What Happens When Your Film Includes Unlicensed Music?
Sita Sings the Blues is an 82-minute animated feature (some of you may have seen Sita at the 2009 Florida Film Festival) that combines autobiography with a retelling of the classic Indian myth the Ramayana.
Sita is the creation of comic-strip artist Nina Paley. Nina Paley spent three years transforming herself into a one-woman moving-picture studio to make Sita, but the use of Annette Hanshaw's musical recordings from the 1920s has created a legal problem for Nina Paley EVEN THOUGH THE MASTER RECORDINGS WERE IN THE PUBLIC DOMAIN.
Rather than pay an estimated $220,000 for licenses for the underlying compositions (the composers are dead but the rights to songs written after 1923 are often still under copyright and are held by corporations) that would permit commercial distribution of her film, Nina Paley (inspired by the free-software movement) has decided to give her film to the audience (after paying an argued-down fee of $50K for sync rights).
Here's Nina's distribution plan and a QuestionCopyright article about this whole episode.