Photo Attorney

Jan 8, 2009

"Copyright Does Not Help Artists" - One Viewpoint

Nina Paley, a talented cartoonist, made an animated movie called "Sita Sings the Blues," described by IMDb as "the epic Indian tale of Ramayana set to the 1920's jazz vocals of Annette Hanshaw." Roger Ebert loves it.

However, according to her blog entry, Paley cannot secure the rights to the 11 music compositions that are "essential" to the movie for less than $50,000, which she believes is cost prohibitive to distributing the film. So she's not happy with copyright law or the "extortionists" (as Paley calls the music publishers) and she's getting the support of Question Copyright and Copyfight.

In this interview, Paley says that copyright has never helped her. In this blog entry, she says she is "broke, in debt, and homeless." Fortunately, many supporters are trying to help her raise money to pay the license.

Ms. Paley explains how she got to this point (the 8th response):
I was more concerned about the recordings (which through much research found were in fact PD [public domain]) and hoped (not assumed) that payment could be negotiated for the compositions. . . . Of course I knew from the beginning I could have "found cheaper/freer music" - AND NEVER MADE THE FILM THAT NEEDED TO BE MADE. I could make a pile of shit like most filmmakers, and not have to actually stand up for what's right - but hey, the music would have been cheaper/freer!

But as Ben Sheffner brilliantly clarifies:

The "problem" that Wexelblat and QuestionCopyright.org and Paley seem to think exists is that the publisher is asking too much money for a license. But that could happen whether the compositions are 80 years old or 8. They simply think that a filmmaker in Paley's position has some right to a licence at a price she can afford, rather than at the price the copyright owner wishes to charge. That "right" simply doesn't exist in the law; nor should it, any more than my "right" to the new 6-Series I'd like at the price I can afford, rather than the price BMW chooses to charge.)

It's great that Paley's work is being lauded and hopefully she will raise the funds to distribute her work. But to bash copyright law so that some artists can take other's work without whatever payment they demand is going to make other artists "broke, in debt, and homeless."