Documentary filmmakers and DVD encryption

A Copyright Will Protect You from PIRATES by loan Sammell.
"A Copyright Will Protect You from PIRATES" by loan Sameli

I was interested to learn (via NPR’s On the Media, funnily enough) that there’s a dispute between the International Documentary Association (IDA) and the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA).

The dispute is about DVD encryption. Basically, it’s legal for documentary filmmakers to use snippets of copyrighted films in their own movies, under a provision of copyright law known as fair use. The weird part, though, is that the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) of 1998 makes it illegal for them to break the encryption on DVDs in order to get at the video.

At a hearing before the United States Copyright Office on May 7 and 8, the IDA presented its case for an exemption from the DMCA for documentary filmmakers. Bizarrely, the MPAA sought to demonstrate that breaking DVD encryption wasn’t necessary by showing how video could be captured with a camcorder in front of a monitor. Huh.

I was really pleased to discover that an exemption from the DMCA’s encryption provision is already in place for educators. Here’s the relevant quote from the Society for Cinema and Media Studies‘ very useful “Statement of Best Practices for Fair Use in Teaching for Film and Media Educators“:

In 2006, however, the Library of Congress created an exemption to the DMCA’s anti-circumvention provision specifically for film and media educators. Media educators may now circumvent technological measures for such protected works included in the educational library of a college or university’s film or media studies department for the purpose of making compilations of portions of those works for educational use in the classroom. This exemption is subject to renewal in October 2009, at which time it may be expanded or modified. The community of film and media educators believes that this exemption should be expanded to allow students to similarly circumvent technological measures for classroom use, as well as allowing educators to circumvent protection on materials acquired from sources outside of a departmental educational library if they are using the work for classroom use.

So, hey, that’s something. But it seems like a no-brainer to me that this exemption should be extended to documentarians.

If you’re an educator who’d like to take advantage of these DMCA exemptions by making a clip reel, I’ve written a tutorial to help you do that.

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