fix our problems. What is fixing our problems is increasing numbers of people simply ignoring copyright altogether. Instead of trying to get people to pay more attention to the law, as CC does, I’d rather encourage them to ignore the law in favor of focusing on the art. Licenses are the wrong solution. Art is the solution. Make art not law.
8. Are you keen on the free software movement as well? Any of your works was made using free softwares?
A few years ago I started thinking about taking a vow of non-violence: a commitment to never sue anyone over Knowledge (or Culture, Cultural Works, Art, Intellectual Pooperty, whatever you call it). Copyright law is hopelessly broken; indeed, the Law in the US is broken all over the place. Why would I resort to the same broken law to try to fix abuses that occur within it?
We live in a messed-up world. My choices, however principled, will not change that. People will continue to censor, suppress, and enclose Knowledge. Share-Alike- the legal requirement to keep Knowledge Free - has ironically resulted in the suppression of same.
I learned of Aaron's death on Sunday; on Monday, the National Film Board of Canada told me I had to fill out paperwork to "allow" filmmaker (and personal friend) Chris Landreth to refer to Sita Sings the Blues in his upcoming short, Subconscious Password, even though Fair Use already freed the NFB from any legitimate fear of Share-Alike's viral properties. I make compromises to my principles every day, but that Monday I just couldn't. The idiocy of NFB's lawyers was part of the same idiocy that Aaron fought in liberating documents from JSTOR. I couldn't bear to enable more bad lawyers, more bad decisions, more copyright bullshit, by doing unpaid paperwork for a corrupt and stupid system. I just couldn't.
So the NFB told Chris to remove all references to SSTB from his film.
There are consequences for taking a principled stance. People criticize you, fear you, and pity you. You get plenty of public condemnation. You lose money. Sometimes the law goes after you, and although that hasn't happened to me yet, it could as I do more civil disobedience in the future.
But the real victim of my principled stance isn't me, it's my work. When I took a principled stance against Netflix's DRM, the result was fewer people saw SSTB. When countless television stations asked for the "rights" to SSTB and I told them they already had them, the result was they didn't broadcast it. When publishers wanted to make a SSTB-based book, the Share-Alike license was a dealbreaker, so there are no SSTB books.
My punishment for opposing enclosure, restrictions, censorship, all the abuses of copyright, is that my work gets it.
Not using knowledge is an offense to it.
So, to the NFB, to Netflix, to all you publishers and broadcasters, to you legions of fucking lawyers: Sita Sings the Blues is now in the Public Domain. You have no excuse for suppressing it now.
Am I still fighting? Yes. BUT NOT WITH THE LAW. I still believe in all the reasons for BY-SA, but the reality is I would never, ever sue anyone over SSTB or any cultural work. I will still publicly condemn abuses like enclosure and willful misattribution, but why point a loaded gun at everyone when I'd never fire it? CC-0 is an acknowledgement I'll never go legal on anyone, no matter how abusive and evil they are.
CC-0 is as close as I can come to a public vow of legal nonviolence. The law is an ass I just don't want to ride.
I cannot abolish evil. The Law cannot abolish evil; indeed, it perpetuates and expands it. People will continue to censor, silence, threaten, and abuse Knowledge, and our broken disaster of a copyright regime will continue encouraging that. But in fighting monsters, I do not wish myself to become a monster, nor feed the monster I'm fighting.
Neither CC-BY-SA nor CC-0 will fix our terribly flawed world with its terribly broken copyright regime. What I can say is SSTB has been under CC-BY-SA for the last 4 years, so I know what that's like and can share results of that experiment. Going forward under CC-0 I will learn new things and have more results to share. That seems like a win even if some bad scenarios come into play. I honestly have not been able to determine which Free license is "better," and switching to CC-0 may help answer that question.
Update: The account is now unblocked, with this message from Facebook:
I'm so sorry for the inconvenience caused, there was a temporary misconfiguration in our photo review systems which caused a very small subset of users to be incorrectly enrolled in one of our checkpoints. There was no issue with your original photo, we have a combination of automated and human-review systems dedicated to keeping people safe, and a bug caused one of these systems to incorrectly enroll a small number of users into checkpoints.
We have since remedied the issue, and remediated all affected accounts. Please let me know if you or others are still experiencing any difficulties.
Yesterday I posted this adorable photo on Facebook:
Being a cute picture of a cute cat, it got a lot of "likes" and comments. A few hours later I followed up with this photo (accompanying text in the caption):
Another photo of Nut and me. Here you can see in more detail how Nut presses her face as hard as she can into mine. She does this all night, by the way. If I move my face away, she rearranges herself to grip the back of my head as tightly as possible. If I'm face-down on the pillow, she slides her paws under into my eye sockets and mashes her head into my ear. It's very cute but I don't think I could stand it every night.
Shortly thereafter, FB wouldn't let me view my feed, instead giving me this message:
"We noticed you may be posting photos that violate our Community Standards. Help make Facebook better by cleaning up your photos and removing friends that post nudity or other things that violate our standards."
Then it took me directly to all my photos and said,
"To keep your account active, please remove any photos that contain nudity or sexually inappropriate content. Check the box next to each photo you need to remove."
I didn't have a single dirty photo to check, so I checked none and then clicked the box that said, "I have checked all my photos that violate Facebook’s policies." For that, I was rewarded with this:
"Because you uploaded photos that violate our policies, you won't be able to upload photos for 3 days.
"If you have other photos on the site that violate our policies, be sure to remove them immediately or you could be blocked for longer. After this block is lifted, please make sure any photos you upload follow Facebook’s Policies."
Followed by another checkbox that says,
"I understand Facebook's policies and I won't upload any photos that violate these policies."
But I haven't checked that box yet, because I really don't understand Facebook's policies. At all. Maybe Franz Kafka could explain them to me. Can you?
UPDATE: several hours later, I still can’t see my FB home page/news feed. This is what I continue to get instead:
Recently, I gave a Sita Sings the Blues talk to a roomful of 15-to-17-year-olds. Near the end I explained Free Culture and my stance against copyright, which led to some interesting discussion. Turns out most of them are manga fans, and familiar with publishers’ complaints about scanned and translated manga shared freely online. They all read them anyway (except one, who prefers to read entire manga in the bookstore). I asked them how they would choose to support artists they liked (once they had some disposable income) and they said:
Donate buttons – with the qualification that they want to know as much as possible about where the donation is going. They said honesty and transparency are important.
Kickstarter – They all knew about it (which was notable because none of them had heard of Flattr) and valued pitch videos that explained how the money would be used.
Live Shared Experiences, including ballet, museum exhibits, and concerts. The event aspect was important; they wanted to be able to say, “Remember that one time when that awesome show was here…” They agreed seeing things in person is a more powerful experience than seeing things online, and worth spending more on. One said she would buy CD at a live show because “it reminds you of the show.”
One said he would support artists by promoting their work to his friends.
Semi-related, I took an informal poll of how many would prefer to read a book on paper vs. an e-reader. The vast majority said paper, but what they really seemed to want was dual formats: paper copies to read comfortably and collect, and digital copies to search and reference. Makes sense to me. Only two of them had iPads, and none used them for “enhanced eBooks.”
My favorite quote of the afternoon, from a 15-year-old girl:
“We don’t want everything for free. We just want everything.
Trademark at its best is a means to protect the public and consumers. A brand may be associated with a particular product and a particular level of quality. Consumers seeking exactly that product and quality will seek that brand; Trademark laws ensure they're getting the real thing.
Take Pyrex: it's heat-resistant glass, what we used in chemistry lab in high school, what you buy if you're cooking and baking with a lot of heat changes. Except it's not, as this highly amusing video demonstrates (start watching at about 28:00):
What I and everyone I know always called Pyrex is in fact borosilicate glass. I didn't even know the term "borosilicate" until I watched this. Pyrex has never been commonly referred to as "Pyrex brand borosilicate glass." It was just Pyrex, the stuff you used in a lab, that you could heat up and cool down without breaking.
Trademark treats brands as "property," controlled exclusively by "owners," who can buy and sell them:
In 1998, Corning divested its consumer products division which subsequently adopted the name World Kitchen, acquiring the rights to the pyrex® trademark. The company introduced clear tempered soda-lime glass kitchenware and bakeware under the pyrex® name. link
According to Wikipedia, Corning's responsibility extends to this formality:
When trademarked as PYREX® (all UPPER CASE LETTERS plus, in the USA, a trademark notice comprising a capital “R” in a circle) the trademark includes clear, low-thermal-expansion borosilicate glass used for laboratory glassware and kitchenware, plus other kitchenware including opaque tempered high-thermal-expansion soda-lime glass, pyroceram, stoneware, and metal items See. e.g., http://www.amazon.co.uk/s?index=kitchen-uk&field-keywords=pyrex. European trademark usage differs from American and the encircled "R" is not present on European PYREX items.
I don't think this passes the "moron in a hurry" test, but it's not put to the test because Corning isn't having a dispute with a competitor. Rather, they are misleading consumers, and Trademark law as it currently exists offers no remedy.
Consumer Reports did a video about glass bakeware exploding, but didn't address the Trademark issue at all:
Imagine if a counterfeiter were passing off soda lime glass as Pyrex. The outcry would be huge. Government agencies would be busting down doors and arresting people and using it as a reason to pass ACTA. But if Corning and their licensees do it under the Pyrex brand, all we can do is shrug.
In his book Against Intellectual Property, Stephan Kinsella argues that Trademark should protect the rights of consumers. He suggests Trademark suits should be brought by consumers against monopolists, not by monopolists against competitors. I have no answers, and like I said I'm not a Trademark abolitionist. I certainly don't want to increase the reach of Trademark law; I generally don't think more lawsuits are an answer to anything. But it's a good story to show that Trademark isn't as functional as we'd like it to be.
This morning a friend shared with me some amusing American Sign Language videos, and in return I wanted to share with him my favorite ASL video of all time: B. Storm's interpretation of the Gnarls Barkley song Crazy. Only I couldn't because it was gone. Why? Because "This video contains content from WMG (Warner Music Group), who has blocked it on copyright grounds." This is appalling for many reasons, not least of which being the video is almost certainly fair use.
Copying is not theft, but censorship is. When a video is blocked, banned, erased, or otherwise censored, we don't have it any more. The commons is robbed. When B. Storm copied the song Crazy into his video, WMG's copies were still there. When WMG censored B. Storm's video, it was gone.
I couldn't accept that such a great video was simply gone, so I attempted to recreate and re-share the original video. I found a silent version and combined it with the song, which I captured from the official video using Audio Hijack Pro (having written that, I expect storm troopers to bust down my door any minute now). Unfortunately its sync was a little off; soundtracks end up slightly different lengths and speeds due to all the different kinds of compression out there, and the song I captured was slightly longer than what B. Storm had on his original video. Fortunately another web search, using different terms, led me to this website of videos curated for deaf kids, which miraculously contained the unmolested video embedded from weebly. This I was able to download, and then re-upload to Vimeo where it's easier to share and embed. Of course it could be taken down at any time, so get it while you can:
Great art like this matters too much to passively let monopolists erase it from our common culture. When you find good videos online, consider making local back-up copies. We never know what's going to be censored when, and without audience back-ups some great art could be lost forever.
I'm not big on videos over a minute long, but this one really lays out the war on sharing that underlies bills like SOPA (and its predecessors COICA, ACTA, and the DMCA). Some excerpts:
SOPA and PIPA...want to raise the cost of copyright compliance, to the point where people simply get out of the business of offering it as a capability to amateurs....
In order to fake the ability to sell uncopyable bits, the DMCA also made it legal to force you use systems that broke the copying function of your devices...they also made it illegal for you to try to re-set the copyability of that content. The DMCA marks the moment where the media industries gave up on distinguishing between legal and illegal copying, and simply tried to prevent copying through technical means....
PIPA and SOPA are round two. But where the DMCA was surgical - we want to go down into your computer, into your television set, your game machine, and prevent it from doing what they said it would do at the store - PIPA and SOPA are nuclear. They're saying we want to go anywhere in the world and censor content.
If you're trying to explain the issues regarding SOPA to someone else, try showing them this. Yes, it's 14 minutes, but still much more concise and comprehensible than anything I could accomplish in a much longer conversation.
This is about how over-budgeted media productions historically paid to license things they didn’t need to license, just because they had tons of money and their lawyers preferred to “play it safe” rather than claim Fair Use, which is how Fair Use became the weak pathetic limping layer of pointlessness it is today.
You know what should be really easy to find online? Good quality, Public Domain vintage illustrations. You know, things like this:
I found this on Flickr, where someone claims full copyright on it. That's copyfraud, but understandable because Flickr's default license is full copyright (all the more reason to ignore copyright notices!). But copyfraud isn't not the main problem. The main problem is that images like this are painfully difficult to find online, especially at high resolutions (and this image is only available at medium resolution - up to 604 pixels high, which is barely usable for most purposes but higher than much of what you find online).
The images are out there - and with zillions of antique books being scanned, their vintage illustrations are being scanned right along with them. But the images are buried in the text, and often the scan quality is poor. Images should be scanned at high quality, and tagged for searchability.
Are archives ignoring the value of images?
Take the American Memory archive of the Library of Congress. Lots and lots of historical documents here, but no way for me to find an image of, say, a horse.
Most book-scanning projects focus on texts, not illustrations. Many interesting and useful illustrations are buried within these scans, uncatalogued and inaccessible. Scan quality is set for text, not illustrations, so even if one can find a choice illustration buried within, its quality is usually too low to use.
Archive.org is great (I love you, archive.org!) but does not have an image archive. Still images are not among their "Media Types" (which consist of Moving Images, Texts, Audio, Software, and Education). So I went spelunking through their texts, starting with "American Libraries," and searched for something easy: "horse." Surely I could find a nice usable etching of a horse in there somewhere. I eventually found "The Harness Horse" by Sir Walter Gilbey, from 1898.
Nice illustrations! Can I use them? Unfortunately, no. The book is downloadable as PDF and various e-publication formats, but when I try to extract the illustrations, I get a mess (which you can see, after the jump):
The Public Domain may not be growing (thanks to endless retroactive copyright term extensions) but it still contains a "whopping plentitude." The biggest challenge to users is simply discovering PD works in the first place. Fortunately the Open Knowledge Foundation (one of the best Free Culture organizations anywhere) has just given everyone a leg up with its new web site, the Public Domain Review. From their About page:
The Public Domain Review aspires to become a bounteous gateway into the whopping plenitude that is the public domain, helping our readers to explore this rich terrain by surfacing unusual and obscure works, and offering fresh reflections and unfamiliar angles on material which is more well known.
Go there to find all kinds of delicious images, texts, sounds, and other treasures that, thanks to our collective cultural amnesia, are as fresh and exciting as anything Big Media tries to force down our throats today.
Since I moved back to Urbana-Champaign, I keep seeing Champaign businesses on Techdirt. First it was that bus company that sues its customers, now it's this pizza place.
I have no idea why anyone would eat inferior pizza here, as we have some of the finest pizza establishments anywhere. Papa Del's, as mentioned above, is excellent, as is the newer, thinner Manolo's. But there are always some morons stumbling around Campustown. Maybe Drew's customers enjoy flashing more than they like good pizza.
Oh yeah, also the filings are encouraged by the Court to be bound together with a specific stitch: saddle stitch.
Actually "saddle stitched" just means "stapled." A saddle stitcher is just a long stapler; they were quite common in the pre-internet world of 20 years ago, when we made minicomics and 'zines instead of blogs.
As entertaining as her self-propelled train wreck might be to some, to me this looks like a mentally ill person having an episode of some sort. It's becoming more sad than funny. Mental heath care, people. We need functional mental health care in this country.
I remember that there was a plan to crowdfund the purchase of the worldwide license of the songs
I would never support such a plan. Raise good money for extortionists? They've already extorted $70,000 from me just to decriminalize the movie, they're not getting any more. Artists and innovators deserve money, not extortionist rentiers.
There is no sound legal solution to automatic copyright without registration. CC-0 is the best I can do as a public promise not to sue, but unfortunately it's still a license, not real Public Domain. There is no real opt-out of copyright, which is just one of the many ways copyright law is broken.