Animator Nina Paley's brilliant film, "Sita Sings The Blues," has been wowing the festival circuit but you're probably not going to see it anytime soon. That's because the company that controls the synch rights to the 80+ year old music in the film want so much money for licensing that Paley can't afford to distribute her movie, despite all the critical acclaim.
Question Copyright has a 42-minute interview with Paley on the heartbreak of having to strangle her acclaimed art.
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.