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Fair Use on Trial, and Knowledge Wins

Chicago filmmaker Floyd Webb wanted to make a movie about a colorful martial arts figure, who called himself Counte Dante (http://johnkeehan.blogspot.com/). The grandmaster of the Black Dragon Fighting Society, William V. Aguiar III, tried to stop him by blocking his access to images of Counte Dante and material from his training video. But Webb had attended an Independent Feature Project panel discussion of the Documentary Filmmakers’ Statement of Best Practices in Fair Use. (IFP was a signatory and co-author of the document, which was facilitated by the Center and the Washington College of Law.)

Webb knew he had Fair Use rights. Aguiar didn’t know that. Aguiar asked a judge for a preliminary injunction to stop Webb from using this material, and represented himself. Webb asked the Stanford Fair Use Project lawyers to defend him. They did.

The judge patiently explained to Aguiar what Fair Use is, and why it permitted Webb to use this material to create a new work and tell other people about Count Dante. He dismissed Aguiar’s request.

This judgment follows on other recent legal victories for Fair Use, underscoring its useability and making it more likely that other misguided or uninformed lawsuits will follow. In particular, the case of the Bill Graham Archives v. Dorling Kindersley Ltd. Et al., was excellent news for new creators. A book author used pictures of Grateful Dead concerts in a book about the Grateful Dead; the Bill Graham Archives sued, and lost because the author had Fair Use rights to the material.

Floyd’s victory was not only a victory for Fair Use but also a statement about the importance of filmmakers collectively expressing their shared values and asserting them. Floyd Webb knew his rights and used them; he knew them because filmmakers had asserted them in the Documentary Filmmakers’ Statement of Best Practices in Fair Use.