November 1, 2005

Documentary Filmmakers’ Statement of Best Practices in Fair Use

Documentary filmmakers have created, through their professional associations, a clear, easy to understand statement of fair and reasonable approaches to fair use. Fair Use is the right, in some circumstances, to quote copyrighted material without asking permission or paying for it. It is a crucial feature of copyright law. In fact, it is what keeps copyright from being censorship. You can invoke fair use when the value to the public of what you are saying outweighs the cost to the private owner of the copyright.

This Statement of Best Practices in Fair Use makes clear what documentary filmmakers currently regard as reasonable application of the copyright Fair Use doctrine. Fair use expresses the core value of free expression within copyright law. The statement clarifies this crucial legal doctrine, to help filmmakers  use it with confidence. Fair use is shaped, in part, by the practice of the professional communities that employ it. The statement is informed both by experience and ethical principles. It also draws on analogy: documentary filmmakers should have the same kind of access to copyrighted materials that is enjoyed by cultural  and historical critics who work in print media and by news broadcasters.

Click here to download this useful handbook, written by veteran filmmakers to help other filmmakers understand some instances where using copyrighted material without clearance is considered fair use.

Report by:

Association of Independent Video and Filmmakers
Independent Feature Project
International Documentary Association
National Alliance for Media Arts and Culture
Women in Film & Video (Washington, D.C. chapter) 

In consultation with:

The Center for Media & Social Impact,
American University

The Program on Intellectual Property and the Public Interest,
American University Washington College of Law

With funding from:

The Rockefeller Foundation
The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation

And additional support from:

Grantmakers in Film and Electronic Media