Sita Sings the Blues to air in full on PBS

Nina Paley's brilliant -- and troubled -- animated short "Sita Sings the Blues" will air on PBS. This is the critically acclaimed short film that blends Hindu traditional stories with jazz-era music, whose distribution has been stopped by an unforeseen copyright claim on some of the 1920s music that is integral to the film.

Animated Ramayana to Air on PBS: 'Sita Sings the Blues' (Thanks, KaliMama!)


  1. The validity of an 80 year old copyright not withstanding why would you make a film like this and not research the availability of the recordings you used? 80 years ago from 2009 is 1929. Pre-1923 is the year commonly referred to as “public domain” but that only covers compositions and not sound recordings. Considering all the work that went into the piece it is quite sad to me that neither she or some other production professional that she must have been involved with at some point wouldn’t have though to explore that completely.

  2. Awesome. I’d been really keen to see it. I believe she’s going to release it CC as well.

    Greta: There’s already been a lot of discussion along those lines both here at BB and at the links on that page.

  3. Actually, here’s a good response from Antinous, to a post not far different to yours:

    “I have a hard time with that sentiment because it insists that artists have to be business people before they can be artists. Think about a world in which art is only created by people with business acumen. Pretty depressing, eh?”

  4. Nina popped up on a free culture mailing list I was on to demand at length and with increasing opprobrium that its members write her an audio-synching application to solve (sic) this film’s copyright problem if they were serious about freedom.

    Her work is charming, though.

  5. Hmm, it’s not on the schedule of my local PBS affiliate in Boston though. Sadly, no station is mentioned in the news post other than WNET in New York.

    Too bad!

  6. #2, you assume there’s some universal way to determine copyright on a piece of work. There isn’t. Often you might be left with a copyright that still exists, but no one left to claim it. Until, that is, they hold your movie hostage.

    I still think it’s depressing that the works of people long dead and gone are still held back from the public so that many who had no hand in their creation can profit off them in exchange for nothing.

    My American blood doesn’t like the idea of inherited privileges – whether it be wealth that creates multi-generational aristocracies, or inherited titles – not “Duke of Bogoshire”, but “Peter Pan”.

  7. As happy as I am to see this getting broadcast, I’m heavily disappointed it’s only being aired in New York. I really want to see this! Heck, I read the Ramayana after finding out about this movie so I could know the story better (My final verdict was that it was very strange and colorful, and a lot of fun to read). I really hope Paley is able to get past the copyright issues and release this, because this is just too gorgeous to keep from the public.

  8. If I remember correctly, when the news about her being able to release her movie to the public first hit BoingBoing, she had acknowledged that she knew she didn’t have the rights to the music, and made the film anyways.

  9. I don’t think it was eligible for an Oscar since it hasn’t actually been released yet?

    Sine this is airing on PBS are we to assume she was able to get the rights issue cleared up?

  10. @#5
    “I have a hard time with that sentiment because it insists that artists have to be business people before they can be artists.”

    I’m sorry, but that’s a false dilemma. No one is insisting that artists have to be business people before they can be artists. What they are insisting is that artists who wish to engage in business need to abide by the basic rules of business. “That’s all” (to borrow Annette Hanshaw’s famous tagline – hope it’s not copyrighted!).

    As an IP creator (and a major fan of Annette Hanshaw) I deeply sympathize with Nina Paley’s difficulties. Yet, it almost beggars belief that a filmmaker hoping to distribute her work commercially would base it to such an irretrievable extent on music for which she was unable to ascertain clear rights information.

    One need not “become a businessperson” to see the potential for problems with that.

    Very best of luck to Nina Paley!

    1. Shanghai Slim,

      What you’re really saying is that business considerations are more important than artistic considerations. I repudiate that notion with the full force of conviction. Just because the business-savvy can buy political influence because they’re wealthy doesn’t mean that they’re right, just that they’re rich, greedy and corrupt.

  11. @#14:

    It is *not* a false dilemma, if only because the current state of copyright is entirely the invention of “business people”. Paley’s problem is not the recordings themselves, which are already PD, it’s the publishing rights of the songs she’s singing. I defy anyone to have anticipated that particular gem without benefit of council. Of course that’s the point, isn’t it: to confuse the situation to the point that artists *have* to rely on “business people”. I predict some rocking art to come out of that shotgun wedding.

    Culture should not be held in vaults guarded by a chosen few who require a palm crossed with silver before even disclosing its contents, much less the rules by which it may be enjoyed. At a minimum, the copyright laws should be simplistic enough that the average artist should be able to easily see the boundaries (remember 27+27? Life + 30? Now you have to be able to read Tengwar just have a fighting chance. But the Tolkein estate has probably copyrighted the font anyway.)

    Or to put it facetiously, had Sonny Bono skied into that tree five years earlier and not sponsored the most recent abominable copyright extension, Nina Paley would be in the clear. (Well, maybe if he’d skied into Michael Eisner with sufficient velocity.)

  12. #9 – I respectfully disagree that there is no way to determine whether or not a copyright has expired. It takes a tiny bit of online research and a few phone calls or emails. Anyone who clears music for use in television or film as a profession knows this is the case.
    This argument was remarkably well argued from both sides (in an unusually civilized and intelligent fashion for a website’s comments section) at .

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