Question Copyright has a 42-minute interview with Paley on the heartbreak of having to strangle her acclaimed art.
How Copyright Restrictions Suppress Art: An Interview With Nina Paley About "Sita Sings The Blues" (Thanks, Karl!)
After pouring three years of her life into making the film, and having great success with audiences at festival screenings, she now can't distribute it, because of music licensing issues: the film uses songs recorded in the late 1920's by singer Annette Hanshaw, and although the recordings are out of copyright, the compositions themselves are still restricted. That means if you want to make a film using these songs from the 1920s, you have to pay money – a lot of money.
It's a classic example of how today's copyright system suppresses art, effectively forcing artists to make creative choices based on licensing concerns rather than on their artistic vision.
The music in Sita Sings The Blues is integral to the film: entire animation sequences were done around particular songs. As Nina says in the interview, incorporating those particular recordings was part of her inspiration. To tell her – as many people did – to simply use different music would have been like telling her not to do the film at all. And that's part of her point: artists "internalize the permission culture", which in turn affects the kinds of art they make.
I write books. My latest is a YA science fiction novel called Homeland (it's the sequel to Little Brother). More books: Rapture of the Nerds (a novel, with Charlie Stross); With a Little Help (short stories); and The Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow (novella and nonfic). I speak all over the place and I tweet and tumble, too.