This past Friday, American cartoonist, animator, and free culture activist Nina Paley announced she was releasing her landmark animated film Sita Sings the Blues under a Creative Commons CC0 license. Sita Sings the Blues is quite possibly the most famous animated film to be released under an open license. The 82 minute film, which is an autobiographical story mixed with an adaptation of the Ramayana, was released in 2008 under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike license.
Paley, a well known copyleft and free licensing advocate, found inspiration for releasing Sita in recent life events. The day after learning about the death of internet activist and computer programmer Aaron Swartz, Paley was asked to provide permissions, by the National Film Board of Canada (NFB), for filmmaker Chris Landreth to “refer” to Sita Sings the Blues in an upcoming film. Challenges with NFB lawyers reminded Paley of the challenges Swartz faced in relation to his “freeing” of JSTOR documents. “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,” Paley explained on her blog. She refused to sign the paperwork, and the NFB requested that Landreth remove any mentions of Sita in his film.
“CC-0 is as close as I can come to a public vow of legal nonviolence,” Paley states, channeling her frequent frustration with film industry lawyers and copyrights. In a copyleft community where participants are often challenged on what license is the best option, Paley took this chance to attempt to discover that: “I honestly have not been able to determine which Free license is “better,” and switching to CC-0 may help answer that question.”
Sita can now sing the blues (or perhaps something happier, since she is as free as it can get), without having to file for paperwork ever again.