Friday, March 12, 2010

Copyright and Creators

"What we have now is you can get paid for craft. You don’t get paid for art. You get paid for craft. Every animator that I know, or almost every animator that I know, works at a studio, working on shit. They know it’s shit. They do their best to not think about it, but it’s god-awful commercial shit.

Which is not to say that commercial stuff is bad, I’m not anti-commerce. But it’s devised by some idiot, it’s lowest common denominator, and this is what really talented people do. They do crap work. And it’s not just in animation; it’s at all levels."
The above quote comes from an interview (part 1, part 2) with Nina Paley that covers her personal history and issues revolving around copyright. It's part of a larger roundtable discussion on copyright that can be found here and includes composer Jonathan Newman (who rebuts Paley) and an attorney who summarizes the history of copyright.


Jim said...

In the interview (shortly after the part you quoted), Nina argues that "copyleft" allows for her to make a middle-class living for the first time in her life, and that copyright creates the opposite scenario (most artists fail while some become superstars). Yet, Nina doesn't provide any support for this argument besides her own personal experience, which is not only unique but has also been highly publicized due to the copyright entanglement with Sita.

I really wish someone would just explain how giving away years of work can enable someone to make more money, and I hope that explanation accounts for the novelty factor of those who are currently breaking ground with copyleft. Because otherwise, I don't see a very good argument besides anecdotal evidence based on a very small sample size.

Mark Mayerson said...

I agree that Paley has something of the "zealousness of the convert." Because a copyleft approach worked for her, she assumes that it is the right way to go and will work for everyone else. I think the Newman interview in the roundtable makes some very good points in refuting Paley.

There are so many issues wrapped up with this. First is the length of the copyright term. What's the right length to benefit the creator and his/her heirs while still allowing for a vibrant public domain? Right now, it's an open question as to whether anything will ever again be added to the public domain except by accident.

Then there's the issue artists and corporations. Newman, as a composer, is creating complete works without the aid of others. It's natural for him to hold the copyright. Even though Paley made Sita by herself, she included other works on the soundtrack. Paley is a rare case in that the majority of films are created by more than one person. In that case, who should hold copyright or how should it be split? What rights do financiers have relative to creators?

I think we can all agree that artists should have more ownership of their work (as opposed to corporations owning it), but should corporations vanish, we're still left with some difficult questions.

David B. Levy said...

The part of Nina's story I really identify with is how she took a very bad situation (not being able to release her film) and found away to make it work. That's very inspirational to me and it doesn't require me to agree with her every subsequent point on copyright.

Yes lots of folks in animation work on stuff they don't like... but, since its ANIMATION they do like, there is something to be said for working/earning a living doing what they love, even if the subject/content isn't always close to their hearts.

Nina sets a great example by reminding that today's indies can set their sites on great individual works.

roconnor said...

The Saul of Tarsus style rhetoric (such as the invention of the term "copyleft") only serves to obscure problems with copyright which trouble all artists.

The number one issue is length of term. Second is obfuscation of fair use.

I understand that fair use is virtually non-existent under Canadian law, its one major difference with US copyright law.

Most people are turned off by zealots. Sure Billy Graham had a million followers, but there are 70 million Methodists and hundreds of millions or "mainstream" Christians.

As for the quote, I'd say most animation "craftspeople" are generally happy with what they work on but I don't see how titling something as "art" opposed to "craft" (a difference I fully agree exists) negates a right fundamental to post-Enlightenment societies.

I didn't see any reference to the non-sensical "containers are expensive" argument in the interview. Good fortune.

Steve Schnier said...

Regarding David Levy's comment about Nina Paley's bad situation (not being able to release her film) - that was her choice. Many people warned her well in advance that her music choices would lead to legal problems.

Her whole "copyleft" argument is little more than a marketing ploy. "Sita Sings the Blues" would have recieved a fraction of the attention had it not been for Nina's struggles with "unfair" copyright laws. They weren't unfair. She simpley chose to ignore them.

Frankly I'm amazed that so many people have fallen for this stunt.

David B. Levy said...

Hi Steve,

I know Nina had been warned about this during the making of her film, but from what I've gathered this was a film she just HAD to make, regardless of that. Upon finishing she didn't have the money to clear the songs so she raised money to clear some rights and came up with an alternate release plan. You don't have to think she was sensible in the way she began, but I think anyone can deny her savvy in how she was able to still get the film released in an innovative way.

But, WOW, you sure are right how all the resulting controversy fueled her film's promotion and put it on the map. Her film is very good, but her "selling" of it is even better...

David B. Levy said...

typo in my response.. was missing the word DON'T. should have read:

You don't have to think she was sensible in the way she began, but I DON'T think anyone can deny her savvy in how she was able to still get the film released in an innovative way.