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Home » Copyright is Brain Damage: Nina Paley at TEDxMaastricht (Full Transcript)

Copyright is Brain Damage: Nina Paley at TEDxMaastricht (Full Transcript)

Full text of cartoonist Nina Paley’s talk: “Copyright is Brain Damage” at TEDxMaastricht conference.

Listen to the MP3 Audio here:


Nina Paley – Cartoonist

In 2008 I finished a feature film called “Sita Sings the Blues”.

“Sita Sings the Blues” used music by a singer from the 1920s named Annette Hanshaw. And those songs should have been in the public domain by 1980s but they weren’t because of retroactive copyright extensions. I knew this when I was making the film and I used those songs anyway because they were essential.

At the time I didn’t know that much about copyright or intellectual property. I did know the copyright terms for too long. I thought retroactive copyright extensions were insane. But I never fundamentally doubted the concept of intellectual property.

I’m an artist and so that was probably the only kind of property I would ever have. And the idea that I could just think of something and make that property was really intoxicating.

In 2008 while movie distributors were going bankrupt right and left, it fell on me to clear the licenses for “Sita Sings the Blues”. So I entered the kafkaesque copyright system trying to do that. Every step of the way, people told me “this system might be annoying, but the same kafkaesque nightmare is protecting your intellectual property. So, it’s annoying but don’t you want your intellectual property protected?”

It took a lot of Kafka for me to start questioning the whole thing. One of the things I noticed after a few months is that the rights holders weren’t actually getting more money because of copyright. What they were getting was the power to suppress art, to suppress communication. This is because you can offer the money that you have but they don’t have to take it. They arbitrarily set how much they want and they don’t have to license it anyway. You can offer millions of dollars, and if they don’t feel like it, they are under no obligation to license works.

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