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Ahimsa: Sita Sings The Blues Now CC-0 'Public Domain'

from the the-law-is-an-ass-I-don't-want-to-ride dept

crossposted from ninapaley.com

flower power

I am hereby changing Sita Sings the Blues CC-BY-SA (Share Alike) license to CC-0.

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.

Not using knowledge is an offense to it,” wrote Jeff Jarvis, reflecting on the death of Aaron Swartz.

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.

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Comments on “Ahimsa: Sita Sings The Blues Now CC-0 'Public Domain'”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Wasn’t the whole association of the film with copyright issues raised in the first place because the film contains a number of songs with still-copyrighted elements? What does it mean for such a film to be under CC-0 (i.e., in the public domain)? How does that make it different from a wholly unencumbered work in the public domain?

Carlos Sol?s a.k.a. ArkBlitz (in the rest of the I (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

At least the licensing conflict between the copyrighted songs and your former license has been lifted. But, the film as a whole is still fully copyrighted. I remember that there was a plan to crowdfund the purchase of the worldwide license of the songs; is that still on the works?

Nina Paley (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

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.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

How about the parts of SSTB for which you had to get licenses? Is it possible that concern over the encumbered parts is part of the reason for why broadcasters and etc. are asking for explicit contracts from you? My thinking being that they need a contract to distribute your work complete with the parts that you licensed, and that with just a blanket public copyright all they get is your work minus the parts you were forced to acquire licenses for. (I’m not defending the broken IP regimes, just trying to make sense of the whys.)

shane (profile) says:

I loved that little movie

It’s weird to me that the share alike license had to be signed off on. I wonder if you (Nina) could expound on that? Share alike allows for making money off of the derivative work even if somehow merely mentioning it would count for that.

I have no idea what they are even pretending to want to avoid here.


Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

To be fair, CC0 is sort of an “anti-license;” it’s an enhanced public domain dedication. Just putting something in the public domain doesn’t actually relinquish all rights you might have in all the countries/jurisdictions of the world, believe it or not. Moral rights, for example (not an explicit element of copyright law in the United States) are not waived just because you put something in the public domain.

CC0 puts the work in the public domain AND explicitly waives all rights that are waive-able.

You can’t waive rights you don’t have, though – so if there are elements of the film that are copyrighted by others, the film as a whole may still be encumbered.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

As a card carrying member of the Regular Folk Brigade, I think just the few questions raised prove the overall point (and exhausted disgust/frustration/overwhelming strangulation) that Nina’s talking about in the article.

With copyright the mess it is today, you can’t get there from here no matter what you declare.

shane (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Yeah

Activism of any kind is not for the faint of heart. I feel a lot of kinship with these people, even though they have done far more than I have, just because I can relate to the frustrations.

Sitting in my armchair so to speak, I still find that I could wish that such good examples as Aaron and Nina would not let themselves get to the point to where they do things that seem rash. I took a look at her site, and her objection to Netflix is one that is counterproductive. DRM that has no real function is like pot with no THC in it. If they want to use it, fine, but it’s still not going to get you high.

Weird analogy.

Anyhow, point being, she seems to be shooting herself in the foot to spite her face. Or nose. Or something, with the Netflix portion of her struggle.

But if this is what she has to do to keep her head on straight, hey, I prefer that to the alternative.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

To be fair, CC0 is sort of an “anti-license;” it’s an enhanced public domain dedication. Just putting something in the public domain doesn’t actually relinquish all rights you might have in all the countries/jurisdictions of the world, believe it or not. Moral rights, for example (not an explicit element of copyright law in the United States) are not waived just because you put something in the public domain.

CC0 puts the work in the public domain AND explicitly waives all rights that are waive-able.

You can’t waive rights you don’t have, though – so if there are elements of the film that are copyrighted by others, the film as a whole may still be encumbered.

I’m still skeptical. Couldn’t she revoke the license at any time? If not, what makes it irrevocable?

shane (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Part of what you are saying is why she hates copyright to begin with. You are correct that she has at least some power to revoke the license at any time. That’s why lawyers continue to harass her for signed papers. Once you have a signed document, you have your backside pretty covered.

If I understand her rightly, and I think I do, her belief is that copyright just in general is a bad thing, and I share that sentiment. There’s never been any real reason for it, and it has evolved into a tool that allows a pretty small percentage of people to control a massive amount of communication.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

The signing of the document constitutes a contract. Without a contract that specifically outlines the terms of an agreement, you have to interpret the often nebulous language of the law in cases where a dispute arises. With a contract you can simply look at what the terms of the agreement were which is much easier. This is why they still want them.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

The word “irrevocably” in the text of CC0.

I was thinking it was irrevocable via contract, not property. That would have made it irrevocable on Nina’s part. But if she transferred her interest in the work down the road, that assignee wouldn’t be bound by that contract since the contract is in personam with Nina and not in rem with the copyright. But now that Nina has abandoned all ownership interest in the work, she has nothing left to assign and therefore the prior nonexclusive licenses she already granted cannot be revoked by anyone.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Re:

Wrong. Once a work is CC0, she could publish it again with modifications and a different license, but she can’t remove the CC0 from the copy you download today and which you can share with the world unrestricted.

Once it’s in the public domain–which Nina’s ownership interest now is–then anyone could publish it again (at least the parts Nina abandoned, which is not the entire work) with modifications. None of that would change the fact that Nina has dedicated parts to the public domain irrevocably. The modifications would be new, copyrightable material (whether added by Nina or anyone else), but the parts she’s abandoned can never be owned by her or anyone else again.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Releasing to Public Domain

You can’t just dedicate something to the public domain, or just “unlicense” it.

I disagree. You can’t be forced to own property, and you can renounce your ownership of it at will. Dedicating it to the public domain makes a lot more sense to me than using a CC license to attempt the same thing. But I think the biggest problem is the material she licensed and put in her work. I doubt her license allows her to put that licensed content into the public domain, via license or abandonment.

shane (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Releasing to Public Domain

Ideally that would be the case, but legally it is simply not the current practice. There is no “Public Domain” registry. So works that someone at some time said were public domain can later be contested.

If copyright terms were more limited, this might not be a big huge deal, but we are now up to over a century of copyright coverage and more confusion is added all the time.

Her CC-O license effectively IS just donating it to the public domain. I.E. to donate something to the public domain, you just say, “You are free to copy this”. That is what the CC-O says. The language of calling it a license is perhaps a little clunky, but this issue is exactly why they created the Creative Commons to begin with. People were having a hard time knowing how to let their works out into the open, so this organization was formed to try to formalize it and publicize it. I think they also wanted to try to build some case law. I don’t know how that has been working out.

Nina Paley (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Releasing to Public Domain

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.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Releasing to Public Domain

Correction – as an Anonymous Coward reported below, CC-0 is NOT actually a license! That’s comforting. Things are looking up.

I think you’re all good. Congratulations, you don’t own SSTB anymore! The works you licensed and included in the movie are still subject to the licenses that had been granted (so the work itself isn’t completely in the public domain), but your ownership interest is now nil.

shane (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:5 Releasing to Public Domain

Incidentally, this is precisely the kind of thing that she’s trying to avoid have happen to her work. When she was making this movie, those works were in the public domain, but got taken back out.

Sooo…. no. Nothing about copyright is simple and intuitive. Indeed, many of the mistakes people make first getting into creative work come because they think that simple, intuitive ideas such that it should be ok to copy as long as you’re not selling it don’t apply.

These days, even making copies for your own personal use can be tricky depending on where you were planning on saving them.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Releasing to Public Domain

Ideally that would be the case, but legally it is simply not the current practice. There is no “Public Domain” registry. So works that someone at some time said were public domain can later be contested.

There no public registry for licensing works either, but licenses are upheld nonetheless. Her abandonment can be contested, sure, but evidence that Nina had abandoned all ownership interest in the work (such as is provided by this article) would win the day. Nina doesn’t own that movie anymore. It’s irrevocably in the public domain. You could package up DVDs and sell them, even without attributing Nina as the author. I think the difficulty of donating works to the public domain is greatly exaggerated. All you need say “no rights reserved, dedicated to the public domain” and that’s it–it’s in the public domain. You’re getting into issues of proof, but the proof needed to prove that you have a license under CC is the same as is needed to prove that the owner abandoned all their rights–all you need is a unilateral statement to that effect.

shane (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Releasing to Public Domain

Nina’s abandonment of rights would “win the day” precisely because she has so publicly done what she has done.

I don’t really want to argue about it. I know all the things you are saying. Without a regsitry though, for works where someone may or may not have supposedly released something into the public domain, you get orphaned works.

There is no way to summarily release you work into the public domain and have it stick. You have to WORK at it, and if you read her post, having to work so hard at it is part of what is irritating her. “Unpaid paperwork”.

shane (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:5 Releasing to Public Domain

As I said, I understand.

And 60 years from now, when you’re dead and gone and the handful of people who ever knew you even had a Twitter account have moved on with their lives or are dead as well, but the copyright in your country is over 100 years, and someone discovers your work, unattributed, and the laws in your country have something to say about orphaned works….

Anonymous Coward says:

Smashwords forces you to be horrible

i was trying to upload my first story to Smashwords last night, it took 5 attempts. Mostly formatting rejections but the last one made me very cross. You have to have a copyright notice so i wrote:
‘Smashwords Edition, License Notes
Thank you for buying this ebook. You are welcome to share it with your friends. This book may be reproduced, copied and distributed for non-commercial purposes. If you enjoyed this book, please return to Smashwords.com to discover other works by this author. Thank you for your support.’
which is the way i feel it should be. Sadly Smashwords rejected this. It only accepts:
‘This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold
or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you?re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to
Smashwords.com and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.’
Which i think is nonsense and horrible.

Leigh Beadon (profile) says:

Re: Smashwords forces you to be horrible

Wow. Yeah that Smashword notice sucks..

When you are able to write your own notice, you should consider the non-copyright notice I wrote for Dark Helmet’s ebooks:

You are free to obtain, consume, modify, adapt, remix, translate, parody, satirize, lend, sell, broadcast, reproduce, or otherwise use this work as you see fit for personal or commercial purposes. If you simply plan to reproduce and sell copies of the work on a commercial scale, I encourage you to contact me about partnership opportunities, which could include things like official endorsement, help with your marketing push, and exclusive new content. If you choose not to contact me or I feel you are operating in bad faith, I reserve the right to name and shame you in public.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Smashwords forces you to be horrible

It’s awesome to give someone rights and then threaten them for using those rights in the same breath.

Since I don’t feel the need to guess when some guy thinks I’m “operating in bad faith” I’ll just stay as far away as possible. Plenty of people whose books I can read that don’t come with personal threats.

art guerrilla (profile) says:

demosthenes stopped when he found nina paley...

can’t look for ‘good’ and ‘honest’ and ‘trustworthy’ people in public life anymore; the few that barely rise above the din are soon crushed…
such is life under Empire…

where is our MLK today ? ? ?
where is our conscience ? ? ?
(don’t tell me, ‘conscience’ don’t make profits…)

what sad, amoral times we live in…
only the small voices -like nina’s- multiplied by a million can make a dent in reclaiming our power…
will we do it ? ? ?

(or do we go back to sucking the glass teat, stuffing cheezy doodles and sugar-water down our insatiable maws…)

art guerrilla
aka ann archy

Anonymous Coward says:


I will repeat one of the comments I made in the Voltkh discussion concerning why the tech community is in an uproar over the arguments being made that Aaron’s actions (such as changing his IP and MAC address) constituted a violation of the CFAA when these actions are often times normal network troubleshooting procedures. Part of the problem is that decisions based on logic like this in cases likes get written into legal precedent that later gets used by other lawyers to bring other cases against people simply because they do not like them. It’s a twisting of the law to support the agenda or the agenda of their clients and that basically what lawyers do – twist the law to suit their needs.



This is the start of the real revolution
“m 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. “

and im into 3d special affects and animation and i endorse this totally.
IN fact i am going forth to yes make a few bucks BUT i will do so in hte nicest way i can….i’m going ot give away a ton of stuff at the start of each project so fans , other artists and creators can enjoy. THINK like this.
YOU write 5 seasons for a sci fi tv show.
YOU then create all the meshes and models for said show or at least most of them.
Give them away free and then the first season 100%
ADD a donate button
2.5 billion people on the net
i currently get 12 grand a year on disability
they take 50% of my net after expenses ( back to tax payers it goes )
Also as incentive if i make 100$ a month above free and clear after the deductions they give me another 100$.

Let me ask you how are you going to compete against people like me that actually enjoy doing what i do?
That would not even care if i make a buck as i’m on disability and if i do make a buck then fine ….see the difference between myself and those that claim to be artists?

now if i make something ya its nice to get recognized that’s his point….its nt hard just take my models and meshes and put a credit in it ….i’ll do same and if someone goes that’s cool who did it they can find out.

HOWEVER if you really don’t again i’m not gonna sue you but i might yell at ya from afar LOL

shane (profile) says:


I’m growing more and more of the opinion that the attribution is the key. I think it is, in actuality, a moral imperative to give credit where it is due, and specifically if you are just copying something as is. I think I would be willing to sue over that. Sadly, my pale, pasty little web site is not something that is currently tempting a lot of people to copy it, but whatever is on there is covered by the attribution only copyright from Creative Commons.

I think really that it is important in the world of “standing on principle” to actually STAND on it, not walk away from it when conflict arises. Though in the defense of you and others like you, I don’t have a lot of harsh judgement for your stance.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Thats MORE LIKE IT

May be nice to believe that you can credit everything and make it a moral issue, but in practical terms it is not going to happen.

If we wanted to do right by Shakespeare how many could cite all the sources he used?

See there is the problem, as people start using and mixing that attribution line starts growing and growing to the point were it becomes hard or next to impossible to credit everyone.

Not to mention that people also get things wrong, you could be crediting the guy you got it from and he got it from someone else.

So no, attribution should be a soft rule, a courtesy not hard rule.

It is a nice idea, it would be nice to have it, but is not practical and could create a lot of problems with no easy way to fix those.

Ed C. says:


You’re into 3d? Cool! Me too. 😀

I completely agree that copyright is completely out of whack. When I was posting free stuff for artist to use, I considered how others have handled this and it just didn’t mesh with me. In some corners of the 3D world, many artist at least demand you get permission to redistribute their work, even if the answer is always “yes”. I thought hard about why I was doing this at all, not alone giving it away for free, and I realized it was because I enjoyed it and wanted to share that joy with someone else. Given the market it was in, it wouldn’t have made much money anyway. About all I really asked for was attribution. I didn’t demand any money, was a little name recognition too much to ask for in turn?

Then I took into consideration that contract work often prohibits even the commissioned artist from being attributed, not alone 3rd parties who crated some of the source material. What if some students contacted a friend to do a promo for their project for free? Would I want to stop him just because he couldn’t give attribution? No, I wouldn’t. Then, of course, I considered commercial contract work. I was already OK with someone using my work with attribution in for-profit endeavors, and using it without attribution in non-profit endeavors, would someone else making a bit of dough without mentioning my name make any difference? If I had to be honest with myself, I had to say no, it shouldn’t.

In the end, I ended up asking for attribution when possible. I wanted to share not just the work but the joy I had in creating it. I wasn’t going to quash that joy with a legal hammer merely to appease my own ego. Well, and I really don’t want people emailing me just to ask for permission! I agree with Nina, permission was already given, don’t ask.

Ed C. says:

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.

If they refused it even with permission, it probably meant they wanted exclusive rights. After all, that’s what copyright is really all about, the right for a gatekeeper to exclude everyone else from using it. If they can’t get the legal right to strangle others, they want nothing to do with it.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Having faced the exact same difficulty that Nina has, with insights from having been on both ends of this type of issue, exclusivity is generally not the problem. All parties understand that exclusivity isn’t possible.

The issue is really more about covering your ass. Copyright law is murky, confusing, and uncertain. Even when a work is unambiguously declared as being OK for anybody to use, it is risky to rely on that. Things can change, lawyers can make up new ways around clear intent, and so on.

It’s much safer to get a contract, and business people tend to try to minimize risk. This is a huge problem with current copyright law, one that hurts both the content creator and those who want to use the content.

Mimu Bunnylin says:

Over the edge into CC0

I had been thinking about dropping copyright for good. Now that Nina put into words pretty much exactly what I’ve thought as well, it’s time to stop procrastinating and go for it.

It’s not super-impressive, but the CC0 domain is now richer by about an hour of music, a bunch of articles, and a few programs I’ve written.

I feel pretty good about that. Thank you.

wwwarea says:

To Public Domain

Great choice Nina Paley, I really love your view about current Copyright. 😉 I would probably never sue anyone pretty much like you. And I would probably just believe anything I make gets to the public domain to a point where every place in all of existence could use, since for the laws of nature, it should be a right to copy. 😛

I do believe however that it’s possible to someday fix copyright, some are trying hard I think…

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Public Domain

I didn’t look it up, but I am pretty sure that this could be prosecuted as false claims of some sort, perjury, intent to commit fraud or some such.

Also the fact that the music is copyrighted and not in the public domain raises some concerns.

Even if anybody would use that, they probably wouldn’t be able to because that audio is not licensed, unless they removed the audio part.

Jose_X (profile) says:

restrictions time expire

Nina, you essentially made the film share-alike for 5 years or so (to round to a human’s hand) and then open without restrictions. That is a decent model (time restricted) that I was planning on using (but with an extra license step and maybe a little longer period).

This model puts your position about copyright out and gives a bit of an advantage to those who share (apparently there still aren’t many who do), while later on letting others come along and putting out your other position about not suing.

I don’t share your view exactly but close. I do like that small groups would have an advantage over gigantic firms. This helps fight the battle of lopsided leverage in our society based on existing wealth. [All else equal, Uncle Sam, without a wealth tax/fee for the service and restriction on 300 million people, allows existing large wealth to have more leverage and power than small wealth, promoting a biased feedforward effect of “wealth begets wealth” that strains “hard work creates wealth”.. and that wealth is also tied to a biased opportunity advantage.]

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