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: http://blog.ninapaley.com/category/sita-sings-the-blues/.