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:


36 Responses to “Nina Paley’s Numbers: CC Licensing for Profit”
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Edwin said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator. November 30, 2009 at 3:10:00 PM PST
Nina Paley said...

"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."

Wrong. I had to pay the same money regardless of how I released the film. Please, please read this:

My reasons for using CC-SA are here:

As far as DVDs are concerned, the DVD IS released by a conventional distributor, FilmKaravan, as well as the unconventional and myself, and we all must pay the absurd extra fees to the song licensors:

What's unconventional about the film (and DVD) distribution is that no one has a monopoly over it. That's selling MORE DVDs, which is one reason I'm getting more money than any conventional distributor said I would.

November 30, 2009 at 4:18:00 PM PST
FilmKaravan said...

Bring Sita home with a DVD of

Buy on Amazon:
Rent on Netflix:

Sita is a goddess separated from her beloved Lord and husband Rama. Nina is an animator whose husband moves to India, then dumps her by email. Three hilarious shadow puppets narrate both ancient tragedy and modern comedy in this beautifully animated interpretation of the Indian epic Ramayana. Set to the 1920's jazz vocals of Annette Hanshaw, Sita Sings the Blues earns its tagline as "the Greatest Break-Up Story Ever Told."

Need another reason why? Check out Roger Eberts Review!

December 1, 2009 at 8:32:00 AM PST

Olá tudo bem? Eu tenho interesse em colocar um banner no seu blog.
Na verdade seria uma troca você colocaria um abnner no meu blog e vice versa entre em contato comigo:

December 12, 2009 at 4:18:00 AM PST

"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."

January 21, 2010 at 5:38:00 AM PST
Anonymous said...

This brings to my question. We have created a film using LEGO minifigs and accessories. It is a Stop Motion Animation type film. It runs 30 minutes and took many pictures to complete. We do not use the word LEGO and disclose in several places that LEGO does not endorse the product. We have been approached by many distributors. Since we have purchased the all the LEGO items, are we covered by the first sale doctrine? Thanks!

January 29, 2010 at 1:19:00 PM PST
Berita harian said...

i am really enjoy reading your post dude, keep your good work.

April 15, 2010 at 2:21:00 PM PDT
Avafx Forex said...

all this story about copyright is keeping me sad...

April 16, 2010 at 12:49:00 AM PDT
Weight Benches said...

Ypou had to pay the money anyway? Regardless of how you released the film?

April 17, 2010 at 12:39:00 PM PDT

Why are you using CC-SA? How much do you pay for this?

April 19, 2010 at 2:45:00 PM PDT
Epson 9900 said...

I didn't know about Sita

April 20, 2010 at 3:09:00 PM PDT

Sita, she is Indian, isn't she?

April 21, 2010 at 3:41:00 AM PDT

It was released under another kind of license for sure.

April 21, 2010 at 11:27:00 AM PDT
wow cd key said...

Do they earn a lot with all those copyright licensing?

April 22, 2010 at 2:27:00 AM PDT

Is there any law that says the maximum fees that the licensors can require?

April 23, 2010 at 3:02:00 AM PDT
List Building said...

Is there a legal way of earning money with licensing somebody else's products?

April 23, 2010 at 3:57:00 AM PDT
17 lcd monitor said...

read Nina's biography, it's pretty interesting.

April 25, 2010 at 1:01:00 PM PDT

Nina is strong, she had to deal with many challenges in her career, but she is getting now the best.

April 25, 2010 at 1:46:00 PM PDT
Anonymous said...

very interesting post, I would be keen to better understand the international implications of these kinds of licenses on different forms of media?

May 2, 2010 at 5:26:00 AM PDT
Yasirli said...

interesting post...thanks.

May 21, 2010 at 6:05:00 PM PDT
Anonymous said...

Nice article, I'm quite interested to know how much money they make with all of of the copyright licenses.

June 29, 2010 at 6:38:00 AM PDT
Anonymous said...

I enjoy reading your articles, keep it up!

June 29, 2010 at 6:39:00 AM PDT
Tarik said...

It's really interesting on how Nina's life is. I really enjoyed reading this article. It was very well displayed and i hope you keep up the good work writing articles. Thanks.

July 9, 2010 at 7:45:00 PM PDT
Marlon said...

Very nice - thanks for sharing Nina's work.

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July 9, 2010 at 8:23:00 PM PDT
Revarius said...

I was very encouraged to find this site. I wanted to thank you for this special read. I definitely savored every little bit of it and I have you bookmarked to check out new stuff you post. Thanks a lot Nina.

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October 24, 2010 at 5:48:00 AM PDT
Richy Rich said...
This comment has been removed by the author. November 1, 2010 at 7:45:00 PM PDT
Richy Rich said...
This comment has been removed by the author. November 1, 2010 at 7:46:00 PM PDT
Richy Rich said...

This is my first time i visit here. I found so many entertaining stuff in your blog, especially on Nina Paley's . I guess I am not the only one having all the enjoyment here! Keep up the good work dude!. . . . . . ...

November 1, 2010 at 7:53:00 PM PDT
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November 11, 2010 at 4:54:00 AM PST
Anonymous said...

Being based in New Zealand the whole issue of copyright is one I'm struggling with almost daily. I have a highly respected relationship advice blog at How To Get Your Ex Back and my content is being stolen and posted in a huge number of other websites regularly. Following up on these instances is so time consuming, and potentially expensive that I've learned to accept it as one of the nastier facts of life.

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January 31, 2011 at 6:32:00 AM PST
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April 7, 2011 at 3:55:00 AM PDT