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Fair Use Online at IFP Chicago

On a splendid sunny spring day, Chicago-area filmmakers got together at Columbia College and resolutely faced away from the art college’s magnificent eighth-floor view of the lake. They were too busy learning about changing business models, how to use social networking to promote their work, and about fair use.

Filmmaker Gordon Quinn and I hosted a panel on fair use in a digital environment for filmmakers, with the MacArthur Foundation’s John Bracken, who brought his brand-new iPad for everyone to play with. Gordon Quinn talked about the balancing act of copyright, which offers both limited monopoly and the right to access copyrighted material. He showed clips demonstrating how he had cut out material that should have stayed, before he understood his fair use rights. He explained the wide acceptance of the the 2005 code, Documentary Filmmakers’ Statement of Best Practices in Fair Use.

I talked about applying fair use in a digital environment, and showcased The Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for Online Video. Contrary to what many people think, fair use is platform-agnostic; if it’s fair use in a film, it’s also fair use online. Although online material can travel anywhere, if you’re posting it in the U.S., you’ll be observing U.S. law (and fair use). Anyone who uses your material after that incurs the responsibility to use it according to their country’s laws.

Several of the filmmakers work in fiction, and wanted a code of best practices in fair use for fiction film. Fiction filmmakers have yet to create that code. Some are interpreting fair use according to the general principles of fair use most commonly used by judges today. They ask themselves 1) am I repurposing the material, for a reason different from the available markets for the work? 2) am I only using enough to satisfy that purpose? Documentary filmmakers have the comfort and security of knowing what their community understands as fair use; that is the value of a code of best practices.

The session and the whole producers’ workshop was well-attended; kudos to IFP Chicago director Ryan Jewell and to filmmaker and workshop producer Lisa Gildehaus!