Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Sita Sings the Blues

I'm sure most of you cultured urbanites know about this film already. But for those like me, who kinda live under a rock in a cave somewhere when it comes to new movies, let me introduce you to the weird, wacky, wonderful, free-to-share-and-distribute animated feature known as Sita Sings the Blues.

Animator Nina Paley makes nothing from the film -- and that's by design. Instead, she receives money from donations, purchases of movie-themed merchandise (including T-shirts and DVDs) and public screenings where people choose to share a percentage of the proceeds from ticket sales with the artist. Some of the money is used to get her out of the debt she incurred by using specific songs in the soundtrack; though the recordings themselves are in the public domain, the songs are owned by various large corporations, who demanded payment.

I'm not going to get into the whole can of worms that is U.S. copyright law, but I do want to point out one salient example of the advantages of public domain. When the Frank Capra movie It's a Wonderful Life was first released in 1946, it had mixed reviews; certainly it was not considered the classic movie most film historians deem it to be today. However, due to a clerical error, it entered the public domain in the mid-1970s. This made the film essentially free to be shown on television, and for this reason it became a favorite programming choice of local television stations during the Christmas season. Generations of children and adults have therefore grown up with the film, and many view it with the same kind of affection reserved for The Wizard of Oz and other perennial television favorites. This may well have been the single most important reason why the Library of Congress deemed It's a Wonderful Life to be "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant" and added the film to the National Film Registry in 1990.

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