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Fair Use Successes in Documentary Film: The Most Dangerous Man in America

The Most Dangerous Man in AmericaWhat difference does employing fair use make to a film?

Sometimes it means the difference between making a film and not making it.

Take “The Most Dangerous Man in America,” the Academy Award-nominated film about whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg. “Knowing how to employ fair use meant that we could finish the film,” said producer/director Judith Ehrlich. “It saved us about $100,000 in historical material we’d otherwise have had to budget licensing.  And that would have pushed our budget beyond the possible.”

And what difference did it make to have Ehrlich and her co-producer/director Rick Goldsmith complete “The Most Dangerous Man in America” and get it out in the world? For one thing, Edward Snowden saw it, and has credited the film with inspiring him to take action as a whistleblower.

Meanwhile, in a 2014 survey of documentary filmmakers on fair use, not one filmmaker had a story about losing money because of legitimate fair use.

And archives don’t seem to be suffering because of this. In the past, some archives have been able to collect fees for work that might have been fairly used instead, but also archives have never presented any evidence (other than the occasional alarmed statement) that they are losing money because of the increasing employment of fair use. Rather, it seems that more films are able to be made, and that is good for archival business. Meanwhile, filmmakers are discovering even easier ways to retail their archival footage, using services such as Pond5.

Got a story to tell about your fair use success? Contact the Center at cmsimpact [at] gmail [dot] com