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Copyright Backgrounder

This concise background document describes what copyright is and what can be copyrighted, as well as what material is in the public domain and what is fair useable. Michael Donaldson is an attorney in Los Angeles, many of whose clients are leading documentary filmmakers. His book, Clearance and Copyright (Silman-James Press, October 2003), from which much of this information has been drawn, is widely regarded as a basic text for documentary filmmakers. Donaldson also contributed his expertise to the Documentary Filmmakers' Statement of Best Practices in Fair Use.


The New Deal: Version 1.5, Monetizing and Mission

The Center's annual report on the nuts and bolts of digital distribution deal-making. Curious about who's making these deals? Average percentages for independent filmmakers? Average license periods? All of this and more in this highly-anticipated new publication.


How Documentary Filmmakers Overcame their Fear of Quoting and Learned to Employ Fair Use

An American University research project on fair use and documentary filmmaking, Untold Stories, which expanded freedom of expression in the field, has broad implications for scholars working on popular culture. Fair use, the project revealed, becomes far more useable when creative and scholarly communities collectively assert and publicize their expectations for fair use. 


Unauthorized: The Copyright Conundrum in Participatory Video

Suppose you're running an online video platform, and people start uploading video that uses other people's work. How should unauthorized use of other people's work be treated in this new environment? The Center for Media & Social Impact and American University's law school brought together executives from online video platforms in both commercial and noncommercial media with lawyers and scholars, to discuss how to manage unauthorized use.


The Good, The Bad and the Confusing: User-Generated Video Creators on Copyright

How do creators of content on the plethora of sites that accept online video understand their rights and responsibilities regarding intellectual property? Addressing this question is challenging, since the pool of creators is not only diffuse but constantly changing. In this study, undergraduate and graduate college students who upload online video were asked to describe their practices and attitudes on using copyrighted material to make new work and on the value to them of their own copyright. Includes links to press coverage of report.


Documentaries on a Mission: How Nonprofits Are Making Movies for Public Engagement

How should we measure the “social impact” of a documentary film? This essay reviews several ways to conceptualize and evaluate “impact,” drawing on previous research in communication, sociology, and political science, as well as case studies. Read about how the Sierra Club, The American Civil Liberties Union and local environmental groups use documentaries for high-impact action.


Go to: Documentaries on a Mission (PDF)

Appalshop Calling: From Video to Digital Storytelling

This speech from our good friend Mimi Pickering from Appalshop shows how the participatory media movement has deep roots. Here Mimi discusses some of her experiences producing and distributing media for social change with partners in rural communities in America.


Refrigerator Mothers

For examples of choices made for and against the application of fair use by an independent filmmaker, consider the decisions made by Kartemquin Films when making "Refrigerator Mothers." Click here to see the videos.


Nurturing Tomorrow's Doc Storytellers

Leaders of documentary teaching and training programs across the U.S. came together in September to share their stories.


Repurposing and Rights: A Non-Profit Summit

On May 22 at American University the Center hosted a convening, "Repurposing and Rights: A Non-Profit Summit," composed of public broadcasters, librarians, archivists, scholars, lawyers and new media experts. The group discussed the problems of repurposing audio-visual material in a digital era. The topics included user interfaces, third-party rights problems, changing contract terms and the challenges and opportunities of digital rights management.