Kartemquin’s Role in the DMCA Exemption

Photo credit: Gordon Quinn

You might have heard about today’s ruling by the Copyright Office allowing people to “jailbreak” their iPhones. Less reported but perhaps more important was another part of the ruling which will “Allow… documentary filmmakers to break copy-protection measures on DVDs so they can embed clips for educational purposes, criticism, commentary and noncommercial videos.” (http://www.nytimes.com/2010/07/27/technology/27iphone.html). This exemption allows filmmakers to finally exercise their legal fair use rights.

Kartemquin was integral in making this happen. Before today’s ruling, the act of breaking copyright protection alone was illegal under the Digital Millenium Copyright Act, even if the ultimate use of the material was legal. It was impossible for a filmmaker or educator to use DVD material at all if there was copyright protection on the disc, even if the use of that material fell within the guildelines of the “Fair Use Doctrine,”

In May of 2009 Kartemquin Artistic Director Gordon Quinn and Technical Director Jim Morrissette traveled to Washington DC to testify before the Copyright Office about how content scrambling systems on DVDs had a chilling effect on the documentary filmmaking community. They collaborated with a team of lawyers from the University of Southern California’s Intellectual Property Law Clinic led by Jack Lerner to file for the exemption. California IP Lawyer Michael Donaldson, the International Documentary Association, and the Center for Social Media were also instrumental in today’s exemptions.   

“It is great that documentary filmmakers and other can now use their fair use rights without fear of running afoul of the DMCA. The restrictions inhibiting filmmakers from breaking DVD encryption for legal use should have never been included in the law,” said Gordon Quinn of the ruling.

In a press release on the International Documentary Association website, Gordon Quinn was also quoted stating: "This exemption will affect documentary filmmakers across our community. The DMCA had made it difficult for filmmakers to exercise their fair use rights. Today's ruling removes the unwarranted threat to the exercise of those essential rights--rights that we must be able to use if we are to continue to play a vital role in our democratic culture as reporters, critics, commentators and educators."

Pat Aufderheide adds in her blog at the Center for Social Media: “The rules are broader than many expected, but still involve strict restrictions…limited only to criticism and commentary, not to all potential fair uses; the excerpt must be "relatively short"; a new work must be created; and the maker must have a reason why an inferior quality (such as one shot off a screen or from a VHS) is not good enough.”

(In the photo: Michael Donaldson, Jack Lerner, Christopher Perez, Kartemquin's Jim Morrisette and Ashlee Lin prepare for DMCA exception hearing in May 2009. Photo credit: Gordon Quinn).

Listen to Gordon Quinn discussing Fair Use and the DMCA on NPR's On the Media from May 2009.