Copyright Once Again Being Used To Hinder Culture, Not Enable It

26 01 2009


by Mike Masnick

Jan. 5, 2009

I’m still working my way through James Boyle’s excellent The Public Domain, but it’s chock full of examples of ways that copyright holds back cultural expression — and that comes to mind in reading the saga of a movie called Sita Sings the Blues. It was brought to my attention by Rich W, who saw the film at a film festival a while back and loved it. After that, the film disappeared off the radar, but was brought back to some attention right before Christmas, when Roger Ebert wrote a glowing review of it. He, like Rich, didn’t expect to like it, and didn’t even plan to watch it — but after being convinced to check it out, he loved it. But, what he discovered is that the film was unlikely to get any distribution because, despite being an animated reimagining of a classic Indian love story, it uses the songs of popular jazz singer Annette Hanshaw, recorded in the 1920s.

To clear the rights for the music, apparently more money than the entire movie cost was required. As Ebert noted:

“Don’t the copyright owners realize they are contributing to the destruction of their property by removing it from knowledge?”

Exactly. Meanwhile, the creator of the film, Nina Paley, has been actively blogging about the ordeal.




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