Nina Paley’s Numbers: CC Licensing for Profit

30 November 2009

Some of our readers may remember a post about a year ago about a cartoonist named Nina Paley and her copyright difficulties.

A short recap: Nina produced a film based on the Indian tale Ramayana intertwined with Annette Hanshaw’s jazz music. Although the sound recordings Nina used were in the public domain, the copyrights on the underlying musical compositions were not. Nina did not get permission to use the tunes and thus infringed the copyrights. Her settlement with the various rightsholders had a step setup, the more she sold, the more she had to pay to the rightsholders. Deciding that releasing her movie in the traditional way wouldn’t make her any money because most of the money would go to the rightsholders, Nina decided to release her film under a Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike license.

The Wall Street Journal recently ran an article describing the profits Nina has made in the nine months since releasing her film, Sita Sings the Blues, under CC-BY-SA. The short article lists each source of revenue for Nina’s $55,000 total. It generally appears to be saying that CC licensing can work for smaller, professional artists, like Nina Paley, as well as the big guys that are always talked about, such as Nine Inch Nails.

There are a few more pieces of information, which the article does not cover, that give a better view of how successful CC licensing has been for Nina.

In the presentation on which the WJS is reporting, Nina reports that it cost her $80,000 to make the film, $200,000 if you include her cost of living during this time. Compared to the $55,000 she’s taken in so far, it seems like the CC licensing really isn’t working that well for her. However, when Nina approached independent distributors prior to releasing the film, she was told she would probably make only $10-$25,000, $50,000 absolute tops ‘in her wildest dreams.’ Now, comparing what she has made so far to what the distributors expected her to make total, she is doing pretty well.

A better tally of how she has done would include how the Sita copyright issue and subsequent CC licensing have increased Nina’s income from her other works by increasing her visibility; how much she makes from speaking engagements (which she says are her most lucrative work); and how much more she would have paid out under her settlement agreement had she released the film in a more traditional manner. Since all of these things only add to what she has already made, it’s clear that releasing Sita under a Creative Commons license was a good choice for Nina.

For more information on all the different ways Nina is capitalizing on CC-licensed Sita Sings the Blues, see:

Better than Sliced Bread – Google Scholar Enters Our Lives

17 November 2009

For those who haven’t seen it yet, Google recently launched Google Scholar.  This is huge for a number of reasons.

Google Scholar is a research search tool designed specifically for scholarly research, including legal research.  Although it does not offer everything that the giant, expensive, legal search providers have, it looks like it has a lot of very useful tools.  Check out the “How Cited” links (example), the reporter pagation in the left hand margin (example), and, for your jurisdiction specific searches, the advanced search options.

In addition to being a very useful legal tool, Google Scholar is worth attention here because it involves a number of intellectual property issues.  In the United States, case law is part of the public domain.  The inclusion of court opinions therefore poses no IP problems. However, Google Scholar also includes access to journal articles, books and such copyrighted materials.

Google Scholar seems to balance the access to these materials and protection of the copyright in a few different ways.  For some documents, Google Scholar provides a link to an outside paid service such as HeinOnline, JSTOR and even Lexis and Westlaw (links are to examples.)  These services provide you a snippet of the item and offer you ways to view the entire document.  Local libraries may provide free access to some of these databases and Google Scholar has a mechanism to help users find libraries with access.  Basically, in these cases, Google has skirted the potential copyright issues by linking to already existing services.  These services have already worked out the copyright licensing logistics for their resources.  Google just points the users to the resources and the service takes it from there.

For full text articles are also available from non-paid sites.  It appears that in these cases the articles are already available online from journal sites, publishers, and university sites (links are to examples).  Google again just points the users to the article.  In many cases, these links are to pdfs, so the user may not realize what site is providing the materials.  Some sites may not like this, or may have other reasons for desiring that their material not be included in the Google Scholar searches.  Google offers them the option of having their materials removed.

The biggest area of copyright contention in which Google Scholar seems to be involved is with regards to materials not accessible via any third party site, either paid or free.  These materials, when available, are available through Google Books.  While Google is still working through the copyright muck there, Google Scholar has done a good job of utilizing resources that are already available.

Google Scholar may be a new competitor for some of the expensive, traditional, legal research tools, but at its core it is really just a focused version of what Google does best, search.  Luckily for all the users out there, most of the copyright issues surrounding searching and linking have already been worked out.