Empowering Media That Matters
Home >> Press >> Releases >> AU Report Finds Documentary Film Culture Hurt By Today's Copyright Law, Distorting Films

AU Report Finds Documentary Film Culture Hurt By Today's Copyright Law, Distorting Films

Maralee Csellar, AU Media Relations, 202-885-5952
Kathy Thompson, AU WCL Public Relations, 202-274-4279 


WASHINGTON, DC (Nov. 3, 2004) - A new report by two American University professors finds that restrictive interpretations of copyright law are distorting the films they do make and changing the kinds of films documentary filmmakers choose to make. 

A panel discussion, featuring filmmakers whose work has been affected by the constrictions of today's copyright policy, launches the report on Monday, Nov. 8 at 4 pm, at American University's Washington College of Law (4801 Massachusetts Ave, NW, Room 603). The report, as well as supporting research and a short film introducing the topic, will be available on November 8 at centerforsocialmedia.org/rock/index.htm.

The Report, embargoed until Nov 8, can be previewed at:

The report, Untold Stories: Creative Consequences of the Rights Clearance Culture for Documentary Filmmakers, was written by American University Professors Patricia Aufderheide and Peter Jaszi and funded by the Rockefeller Foundation.. It was produced by AU School of Communication's Center for Social Media, in conjunction with the Program on Intellectual Property and the Public Interest at AU's Washington College of Law. The report results from dozens of in-depth interviews about the problem of rights clearance with professional documentary filmmakers working in today's theatrical and TV environment.

Documentary, one of the most popular and fastest growing film genres, is also a form of media that suffers gravely from the current copyright policy as it is generally understood. Most documentary filmmakers need to quote other material-including music, still images, news footage or even images from commercial films-in order to tell their stories. Most of that material is copyrighted, and most filmmakers believe that it has to be licensed to be used. In search of licenses, they encounter high prices, frustrating efforts to locate rights holders and even slammed doors. Worse, filmmakers learn to practice what documentarian Jeffrey Tuchman calls 'self-censorship': You consider and then don't pursue. You don't try what's not possible."

The consequences are a loss to society at large, say the report's authors. "Documentarians both tell stories about our culture's past, and make a record that will become our collective memory," said Aufderheide.

Aufderheide and Jaszi provide practical, achievable ways to address the problems; stressing ways to expand awareness and practice of "fair use"-legal quoting of copyrighted material. 

The Center for Social Media showcases and analyzes moving image media as creative tools for public knowledge and action. It is a project of the School of Communication, where students, faculty and alumni form a community of learners, informing and shaping the new communication services, strategies and professional roles. The Program on Intellectual Property and the Public Interest organizes research projects, workshops and conferences on threats to access posed by domestic and international copyright, trademark and patent law. 

Located in Washington, D.C., American University is a leader in global education, enrolling a diverse student body from throughout the U.S. and more than 150 countries and providing opportunities for academic excellence, public service and internships in the nation's capital and around the world. For more information, visit www.american.edu/media. 

To arrange to attend this event, or for other media assistance, contact Maralee Csellar, AU Media Relations, 202-885-5952; or Kathy Thompson, AU Washington College of Law Public Relations, 202-274-4279.