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Fiords, Rhubarb Juice and Copyright

Documentary filmmakers in Scandinavia joined scholars and lawyers to discuss the “clearance culture”--the custom of paying for all uses of copyrighted material in films-- in Bergen, Norway on November 18. I got to keynote the event, which was thrilling, but even better was seeing the reach of the Center's copyright scholarship. At a conference more than a year ago, Professor Leif Ove Larsen, a film history scholar and student of public sphere theory, learned of the research that Center director Pat Aufderheide and WCL legal scholar Peter Jaszi had done on the “clearance culture” and how to leave it. He tracked the success of the best practices model in Fair Use (centerforsocialmedia.org/fairuse). And then he and graduate student Torgeir Naerland decided to replicate our research in Norway. This conference, held at the historic gateway to Norway's fiords, was the first release of their data (which is on its way to being published—we'll let you know about that too!). We found out that, just as in other countries, Norwegian filmmakers are paying too much and too often and spending far too much time negotiating payment for rights to use copyrighted material. They don't know their own laws and how to use them. Norway has one of the most flexible and ample exemptions to copyright ownership in Europe—it's called a “right of quotation.” The scholars are now going to follow up their search by working with copyright lawyers to understand and explain Norway's right of quotation to filmmakers.

One of the stars of the show was renowned Dutch legal scholar Bernt Hugenholtz. He had one mantra: “Do not fear copyright.” He argued that filmmakers were far too afraid of using the rights they actually have, even in Europe, where copyright law is even more unbalanced than in the U.S. Europe was unlikely to get a pan-European copyright policy, he said with a pragmatic shrug (“Hey, it's Europe,” he said). But even so there were exemptions and limitations in every country that could lower costs, reduce time and frustration, and increase creative opportunity. For anyone concerned with the “clearance culture,” he thought the first stop was learning one's rights under the law as it exists. Larsen and Naerland's research powerfully makes the argument that at stake is creative practice.

Among the attendees were the Dutch documentary film expert Marijke Rawie and Italian lawyer Marcelo Mustilli, founders of AFACE , a European “fair copyright” organization aimed at filmmakers. They intend to incorporate Hugenholtz' central idea of using available law into their own strategic plans. Meanwhile, Elin Sander, director of a Nordic film festival, is talking about hosting a discussion of Scandinavia-wide rights problems and solutions in Bergen in 2010.

If you attend that festival—or indeed end up in this UN-designated World Heritage Site for any other reason--definitely try the rhubarb juice. It was one of my best food finds of recent travels!