We Need Your Help: A DMCA Exemption for Filmmakers

The International Documentary Association and Kartemquin Films are working together to request a renewal of the DMCA exemption for filmmakers - and we need your help!

In 2010, Kartemquin staff members Gordon Quinn and Jim Morrissette were instrumental in successfully arguing for a three-year exemption to the Digital Millenium Copyright Act. The exemption allows a filmmaker to take materials from DVDs and Blu-Rays and use those film clips for criticism and commentary, an essential aspect of documentary filmmaking that until then the DMCA had made illegal for over a decade. Now, the time has come to again to ask the Library of Congress to renew the exemption and allow all filmmakers to obtain the film clips they need under protection of the law.

The IDA and Kartemquin are asking filmmakers to join us in this mission by submitting your stories of working within the DMCA exemption to DMCAstories@law.usc.edu. For more information, check out our questions regarding your experience with fair use and the DMCA’s current restrictions. If the answer to any of them is yes or even maybe, and if you care about documentary film, then you need to participate. A flyer is also attached to this story. Please spread the word.

  1. Have you obtained clips from DVDs for use in a documentary since July 2010?
    (Generally, the 2010 exemption makes this use legal, if it was done for purposes of fair use, such as for criticism or commentary.)
  2. Are you currently planning or producing a film – whether documentary or fictional – that will require you to obtain clips from DVDs in the near future?
  3. Are you planning or producing a film that will require you to obtain clips from Blu-Ray?
    (In other words, do you need footage that is not available elsewhere or is not feasible to obtain from DVD or other sources, or needs to be HD-quality?)
  4. Have you been harmed by an inability to access clips from Blu-Ray for use in your film?
  5. Do you need to use clips from cable, satellite, or Internet streaming sites in your film?
    • For example, do you need material that is NOT available on DVD or Blu-Ray?
    • Or, is your need time-sensitive, and the material will not be available on DVD or Blu-Ray until after your production deadline? (For example, your project is a weekly film series that comments on popular culture or current events, and you need material consisting of entertainment or news coverage, and this material is only available from broadcast, cable, satellite, or encrypted news websites.)
    • Or, is it unclear when, or if, the material you need will ever be released on DVD or Blu-Ray?
      (For example, you want to discuss political events, and need to use footage of a political protest uploaded by an individual to a website that hosts user-generated content.)
  6. Have you been harmed by the DMCA in some other way? If so, you are not alone – and we want to hear your story.

Do any of these questions apply to you? If so, e-mail us at DMCAstories@law.usc.edu.

 

Statement on the www.documentary.org website:

Documentary film is critical to our culture and our democracy. When the DVD became the default media format of our time, the ability of filmmakers to make fair use of copyrighted video clips became compromised. Because “ripping” a DVD requires bypassing the DVD’s “technological protection measure”, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act made the act of “ripping” a DVD illegal even in situations where the doctrine of fair use permits filmmakers to use the material on the DVDs without permission.

Fair use is a critical part of documentary filmmaking. For over a century, filmmakers have had the right to make fair use of copyrighted work in their films. Using the footage is still totally legal under fair use; however, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act makes sure that ripping a Blu-Ray is a crime. This law undermines filmmakers’ ability to utilize fair use with the footage in their films.

Check out our questions regarding your experience with fair use and the DMCA’s current restrictions. If you have an account of your experience that you would like to tell, please submit your story to DMCAstories@law.usc.edu.

We need as many responses as possible! We’d like to hear from you no later than Friday, November 4, 2011 in order to meet the deadline. Of course, we’d still love to hear from you after the deadline, but responses received by November 4 will be helpful in fighting this fight to preserve our fair use rights.

Thank you so much for your help!

Here’s more background. As we all know, fair use is a critical part of documentary filmmaking. For more than 100 years, filmmakers have had the right to make fair use of copyrighted works in their films, such as using film clips for criticism and commentary. But because of the DMCA, many filmmakers are afraid that the simple act of ripping a Blu-Ray is a crime, even though actually using the footage is perfectly legal under fair use.

Responding to this message will help you to preserve your fair use rights! In order to receive an exemption allowing filmmakers to make fair use, we will need to demonstrate that filmmakers are being harmed by the DMCA, and that documentary filmmakers are being helped by the July 2010 exemption for ripping DVDs. That’s why we need to hear your stories!

We need as many responses as possible, and we’d like to hear from you by Friday, November 4, 2011 in order to meet the deadline for submission. (We would still love to hear from you after that date, but responses received by Nov. 4th will be vastly more helpful.)

Thank you for your help in this fight to preserve our fair use rights!

For more information, see the FAQs at Documentary.org and these resources:

Episodes of Digital Production Buzz in which these issues are discussed by IDA President Eddie Schmidt and IDA Board Member Jack Lerner:

The Copyright Office maintains a website discussing the Exemption process and announcing all of the exemptions. It is available here:

  • Copyright Office website discussing Exemptions
  • The initial comment of IDA, Kartemquin Films, and other organizations and filmmakers requesting the exemption
  • Our follow-up comment
  • Testimony of the hearing where Gordon Quinn and Jim Morrissette of Kartemquin Films testified in support of our request, together with exhibits in support of our request (Audio here)

Learn all about fair use for documentary filmmakers here:

  • American University’s Center for Social Media’s website on fair use for documentary filmmakers
  • Examples of successful fair use in documentary film
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Comments

I am in production on a social issues documentary that I've undertaken because I believe it is a story that simply must be told. It is a labor of love. All of the material that is being created is original. I personally support myself through commercial projects--my "day job"--but shoot independent documentaries to feed my soul and hope that I can get out of the commercial side and focus entirely on important stories. My concern with relaxing the DMCA law, or "exemption" is that it gives anyone--including the big studios--the right to claim "fair use" when in fact they are simply re-purposing the material in a way that involves no criticism or commentary whatsoever but is simply a mash up of work that was created by others who spent large sums of money to produce. As documentary filmmakers, protecting copyright laws is critical to our success. I've licensed footage to studios, the proceeds from which have allowed me to produce independent projects I would no have otherwise been able to produce because I controlled the copyright to my work and they were willing to pay for it. To permit the "ripping" of blu-rays, cds, and dvds, means that the work we produce can be ripped, too. The knife cuts both ways and this is something to seriously consider.

DMCA Exemption is great plan for every filmmaker I think it will be getting a great response in the film industry and entertainment sector. I hope people will really enjoy this great plan. It is like a DVD part and it is connected with the system of DVD. I want to say that I really like your this plan.
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