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HotDocs and Copyright Balancing


At HotDocs on April 21, an international panel showcased the importance of exercising the balancing features of copyright, even in countries where Fair Use does not exist. Canadian filmmaker Brett Gaylor, who’s making a film called Basement Tapes: The Making of a Pirate Movie, explained how he’s encouraging others to contribute material to his "Open Source Cinema" project. Gaylor argues that copyright understanding constricts creativity. His film in progress exposes the enormous creativity unleashed in mashups, remixes, and sampling. It uses the balancing features of Canadian copyright law, called fair dealing, to display such work legally within the film, which is destined for legal release in Canada.

Italian filmmaker Marco Visalberghi, vice-president of the Italian filmmakers’ organization Doc/It, spoke about the need to make European producers more aware of the legal options that they already have, such as (in some countries) the right of quotation. "It exists, but people are afraid to use it!" he said. He argued that the right to quote copyrighted material in limited ways without permission or payment was a basic right of creators.

I was able to share the story of U.S. filmmakers’ successful assertion of their rights to Fair Use, and to talk about the importance of asserting this right in the online video environment as well.

The panel was just the beginning of a day-long conversation between representatives of American, Canadian, and European filmmaker organizations. David Fewer, a Canadian legal scholar on intellectual property, and members of the Canadian filmmakers’ organization DOC plan to shape a consensus-building process with filmmakers around use of fair dealing and copyright reform in Canada, over the next year. An ad-hoc group of European filmmakers are conducting survey research to identify European filmmakers’ problems in using copyrighted material, and plan to release it by autumn. The International Documentary Association continues to publicize the Documentary Filmmakers’ Statement of Best Practices in Fair Use, which it helped to create.