Documentary FIlmmakers Release Fair Use Statement
The Center for Social Media and American University’s Program on Intellectual Property and the Public Interest have developed a Documentary Filmmakers’ Statement of Best Practices in Fair Use (.pdf, 157 KB). The twelve page statement, which was released on Nov. 18, is a fair guidebook that analyzes specific situations that are unique to documentary filmmakers.
The Statement’s preamble says the document is necessary given the increasingly tough copyright restrictions practitioners have faced over the last decade.
Creators in other disciplines do not face such demands to the same extent, and documentarians in earlier eras experienced them less often and less intensely. Today, however, documentarians believe that their ability to communicate effectively is being restricted by an overly rigid approach to copyright compliance, and that the public suffers as a result. The knowledge and perspectives that documentarians can provide are compromised by their need to select only the material that copyright holders approve and make available at reasonable prices.
The preamble further explains that documentary filmmakers also hold copyrights on their work, and that their livelihood often depends on the full and fair exploitation of the exclusive rights they hold in their finished films.
In January, the Washington Post chronicled the effect of copyright burdens on documentary filmmakers when it reported that the award-winning “Eyes On The Prize” documentary was in danger of disappearing because copyright renewal costs made it prohibitively expensive to update or re-issue in its original form.
The series is no longer available in stores and can’t be shown on television or released on DVD until the filmmakers are able to renew the expired rights to footage, photos and music that were used. Old sets of VHS tapes owned by community centers and schools are wearing out. Teachers and librarians seeking new copies can’t purchase them, except for rare ones being sold on eBay for as much as $1,500.
The film is hampered by the same problem many documentary filmmakers are encountering as they wrestle with buying and renewing licenses to use copyrighted archival footage, photos and music. Independent filmmakers must pay for each piece of copyrighted material, and those costs have escalated in the past 10 years.
Center for Social Media. Documentary Filmmakers’ Statement of Best Practices in Fair Use (.pdf, 157 KB) November 2005.
DeNeen L. Brown and Hamil R. Harris. A Struggle for Rights: “Eyes on the Prize” Mired in Money Battle. WashingtonPost.com. Jan. 17, 2005.
Katie Dean. Bleary Days for Eyes on the Prize. Wired News. Dec. 22, 2004.
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