Interview with Eric Faden and Nina Paley

Brett Boessen

Austin College, Sherman, Texas, United States

[0.1] Abstract—Interview with Eric Faden and Nina Paley, conducted by Brett Boessen.

[0.2] Keywords—Copyright; Digital Millennium Copyright Act; Fair use

Faden, Eric, and Nina Paley. 2012. Interview with Eric Faden and Nina Paley. Conducted by Brett Boessen. In "Fan/Remix Video," edited by Francesca Coppa and Julie Levin Russo, special issue, Transformative Works and Cultures, no. 9.

1. Introduction

[1.1] Cultural production in the 21st century is a process deeply intertwined with questions of ownership and control. If an artist wants to create an intellectual work today, she must contend with the intricacies of copyright and fair use, attending to the often finely grained details of copyright law.

[1.2] In the United States, these laws have seen some shifts in the past decade, but for the most part, they remain linked to much older cultural discourses shaped at a time when the physical forms of creative works were far less malleable than they are today. In the 1970s, when the Copyright Act ( was enacted, forms of media and art such as the filmstrip and the printed book dominated the cultural landscape. At that time, it likely seemed unnecessary to make more specific allowances for transformations of existing works into new forms than the brief fair use clause that the act provided.

[1.3] However, in the intervening years, much has changed. The technological tools for transforming existing works have not only multiplied and increased in complexity, but they have also been effectively democratized because of their often significantly reduced cost and near-ubiquitous networked availability. Publishers and editors may no longer stand as primary gatekeepers to most creative works; increasingly, works are assessed in the public sphere through online databases like YouTube, and creators are making more works than ever before. Many such works rely heavily on the public domain, fair use, and the rich cultural soil of previous works for their efficacy and quality.

[1.4] Yet the old laws remain, often causing social friction as new kinds of uses of existing material come into conflict with increasingly outdated modes of control. New laws such as the Digital Millennium Copyright Act ( only complicate matters. Instead of having one law to cover creative work, the DMCA effectively increased that count to two, one covering analog media and another covering digital. Further complicating matters are the actions of the Librarian of Congress, who has asserted some of his authority in granting limited exemptions to certain groups of creators, such as documentary filmmakers and film and media students. However, all of these changes have only increased the complexity of the system for artists who just want to make something compelling—who just want to make art.

[1.5] It is in this context that Eric Faden and Nina Paley have been working for years, and it is that context that shaped my March 2011 interview with them.

[1.6] Paley, an independent artist, released Sita Sings the Blues ( in 2008, only to have the copyright holders of many of the songs by Annette Hanshaw that she had used in the film threaten legal action if they were not paid for their use (even though Hanshaw's recordings are from the 1920s). Paley has since spoken about and created works that address these issues, including a series called Minute Memes, short video pieces for the Web focused on copyright-related themes such as "Copying Is Not Theft."

Video 1. "Copying Is Not Theft," by Nina Paley (2010).

[1.7] Faden, a member of the Bucknell film/media studies faculty, created "A Fair(y) Use Tale" in response to the broader context in which such legal wrangling has taken place, essentially giving visual and aural life to an essay on copyright and fair use by stitching together hundreds of clips from Disney animated films. (Disney is a notoriously litigious copyright owner.)

Video 2. "A Fair(y) Use Tale" by Eric Faden (2007).

[1.8] Because both of them have been so closely connected to the legal and ethical questions related to copying, fair use, and transformative works, I wanted to give them the opportunity to talk about their experiences for Transformative Works and Cultures. This is the result.

2. Video interview

'A Conversation with Eric Faden and Nina Paley' from Francesca Coppa on Vimeo.

Video 3. "A Conversation with Eric Faden and Nina Paley."