December 2008

I just spent weeks learning more than I ever wanted to know about the sorry state of video editing on Linux, but the result is worth it:

Nina Paley, being interviewedsite logo for sitasingstheblues.com

It’s an in-depth interview with animator and cartoonist Nina Paley, whose award-winning, feature-length film Sita Sings The Blues cannot be distributed because of copyright restrictions.

She built the film around episodes from the Indian epic the Ramayana and songs recorded by torch singer Annette Hanshaw in the 1920s. The recordings are no longer in copyright jail, and the Ramayana never was, but the compositions are. Nina Paley is therefore expected to pay tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars for the right to distribute the film. That’s a lot of money just to affix some 1s and 0s to some platters. Are we running out of 1s and 0s? Is there a shortage?

The most chilling part of the interview, for me, is where she talks about how thoroughly most filmmakers have “internalized the permission culture”, to the point where they won’t even consider incorporating existing art into their works, because of the potential copyright entanglements. Everything must be separate; everything must unconnected to everything else; novelty is enforced by decree, whether it suits the artist’s inspiration or not.

Hello? This is not censorship because… why, exactly?