October 28, 2008 represents the tenth anniversary of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, while October 27, 2008 is the tenth anniversary of the Copyright Term Extension Act. These among other changes have made copyright law a complicated legal minefield. And yet, ordinary people are finding themselves entangled in this net more and more, what with things like blogs and YouTube and BitTorrent to facilitate the sharing of information which may not necessarily belong to those individuals.
But information should be free, right? Well, depends on how you use it. There is a little thing called fair use which allowed limited use of copyrighted material in order to create new works, though it depends on the nature of the new work in particular. But even fair use can be confusing, so what’s a humble creator to do?
Well, if you’re a documentary filmmaker, the Duke Center for the Study of the Public Domain has come to the rescue with a special comic titled Tales from the Public Domain: BOUND BY LAW?, which will walk you through the things a documentarian needs to know when it comes to all that messy IP law that might interfere with their vision.
The comic gives a brief explanation of current copyright law and how you determine if a particular work is copyrighted. It then delves into the particular issues that documentary filmmakers have to deal with, and the best part here is that they give real examples of when a known documentary film was compromised because of outrageous licensing fees, or cases where the filmmaker exercised their rights to fair use.
Unfortunately, the comic provides no easy answers. It isn’t a handbook to tell you what to do—Step 1, Step 2, Step 3—it’s merely a guidebook to tell you what you CAN do. Luckily, documentarians still have options, the CSPD just wants them to know what they are.
(Bound by Law is available under a Creative Commons—Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.5 license, so feel free to download a PDF copy, print it out, post it elsewhere, translate, or of course, use excerpts from it in your own work.)