Nina Paley passes Netflix DRM and thousands of dollars

Nina Paley was approached by Netflix to offer her amazing animated feature Sita Sings the Blues on their streaming service. Sita retells the saga of Rama and incorporates some vintage jazz, to marvellous effect. In order to clear this old jazz music, Paley had to go through an enormous rigamarole, and this experience has turned her into an advocate for a more liberal copyright.

So Nina asked if Netflix would stream her movie without DRM. Netflix refused. Then Nina asked if she could add some pre-roll to the film advising viewers of places they could get it for free and without DRM.

Netflix refused.

This mirrors my experience with Audible and the Kindle, where I, as the copyright holder and creator, was not allowed to offer my work without DRM and/or a restrictive license-agreement -- I wasn't even allowed to add something to the text or audio saying, "I release you from the license agreement you've clicked through."

Nina's done what I did. She's refused to license her works for a platform that restricts her audience against her wishes, and she's told the world what she's done and why. It cost her thousands of dollars, but she stuck to her principles, and set an example for other creators, as well as making sure that her viewers got a fair deal. Bravo!

I've been the "change I want to see" in regards to copyright monopolies. People told me I'd lose everything by copylefting Sita, including all hope of professional distribution. But in fact, some professional distributors became willing to distribute Sita without claiming monopolies over it, and we're all fine.

I'd still love Sita to be offered through Netflix's online channels; if they ever offer DRM-free video-on-demand, I hope they remember Sita Sings the Blues.

For now, people will just have to obtain Sita by visiting the vast big Internet outside of Netflix. Most of the Internet still isn't enclosed by Netflix, or Amazon, or iTunes. Most of the Internet is still Free; I'm doing what little I can to keep it that way. I'm sad to lose the potential viewers who may have found Sita through Netflix's electronic delivery. But maybe some of those Netflix subscribers will discover the rest of the Internet because of my tiny act of resisting DRM.

What Nina said. I love Audible's convenience and selection. I love ebooks. I dream of the day when I, as a copyright holder and creator, can partner with the iTunes Store, Amazon and Audible to offer digital versions of my works on simple terms like, "Respect copyright law" and "You bought it, you own it."

Turning down Netflix (via The Command Line)


  1. Does Netflix even have the ability to stream “DRM-free”? Isn’t DRM-free streaming just a download?

  2. As I’ve said before in these comments, I’m a huge Nina Paley fan. But she made an unnecessary, illogical, self-damaging error here. You do a disservice to her and to those who would follow her otherwise sterling example of individual creative genius to promote this sort of financial mistake as a good move simply because it aligns with your own increasingly radical position on copyright issues.

    I remember when BB was more a “directory of wonderful things,” and less a logrolling venue for personal agendas.

    1. Clearly from looking at your comments in favor of DRM we can tell you don’t have a personal agenda. /sarcasm

    2. You call it personal agenda, they call it seeing DRM for what it truly is. Her refusing to allow them to put DRM on her work earns my utmost respect as it shows she is willing to put her money where her mouth is (unlike google currently, but I digress). To say that this view of copyright is “increasingly radical” is beyond ridiculous and goes to show how little you know of how oft the current laws are abused and the new laws the major corporations are trying to put in to place and thus obscuring the very reason why copyright began in the first place.

      For those not understanding the google thing, it’s something in the manga scene and while they have every right to do what they’re doing, their reason for doing so is misguided.

    3. Azaner, what you see as ‘an unnecessary, illogical, self-damaging error’ I see as precisely the opposite; where you see a ‘financial mistake’, I see her putting her money where her mouth is. It’s a brave move and it bespeaks integrity. I applaud her decision.

    4. When did you read this Boing Boing that you remember? Certainly not in the last five or six years. Cory and others have always written about causes that they care about.

      I suggest that you vote with your feet if you don’t like it.

    5. @azaner: No. Paley’s decision is a “mistake” only if you think her immediate financial return is the most important career issue for her.

      It’s completely sensible, both artistically and financially, for her to wish to encourage, say, better Netflix license agreements.

      (If she can’t distribute her movie under the terms she wants because Netflix would rather have no sales from it at all, that’s a career obstacle, no? Free distribution and word-of-mouth made Sita a success in the first place; why would she sign a deal that tries to prevent them?)

      And if a struggling turning down money in the hope of improving the situation isn’t a “wonderful thing”, I don’t see what is.

      I’m off to rewatch Sita. (Streamed from my PC to my set-top to my TV, because I can, because there’s no DRM on it. Which is why I donated to its creator when I first got it – because I could watch it on my setup… Because the download terms allowed me. Netflix has never had any of money yet, because their DRM would stop me actually watching. See?)

    6. Cory, like many others, myself included, view Nina’s rejection of DRM to be a ‘Wonderful Thing’.

      So what’s your beef?

    7. For some poor souls, it always comes down to “The Money”. Everything is viewed through the distorting lens of “The Money”.

      I feel very sorry for you, azaner.

      Very sorry, indeed.

    8. I have to agree with azaner. When you’re a total unknown outside of Boing Boing, it’s a poor decision to totally reject another distribution method. It’s great she’s sticking by her principals but is this the right place and time to wage this battle? When you’re Steven Spielberg or FOX you can make these kinds of demands and hope to see results, but you or I make a movie and expect Netflix is going to bend over backwards for us is a little ridiculous.

      Besides, what do you people have against Netflix streaming? You don’t OWN the video you’re streaming, so what rights do you have to it? If you want to rip and copy and replay the video on your Nexus One, go BUY the disc and make a fair use copy. DRM when you purchase something to own is evil, but Netflix streaming is a $9/month rental service that’s easier than the Pirate Bay.

      She should have put her video on Netflix streaming, not for the money (which wouldn’t have hurt) but for the exposure (which not having really does hurt). I’ve never seen her video, and I can’t remember her name, but at least she didn’t sell out to DRM.

    9. “As I’ve said before in these comments, I’m a huge Nina Paley fan. But she made an unnecessary, illogical, self-damaging error here. You do a disservice to her and to those who would follow her otherwise sterling example of individual creative genius to promote this sort of financial mistake as a good move simply because it aligns with your own increasingly radical position on copyright issues.

      I remember when BB was more a “directory of wonderful things,” and less a logrolling venue for personal agendas.

      1) It’s her ART
      2) It is already available freely through other means
      3) It is being noticed because it’s a fairly public petition to a large content publisher
      4) I regularly see political articles on BoingBoing, you’re the one who ignores this and gets annoyed with any that trigger some sort of kneejerk objectivism.

      Sure, the obsession with copyleft and creative commons is noticeable sometimes, but if this is what’s driving you into a frenzy, chill out and just wait for the next article. There are really far less of these articles than there were in the past.

    10. Ditto to what azaner said. Netflix is a great way around the downloading films but still making them quick and easy to see.

      Cory just sees DRM or even a hint of it and ignores any other information related to the story.

    11. As Cory once commented in another situation, “You are mistaking this for a news site.”

      If Cory wants to argue against DRM, it’s his blog. You don’t have to read it.

      And ‘radical’? Have any pro-DRM companies been recently bombed by a hot air balloon with a red caped pilot, and I’m simply not aware of it?

      1. Your comment is wholly nonsensical. It doesn’t follow from what you’ve said that I have no right to disagree with Doctorow. I believe that I have every right to disagree, and to comment accordingly in a civilized manner.

        Indeed, it is only with opinions (like Doctorow’s) that one may potentially disagree. Assuming (for the sake of argument) a news site only reports verified facts, how is one supposed to disagree with a news site?

        Since when is someone making a blog posting entitled to be free from disagreement? Some of you people acts as though CD’s words are inviolate gospel. I find that extremely creepy. Think for yourselves, folks.

        1. azaner,

          Your only right on Boing Boing is to have your personally identifiable information kept confidential.

  3. There’s a very good discussion about this over at TechDirt:

    I’m pretty copyleft but I can’t say I agree with the choice in this instance. Cory opposes DRM because it doesn’t let his customers fully own their books, meaning they can’t copy it to another device or back it up or share it with a friend. I agree with that.

    Nobody using Netflix expects to own the movie they watch. It’s a rental service. Netflix’s DRM doesn’t prevent the customer from doing anything the customer is knowingly paying for.

    I’d even go so far as to say that because of Nina’s copyleft policy, Netflix doesn’t even need her permission to stream the film. It’s free to copy. They should just put it online and tell customers where it can be downloaded in the film’s description. They don’t even need to pay her.

    Instead of whether Netflix should stream the movie or not, a better argument might be whether people need to pay Netflix to see the film. She could argue that Netflix should stream the film for free to anyone, not just paying, registered users, and there are lots of other films that could fall under that category as well (like at I could see Netflix offering a free service much more than a download service.

    Besides, once streaming becomes the norm, few people will want or need to actually own the film. The only reason they do is they want the convenience of see the film any time they want (streaming does this), or they want to share with friends (it’s much easier to just tell a friend to watch it at Netflix), or they just love having shelves full of DVD boxes.

  4. I applaud Nina (and Cory) for putting her money where her mouth is. Not that many people are willing to stand for their opinions when push comes to shove, and these unreasonable licenses and restrictions are here to stay unless both we, the consumers, and you, the creators, show the middle men, the providers, that we don’t want this.

    Buy DRM free as much as possible. Avoid DRM as much as possible. Pay for stuff that is offered at a fair price with fair licenses. And support content creators.

  5. @azaner
    remember that this is a blog, not the BBC. There is no attempt to be neutral, as this is the owners soapbox. There is no editor to keep people in line or anything like that. If Cory, Xeni or any of the others are interested in something, or hold a particular position, they can post it on their own, personal blog. Boingboing. It’s a directory of wonderful things ONLY because the owners are quite different types with different opinions and interests.

  6. “promote this sort of financial mistake”

    No one can serve two masters. Either she will hate the one and love the other, or she will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both Art and Money.

  7. I take no righteous stance in being the “copyright holder” – I wish there were no copyright to hold. Given our everything-is-copyrighted-by-default system, the best I can do is release “Sita” under a CopyLeft license: CC-Attribution-Share Alike. It’s not perfect. It places one restriction on the work: no further restrictions.

    More important than withholding my “rights” (it’s not clear whether Sita’s license legally prohibits DRM, although I wrote, “You are not free to copy-restrict (“copyright”) or attach Digital Restrictions Management (DRM) to Sita Sings the Blues or its derivative works” ) is withholding my Endorsement. Any power I have over “Sita” is not because I’m the owner, but because I’m the author. You “own” “Sita” as much as I do, but I am the author and you are not, which makes a big difference.

    Netflix may stream “Sita” without my permission or Endorsement, as long as they do so without DRM (because DRM adds restrictions that violate the CopyLeft restriction against further restrictions). Of course if they obtain my Endorsement and share some money with me, that will increase the value of their service, because one reason audiences are willing to pay for content delivery is the assurance their money supports the artists.

    1. I agree with and support your stance on content in general and your own work in specific. It just makes a lot more sense, I think, for the author of a given work to get it into as many hands (or in front of as many eyes, ears, noses, etc) as possible, even if it means less money up front. I mean to watch Sita as soon as I can budget the time and money to do so. You have my respect for sticking up for your beliefs in the face of temptation to grab short-term profit at the expense of control of your work. Thank you, and may other artists do the same.

  8. I have to confess, I’ve followed various digital-rights issues pretty closely, but I’m at a loss to say exactly how Netflix’s fairly minimal implementation of DRM is such a horrible thing. If Netflix were in the business of *selling* movie downloads (like Amazon/iTunes) instead of renting movie streams, I could see being upset at the DRM.

    Agreed, I can’t download a rented Netflix stream to my hard drive and stick it on any device I want, but I don’t expect to. I figure that for $9/month (the price of a single movie ticket), getting all-I-can-eat movies streamed to my laptop or set-top box, unconstrained by having to send physical DVDs back and forth, is a pretty fair deal.

    I’m all for standing up for one’s creative principles, but I’m not sure that Paley picked the right battle here.

  9. your abuse of the word “cost” (when you maybe at most mean opportunity cost) is pretty disingenuous.

  10. Bravo Ms. Paley! You are one brave lady! I salute your strength and courage to fight the evil big DRM!

  11. I’ve seen the movie thanks to the free downloads and think it’s wonderful, but I’d like to be the devil’s advocate here and point out a seemingly-forgotton fact about Ms Paley’s copyright related opinions:

    She first got press for this film because she had NEGLECTED to seek proper permission for the songs in it. She made a mistake, principled or not, and now seems to be turning it into a mission to gloss over it. She claims she does not care about copyright or liscencing of her work, which is fine, but the real story is that she does not care about the copyright or liscencing of OTHERS.

    1. Lady Katey, you seem to misunderstand that the legal restriction issues surrounding the works that Nina used in Sita Sings the Blues are actually ridiculously murky, and that the works would have fallen under public domain had Disney not lobbied our government to extend their copy restrictions into indefinite infinity (if you think Mickey Mouse isn’t going to try to pass laws further extending corporate ownership of culture in a year or so, you’re very naive).

      1. @ anon 33

        The copyright issues aren’t really “murky”, just widely misreported. You’ve probably read articles where someone claimed the songs were “retroactively” re-copyrighted. It’s not true.

        The truth is the sound recordings were *never* in the public domain. Prior to 1972 all sound recordings were covered by state copyright laws which gave them perpetual (that means forever) copyright.

        Congress ended that in 1972 by extending federal copyright law to audio recordings. They chose 2047 as the date the formerly perpetual copyrights would begin to expire.

        So even without the Disney-lobbied extension (to 2067) the songs would not have been available as public domain for Nina Paley to use.

        You can argue that copyright terms are too long, but you can’t argue that the big bad corporation stole them out of the public domain.

        1. That is too crazy. I did not read the “Capitol v Naxos” decision, but knew that, e.g., Naxos sells some Louis Armstrong recordings overseas but not in the States because of differences in copyright laws. Or, they did. Maybe that’s changing too.

  12. The real problem is that authors still have rights to the work they create, when it should really be all about the companies.

    Much like Yahoo’s attempt to make everything posted on Geocities be owned by Yahoo, the next logical step is to make everything you ever say or do owned by corporations. Then Apple et al could just do whatever they wanted to with your content, and you wouldn’t have to make any kind of silly altruistic stance like backing away from thousands of dollars or chucking a sledgehammer through a giant monitor of Steve Jobs barking about a New World Order.

  13. I don’t really understand why Netflix SHOULD have DRM-free stuff. You’re not paying to buy their DVDs, only rent them. I wouldn’t expect my local video store to rent DRM-free DVDs to me, either.

  14. I think it’s fair for netflix to say that they can’t provide a streaming option that is DRM-free, because they don’t have the infrastructure, and it probably isnt requested enough to make it a reasonable expense for them. However, I think refusing to allow a pre-roll telling you where you CAN get it, or modifying their default license, is a different manner. At that point, it is no longer a company unwilling to spend a lot of money to accommodate an unusual request, and becomes a distributor trying to bully artists into supporting their license.

  15. I’m missing something here. If it is on Netflix, does it preclude other distribution methods? Why can’t it be on Netflix AND some place free? What’s the problem?

    1. I’m also in agreement with netdiva here. I already know that I can watch the movie free online, but I would have very much liked to also have the option of streaming it through Netflix since I don’t really like watching movies on my computer. Nothing in the Netflix agreement would have taken away my ability to enjoy the film any way I saw fit nor (as far as I can tell) Paley’s ability to distribute it any way she saw fit.

  16. @Scixual, @StrangeInterlude, @lolbrandon

    It would hold the act far more meaningful if it wasn’t a rented stream. Buying a copy is one thing, but bitching about the the terms of streaming media is rather odd. If I buy a download I demand the ability to format-shit. If I’m streaming I expect my platform to support it, and I think Netflix is using available platforms?

    I find it interesting that the DVD is avail through Netflix, does it use CSS encryption?

  17. The problem is that netflix wasn’t willing to run additional ads for alternative distribution channels. Revolution!

  18. So has Netflix now officially joined the Cory’s Boing Boing Axis of Corporate Evil? We need to start keeping a list – I can’t keep track of all these companies that don’t qualify for the Techno-Utopian merit badges.

  19. I remember when Nina’s Adventures strip first ran in Santa Cruz. And was amazed by her vision. Am looking forward to seeing Sita.

    At about the time that Nina moved to San Francisco, I co-founded a company to wrap fully-functioning software with DRM. This allowed anyone to try-before-you-buy any piece of software, with the publisher’s blessing. We weren’t in the DRM business, that was an afterthought. The really interesting challenge was creating a distribution channel that would work as easily at switching channels on a TV.

    I don’t have Netflix. My assumption is that they’ve invested in creating a smooth experience of watching movies. That experience requires a fixed investment in the player and an incremental investment of server bandwidth for each download. Another assumption is that all the content is provided by copyright holders who want to enforce scarcity, so that the can recoup their investment. Granting Nina’s request implies additional cost to: 1) make changes to the player’s DRM, 2) make changes the web site’s catalog, 3) managing the questions coming for other content partners, 4) review contracts and talking to lawyers. This doesn’t make sense to support a single request. Moreover, people who want a free version simple needs to google “Sita sings torrent” to bypass the Netflix distribution channel completely.

    I had a similar experience to Nina’s from a consumer side. I downloaded via torrent a new release of the group Hybrid. I posted a comment on their blog asking where I could apply a direct payment to them. My comment was removed! I posted the same comment on their official forum about what happened. That comment was also removed. Finally, I bought the official version from iTunes. Ironically, the iTunes version was a lower bitrate than the torrent version. The point is that accommodating a simple request, on my end, requires a lot of complexity, on their end.

    1. “I downloaded via torrent a new release of the group Hybrid. I posted a comment on their blog asking where I could apply a direct payment to them. My comment was removed! I posted the same comment on their official forum about what happened. That comment was also removed.”

      I was in a semiknown band several years back…and if you would have come to my site and tried to do the same, I would have deleted the comment.

      Why? Because it is an insult to all the people that have worked on the album that did not have their faces on it.

      Between albums, I did a lot of hired gun work…I don’t like sitting around. Most of the time, these bands couldn’t afford to pay me, so I worked for points. Is it ideal? No, but I decided that it was worth the risk that if I stood behind a product, I’d reap part of the profits if people felt the need to pay. If they didn’t, I didn’t get paid. I figured that was fair.

      And when it came to my albums, we were never popular enough to elicit huge front money to record an album, so we did the same thing. Beyond that, my label did a lot of work that I frankly didn’t want to…I don’t do distribution, I don’t want to build websites, I don’t want to have to deal with a payment system. I let others deal with that, and they should get paid.

      So, when someone tried to pay my directly…I refused. I don’t care if they grabbed a boot…either it was worth paying for, or it wasn’t. If they want to pay for it, the price is on the CD or download. There is no bargaining of the price…either you thought it was worth the price or it wasn’t. It is an insult to take someone’s works and offer less than the going rate.

      Again, if someone obtained the work without paying…so be it. Life goes on…lots of people didn’t buy it.

  20. I’m with netdiva here.

    As long as the netflix arrangement doesn’t somehow retroactively replace the license on the work, making it completely unavailable for DRM-free use ANYWHERE, I don’t see how anything of value is lost.

    Also can someone give a rational explanation of how the netflix license is evil? It’s a RENTAL service, yes? You don’t own the movies so you should have no expectation of making multiple backups.

  21. “Nina Paley passes on Netflix DRM and thousands of dollars”

    If you decline an opportunity, you pass on it.

  22. Cory, I understand and agree with your views on ebook DRM and “You bought it, you own it.”

    However, with what I know of the situation, I don’t agree with the idea that Netflix’s DRM is offensive. . . Their streaming video service is brought to you on a subscription plan, an “All You Can Eat Buffet” type system, where you are able to absorb as much media as you can during all hours for a monthly fee. But you aren’t buying the movies, you are buying monthly access to their database. Nowhere do they give you the idea that you have ANY right to watch the films once you discontinue the service.

    I will agree that their implementation isn’t perfect – for instance, I’m annoyed that they restrict the instant view to a very limited number of browsers, so I have to open up IE8 instead of the Firefox beta I am currently running to stream. But that’s a customer service/technological issue, not an “I’m giving up rights” issue.

    So like the others, I would like you to point out what we are missing.

  23. Netflix and Apple are ‘evil’ fnord to distract our attention from the RIAA and MPAA. EFF opposes any net neutrality law which includes an enforcement mechanism.

  24. I watch streaming movies on Netflix all the time and the service is a lot better value for me than cable TV. The DRM itself doesn’t bother me because it is a streaming service and I have no expectation of being able to save the movies to watch later. I do have an issue with not being able to view their content from a Linux machine due to the lack of a Linux implementation of their DRM.

    I downloaded this movie from and loved it. It would be nice for it to reach a wider audience though Netflix, and also for the filmmaker to have some money that she might be able to use to make more great movies.

    I guess I don’t understand what benefit I would gain from being able to watch this movie on Netflix without DRM. Without DRM it would be easier for me to rip the stream to a file, but since the service isn’t designed for me to be able to save the movie to keep I’m not going to be disappointed if I can’t do that.
    If I want to get a copy to keep I’m a big boy and know how
    to use a search engine to find one, and I really do appreciate being able to download a free and legal copy of it. As long as Netflix does not try to stop the filmmaker from distributing it free elsewhere if she so desires, it seems like a moot point whether or not the Netflix service that streams it to the viewer on demand applies DRM to it.

  25. I’m confused: why is Netflix, who spent millions of dollars developing their product/service, obligated to offer up stuff for free because the filmmaker wants it that way? If a filmmaker wanted movie theaters to show their movie for free, would the theater owner be obligated to do so?

    These polemics about DRM are becoming more and more detached from reality.

    Abuse of copyright is one thing, and is something that people should fight vigorously – but to take the opposite extreme, that copyright per se is a bad thing, is just as wrong-headed.

  26. Netflix offers a subscriber-only streaming service which is included without additional charge to all of their DVD rental subscription services. They offer absolutely no freely publicly available services, and because of this are able to procure a rather large catalog of commercial video content (without, I might ad, *any* advertisements whatsoever). What Ms. Paley asked for is entirely outside the scope of the services Netflix provides. Further, Netflix does not charge per-view, so Netflix’s clientele would not have paid anything additional to their monthly subscription fees to view the video in question.
    I wholeheartedly agree with the sentiment behind the decision to not sign on with Netflix, but expecting Netflix to all of a sudden become a free streaming video host at your whim is particularly ridiculous.

  27. Also, it seems kind of stubborn and unreasonable for Netflix not to allow her to add some pre-roll at the beginning to tell customers where they can get the film free. That’s a pretty small concession that would enable them to get some great content for their subscribers. Streaming something DRM free might require a redesign of their software on the server side, but allowing that would be simple.

  28. I am pretty anti-DRM, but I guess I don’t hold that it is pure evil in all situations. Streaming Netflix is one of those situations. Clearly, when I steam from Netflix I am not buying or owning anything other than access to a huge ass library of media. It isn’t like I shell out $5 and then am shocked when the media doesn’t appear on my hard drive to be used forever. You are pretty clearly paying for access to a big ass library of material and nothing else. It is a pretty sweet deal. I canceled my cable and between Hulu and Netflix, no one in my house misses it. I pay drastically less for media these days and get much better quality than what cable offers. We are all pretty content to pay little to nothing for access to a big ass library of stuff, bypass commercials, and have full control over when and what we watch.

    DRM is evil when it starts stripping you of rights to stuff on OWN. DRM on music, movies, and video games that I bought with the clear intention of keeping forever is clearly a bad thing. However, if you clearly don’t own it and you are just paying for access to a library, how is DRM bad? DRM on stuff like Gametap, Rhapsody, and Netflix is the good kind of DRM that expands business models instead of crippling consumers. Sometimes I just want to pay for access to a library, instead of having to buy each and every individual thing I consume and feel obligated to store and protect it.

    In this case, Netflix’s player is built only to stream content from its library. It shouldn’t come as a shock that they are not going to re-write the player so that one of the things it streams from their library isn’t wrapped in Netflix’s DRM. Nor is the fact that Netflix isn’t going to allow advertising alternative distribution streams on their site all that shocking either.

    So, I’m glad Nina is sticking to her principles… but frankly, I don’t get what those principles are.

  29. azaner: So she’s self-damaging because she is not greedy? There is more to life than money ya know…

  30. Count me amongst those who are confused at what stance Ms. Paley is taking. As many others have pointed out, a reasonable person would have no expectation of being able to keep a persistent copy of a streaming Netflix title, any more than one would expect to be able to keep a DVD that Netflix has mailed to you. (Well, of course, you could, but your DVD plan would be down one DVD and you’d eventually have to buy it when you cancel your Netflix plan.) Does she not understand what service Netflix offers, or is it just grandstanding for the sake of getting free pub for her work?

  31. My comment earlier today comes from this position: I fully support Nina Paley and her guiding principles. I have supported Nina’s efforts (with both my hopes and my dollars) since well before ninety percent of you even knew her name. It just so happens that my *personal* and independent analysis of the Netflix situation is that Nina could have rightfully (and righteously) availed herself of both the exposure and income provided by this opportunity without having compromised those principles. Others have articulated this position better than I, in the interim.

    Do I think it’s a fatal mistake for Nina and her career, or even for Sita as a fil? Absolutely not. I just don’t see the DRM issue in play in this particular instance as being anywhere near as sinister or harmful as many of the more egregious examples, and yet I continue to see anti-DRM commentators unwilling to admit of any possibility of degrees to the analysis. It’s “All DRM is evil,” period. That doesn’t seem logical to me. I consider myself an open-minded person, and it raises a red flag for me when people start talking in “absolute absolutes,” especially in such rapidly-changing arenas. When someone begins categorically rejecting any position or idea, for its own sake, without allowing for the possibility of gray areas, I can’t help but think that person has begun to close his or her own mind to at least a certain degree, and has begun listening only to their own rhetoric.

    As to those who suggest by their comments that I should “vote with my feet,” etc. (which I take to mean, poor metaphor aside, that if I don’t agree with a posting I should keep my mouth shut and/or move along), I can only say that that’s additional evidence of closed-mindedness, of the worst sort. I don’t have to agree with Cory Doctorow on every position in order to enjoy his work (or this site), nor do you. I would hope Doctorow would agree with me in this.

    (Finally, yes, I have been reading BB for several years, and I do happen to miss what I perceive as having been a less editorialized version of the site in years past. Anyone suggesting that I have no right to that impression, or to gently say so, is simply incorrect.)

    1. “I consider myself an open-minded person, and it raises a red flag for me when people start talking in “absolute absolutes,” especially in such rapidly-changing arenas.”

      I agree, but being set on fire still hurts no matter how many times I try it; so I think I continue to believe DRM is evil until proven innocent.

      1. “I think I[‘ll] continue to believe [X] is evil until proven innocent.”

        Fill in whatever noun you like for X above; I dare say your statement is the very antithesis of the advancement of technology, art, and human knowledge in general.

        Only proves my point. Take the anti-[anything] argument too far, and one risks becoming the very sort of bully one was initially trying to stand up against in the first place.

      2. &BTW, you just teed up the perfect argument.

        Fire will indeed burn you, each and every time, so it’s bad for sticking your hands in.

        But I’ll be darned if fire doesn’t also turn out to be good for heating homes and cooking food and all sorts of things like that.

        What I’m advocating is *thought* and consideration of context, rather than an oversimplified blanket response of “FIRE BAD!”

        1. Dude, I’m sure I’ll catch the subtitles on my next go-round on the wheel of life. Right now, “Fire Bad,” “DRM Evil,” “Universal Health Care Good,” and “Goldman-Sachs Jailed Sexy” are about all the paradigms I can manage right now. Point taken.

    2. I guess I’m one of the more rabid anti-copyright, anti-DRM commenters here, but you know what? You (and some of the other posters) have persuaded me that you’re right.

      Given Nina’s position, I still think it was a courageous, principled, and consistent move on her part.

      However, as for DRM on Netflix, I’m trying to figure out what impact DRM actually has on this kind of streaming rental/library service. The fact that this is a rental (as opposed to a purchase) makes all the difference in the world. As far as I can tell, DRM becomes a non-issue.

      The more I think about it, the more it seems like Netflix is an excellent solution to a whole raft of copyright/piracy/distribution problems.

      Anyway, thanks for making me rethink this.

      I only wish Netflix was international. If Netflix streaming, or something like it, was available where I live, then I’d happily pay good money to sign up right now.

      1. “The fact that this is a rental (as opposed to a purchase) makes all the difference in the world. As far as I can tell, DRM becomes a non-issue.”

        You’ve incapsulated it very well. And yet CD’s post lauded NP like some sort of Joan of Arc, without even considering whether her martyrdom made any sense, helped the cause, or was necessary in any way. That’s not an intelligent response to something like DRM (or to anything)–indeed, it’s “stay the course” thinking–and that’s what prompted my comments. Give me reason over tenacity every time.

  32. I should have included:

    There is nothing at all about “greed” in my position. As far as that goes, Nina Paley does not strike me as the sort of person who could ever be motivated by greed, anyway. Yet I do have a sense of what making Sita, and the ensuing legal nightmares, have cost her in terms of real dollars. For that matter, I know that she herself had to weigh the Netflix question before deciding–based on postings she made, it was not an instant, knee-jerk “No.”

    More than just money, what I would like to see for Nina (and Sita) is the exposure. People should see the film. People who would simply enjoy it and learn from it, yes–but also people who might be on the cusp of creating something, for all the world, but don’t believe it’s possible for “just one person” to create something wonderful anymore, and just need to see this inspirational example of what’s possible for one determined artist to achieve. Plus, I happen to think Nina’s a genius. She’s the sort of creative force that should rightfully be making more films (or whatever it is she wants to make) without the crushing financial pressures, or threat thereof, that almost stifled her before (and would have certainly stifled most mere mortals).

    Atop all that, she also deserves compensation her great work, yes. And it doesn’t require “greed” in the equation to wish her that.

  33. Bravo, bravo, thank you cory and nina!

    Copyright laws were originally put in place to encourage original content creation and the effort that goes into creating something truly unique. Turns out that they have been manipulated into something that now has the exact opposite effect. Consumers are sick of it. Artists are sick of it. Most people are sick of it. Enough is enough. I’m completely against the restrictive greedy mess that copyright laws have become.

    As a painter, illustrator, and artist, I’m all for supporting the arts and artists directly. Buy a painting, go see live music and buy a cd there, watch a play, choose handmade items, appreciate unique thing whenever possible. Those simple things will make a hell of a lot more difference then whether or not some large corporations are able to continue to trickle down a small percentage of their profits to a few select artists that produce what they consider the most marketable content.

  34. I, for one, am quite happy Sita isn’t on Netflix because I would never have been able to watch it (unless Netflix is available international lately).
    On the other hand, Sita needs as much exposure as possible, because really everybody should watch it.
    Then again, it’s Paleys movie and only she can decide where she wants to publish it.
    And what I really want to say: thank you for making Sita!

    1. You mean to say that you are happy Sita isn’t available EXCLUSIVELY on Netflix, right?

      Seems like whenever people get this frothingly anti-DRM all their arguments become downright strawmanriffic (e.g. some comments here, parts of Doctorow’s iPad piece, etc.)

      DRM is a crappy policy for a multitude of excellent reasons that make perfect sense. Please stick to THOSE. You do harm to your reputation and the credibility of the movement if you hyperextend your arguments like this.

      1. Of course I meant “I’m happy it is not exclusively on Netflix”. For people outside the USA, it’s nice to know Netflix or Hulu exists, but that is it. Both services are not available outside the USA.

    2. Um, having it on Netflix would not mean it would be ONLY on Netflix.

      And I can certainly see why essentially asking Netflix to add an advertisement for a competing service / download was met with “no.”

      Hey, it’s great she has the power to make her own decisions about how her work is distributed (already Netflix carries the DVD, right?).

      Netflix isn’t a bad guy here. They’re a subscription service that has streaming as an option for some of its titles. Not downloads. Unless streaming is itself DRM, I guess I don’t even see how the streamed content is limited any further than the simple fact that it is streamed.

      I see no benefit to it in this situation, but I am sure if there were one, someone would break the DRM. Why not just get the DVD and copy it, if you want a download?

  35. I’m against DRM in downloadable stuff, but totally don’t get the problem with Netflix’s streaming service having DRM. At the end of the day, I’m never downloading it to my hard drive, so who the hell cares?
    I think sometimes this anti-DRM crusade feels a little radical and could be reconsidered given the benefits that Netflix brings, mr. Doctorow.

    1. My point exactly. At no point in the Netflix model does the customer pay for the ownership of any copy (nor is he/she led to believe he/she has ownership, etc.). It’s strictly a rental situation. Which, in a nutshell is why it struck me as the sort of opportunity I’d been hoping (literally for years) would open up for NP to take guilt-free advantage of. A win-win (or at least somewhat close thereto). But the aggregated polemic against DRM regardless of contextual analysis threatens to pressure artists into thinking they’re “traitors to the cause” if they participate. (Not that NP herself was pressured in that way–I’m just saying it doesn’t seem hard to imagine other artists might be so pressured.) Which is precisely why I spoke up in the first place–to express an alternate opinion.

  36. I’ve been a fan of and supported Nina (like Azaner) for a long time. I have an early video tape of Fetch that I bought to give Nina support to push on with her work.

    However, it’s important to not ignore the fact that Sita contains copyrighted music and had Nina not run into trouble with her early efforts to distribute Sita, she might not have gone down the road many of you are applauding her for going down.

    I don’t know what her intensions were for Sita before she ran into problems but no doubt her intentions were not to give it away. That decision was made after the distribution problems.

    I remain a big fan of Nina Paley and Sita, which I’ve had since she released it, is a work of genius, but I wish she’d have changed the music in Sita and given it away from the start.

  37. The point has been raised here before, but can someone explain to me why is bad for DRM to be used in rental systems? This a genuine question, I understand the issue surrounding DRM when buying a DVD or music from the iTunes store but for rental, what is the problem?

  38. Netflix does already carry the actual DVD. So, if you wanted to, I’m pretty sure you could just rip yourself a copy–obviously she really doesn’t care.

    Anyways, it is a good and fun film (I streamed online, but my mom rented the DVD from Netflix), but I could care less how it is distributed.

    1. Funny you bring that up- I also got the DVD from Netflix but it was a long wait and the copy that arrived at my house was too scratched up to play (I blame your mom). So yeah, it would have been cool if it had also been available in streaming format.

  39. Er… It’s available on DVD… with DRM… so why make the stand here?

    Seriously – I support and admire her decision, but this seems like a funny place to draw the line.

    (And, yes, I’m aware that CSS is trivial to defeat. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.)

  40. Count me as another person who really doesn’t get the bellyaching and calls to revolution over DRM in a legitimate subscription service. This isn’t itunes, their is no pretext of ownership in the netflix scenario and Sita is available DRM free from other venues.

  41. After seeing the previous article on BB about Nina and Sita and DRM, I went over to the Sita site and dropped $5 in the Paypal donation link. It’s not much, but it’s what I could afford, and it helps give the lie to the people who say that Nina won’t make any money off the movie as a result of her decision.

  42. I’m one of the others who don’t see the issue.

    Imagine I download Sita and put it on my harddrive.

    That’s legal, right ? Am I someone breaking the law by limiting copying of it simply because I don’t give everyone else access to my harddrive? Why not?

    I don’t let people copy stuff off my hard-drive. That isn’t a licensing issue, just a technical security issue – I can’t be bothered implementing a second partition for ‘CC’ stuff .v. general stuff.

    How is that limitation different to NetFlix? Both of us are doing it for simple, practical reasons. Neither of us can be bothered implementing a separate system for CC stuff, nor do I want a ruddy advertisement at the front of the piece.

    Are people seriously arguing that I am forbidden from downloading CC material unless I modify my hard-drive partitions to make it public or run an advertisement for an alternate download site ?


  43. I don’t understand where the story is here. How is this a “OH NOES! Netflix won’t stream my movie without DRM!” How does DRM even enter into this scenario?

    Netflix has a streaming service. You pay your 8 bucks a month and you get access to that service. You turn on your computer or Xbox or whatever and watch the movies from Netflix. Either the movie is there or it’s not. How is my viewing experience any different no matter what movie is on there?

    I’m not getting this…it’s a movie that streams. How is watching her movie over Netflix any different than watching something like “3 Days of the Condor” over Netflix? How do you stream something with DRM as oppose to something that doesn’t have DRM?

    Or is Cory building a nice little strawman here?

  44. I’m a long time fan and supporter of Nina Paley. I have a video tape copy of Fetch that I bought from her many years ago (yes, she sold things at one time) and I paid PBS/Thirteen for a downloadable copy of Sita when Nina ran into problems with distribution because of the included copyrighted music.

    What most of you are overlooking is that Nina didn’t set out to put Sita into the public domain. That happened AFTER she ran into problems finding a distributor because she wasn’t willing and couldn’t afford to pay to license the copyrighted music. Initially she was asking for donations to help her pay for the license. Had she paid to license the music Sita might have been released as a commercial film. I don’t know what her intentions were initially but I do know that her current crusade is a reaction to what she bumped into in her attempt to distribute the film with a soundtrack that contained some music that she didn’t own or license.

    I think Sita Sings the Blues is a masterpiece and I’m sorry it hasn’t gotten wider distribution. But, the only person who prevented that is Nina Paley.

    There are two solutions: pay to license the copyrighted music the way all widely distributed commercial films do or change the soundtrack to include other music.

  45. As a content creator, I can understand wanting to have control over releasing my work. However, arguing with a company about wanting to release it for free — in an otherwise for-pay setup — merely devalues your work, and subsequently the work of every other working content creator who relies on those revenue streams to eat, pay rent, and continue to work.

    I want to continue to be able to earn a living through my work, and these arguments just rob others of that ability.

    1. Free as in Freedom, not free as in free beer. I want them to charge money for their service. You don’t need DRM for commerce.

      Convenience is definitely worth paying money for. I’m not sure it’s worth paying liberty for.

      1. Free as in freedom content doesn’t exist on Netflix – it’s entirely a rental retail model, and without DRM a digital rental is a sale. I don’t think it was unreasonable of Netflix to refuse to create new infrastructure for your movie alone.

  46. I cheer her for doing this.
    I’ll drop some $ in her tip jar.

    At the very worst, DRM should be a “Voluntary” thing. But the maggot parasites who buy and sell the labors of others want to force anyone who does business in their monopolistic markets to dance to their tune so they have less headaches as they work on their next move; shutting out ‘individuals’ from being able to input on the net, even having art/music/multimedia creation tools. (flash, photoshop, 3D software, etc.)

    We should plain STOP buying ANYTHING from a “Major media outlet”. If there’s a movie we like to see, wait a few months, it’ll be “Rental” or “Used” or in a second hand shop.

    Otherwise we need to find creators we like and support them directly. Even with the “Theft” of “Sharing”, the “Tip Economy” could support many many more artists than exist now, thanks to the monopolistic markets and parasitic scum who covet others works for their own $. All music, art, acting is a form of “Busking” and they’ve all forgotten it.

    If I give her even $1, certainly $5, I will likely pay her much more than if she’d sold her soul (excuse me, signed a contract) and I went to Hastings and paid $18.99 for the DVD.

  47. It’s a depressing experience when a group or person’s defense of an unusual and apparently thoughtful position, initially an apparent indicator of their intelligence and non-dogmatic thinking, turns out to be just as rabid, dogmatic, and ill-considered as everything else.

    One (like me) can be broadly very much anti-DRM (anti-IP, in the bigger picture, actually) but still see that this is a non-issue. What Nina was asking Netflix to do was spend time and money evaluating the ramifications of and implementing an alternative system for giving users the full range of use allowed by CC licenses. As a (cool, useful, generally praiseworthy) business, that doesn’t make financial sense for Netflix in light of the number and popularity of CC-licensed works.

    Admittedly, denying her second request made less sense – I imagine it was a knee-jerk reaction to the prospect of displaying advertising for services (superficially) in competition with them. Perhaps, if copyleft content creators like Cory and Nina made this request *first*, instead of opening with an unreasonable one, it would receive more thoughtful consideration.

    Furthermore, I don’t see much that’s rational about the decision to refuse having her work hosted on Netflix. How is this going to substantially raise awareness of CC? Among her fans, who by and large are already aware? Among Netflix users, who aren’t going to have the opportunity to notice and become interested in her work? Among BoingBoing readers, to whom this is obviously preaching to the choir?

    And it’s certainly not about valuing Art over Money – many people who would have been exposed to her work now won’t be. This is about valuing Politics – a childish, ill-considered straw man of a political position, at that – over both Art and Money.

    1. Admittedly, denying her second request made less sense
      I figure it’s part of the standard Netflix operating procedure. I just watched a History Channel documentary on Netflix and the lack of the ubiquitous “If you enjoyed this program you can buy it and many others from our website, or by ….” message at the end was quite striking. You’ll see that ad even at the end of the DVD you’ve already purchased so removing it for the Netflix version is quite likely a condition of having it on Netflix. It makes sense from a business perspective – why tell your paying customers other places they can view or purchase the program they just watched, potentially for free, and thus decreasing your viewership numbers?

  48. Nina Paley got $20 of my hard earned money when I first heard about Sita Sings the Blues, a year or two ago. That is money she certainly would not have seen from me if she had not taken a stand on making this movie freely available. And that’s $20 in her pocket, not $20 that gets reduced to 50¢ after all sorts of middlemen take their cut, as is the case in normal distribution channels.

  49. To everyone that says “What’s the big deal?”:

    It’s already available as a free stream/download elsewhere without DRM. Why would it make sense to have it DRM-restricted on only one of the places it can be streamed from? In addition, why would people need to pay to watch Sita? They don’t. If you want to stream the movie, you don’t need Netflix to do it. The DRM adds a lot of unnecessary restrictions to *how* I watch it, *where*, I watch it, and *if I have permission* to watch it. Without DRM, by streaming it elsewhere, I don’t have these restrictions. I also don’t need a set-top-box or a closed-source browser plugin.

  50. “There is no bargaining of the price…either you thought it was worth the price or it wasn’t.”

    I did NOT offer to pay less. I was offering to pay directly. Big difference. The post was really a heads up on a missed opportunity.

    The current state of P2P sucks for recording artists. For a while I worked at Snocap, which offered an alternate distribution channel, using P2P and a payment system. They wanted to support independents, like you. But it didn’t scale to the expectations of the investors and was acquired by iMeem.

    Now, I’m working on something new that might help. Or it might not. Time will tell.

    1. “They wanted to support independents, like you.”

      Was never an independent. I said my band never was that popular…then again, I compare my successes with my peers…I co-wrote one song that I ended up getting a platinum for (I was thankful for it, but I know my work had no part of it selling as it did).

      “I did NOT offer to pay less. I was offering to pay directly. Big difference. The post was really a heads up on a missed opportunity.”

      And you missed my point, offering to pay directly is dishonest to a LOT of bands. Paying directly means that either all the people that put in hard work to make the album possible are left in the cold while the guys with their faces on the sleeve get to take the $$$ without having to report it to these people. Or maybe if they want to remain honest, it would entail a lot of work to distribute the money to everyone involved.

      It is like cooking in a restaurant where the waiters decide they aren’t sharing the tips with the kitchen staff. Why should the guy that gives you a total of 5 minutes of service over an hour get 20% of the bill, while the guys that worked their asses off in the back room to ensure that your food tastes great get nothing.

      That said, I’m hosting several musicians the next week who will be staying with me — ones that are independent. I know in the past, these folks have tried to pay me, but I don’t accept it…I’m paying back my dues…and thankful I only play a few times a year (if that) these days.

  51. Sita is brilliant. Whatever Nina’s reasons (in the beginning, or later), she made a decision to release her artistry without DRM, and with a specific license which requires that no DRM be attached.

    It doesn’t sound like she made a separate decision whether or not to allow Netflix to distribute her work. She simply asked (as I understand the posting) that they follow her copyleft agreement – they refused (and even refused an alternative means by not allowing her to add an appropriate lead-in)

    For whatever business reasons, two parties made two separate business decisions that are incompatible. Netflix’ investors will make lots of money off other people’s artistry, and Nina will make a little money and a great deal of satisfaction (hopefully) from her personal artistry.

    I bought her product a couple of years ago, and contributed to this artist’s pocket additionally (Oh, yeah, give me a pat on the back, too – NOT) because I truly enjoy purchasing works of art that I like and display for others to enjoy (including SITA)

    More power to her!!!!!!

  52. It’s like the capitalists won’t touch our products unless they get to piss all over them. MINE NOW

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