USC Law Students Work with Nationwide Group of Filmmakers



Monday, Dec 5, 2011

USC Intellectual Property and Technology Clinic files comments in the United States Copyright Office

-By Gilien Silsby

A team of USC Law students from the USC Intellectual Property and Technology Clinic filed comments in the United States Copyright Office on Thursday that would allow filmmakers to legally copy and use material on DVDs, Blu-ray discs, online media and other digital sources.

A similar exemption to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) was approved by the United States Copyright Office more than a year ago. Before the July 2010 decision, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998 made it a crime to break the digital locks on DVDs and other online media, which ultimately prevented filmmakers from making fair use of the material.  Thursday’s filing seeks to renew the exemption for DVDs, and argues that in today’s digital ecosystem, filmmakers need to access Blu-Ray and streaming media as well. 

Many filmmakers and authors, particularly those who incorporated current or historical events into their work, are restricted by the DMCA from using a wealth of material.

“Without this exemption, filmmakers who want to use a movie clip on a DVD can still be sued for going around the locks - even if the use itself is perfectly legal,” said Jack Lerner, USC Law professor and director of the USC Intellectual Property and Technology Clinic. “Instead of using DVDs, filmmakers would be forced to use costly, time-consuming, and technically inadequate workarounds, like trying to take the footage they sought for their films from screen capture software. This doesn’t make practical sense for documentary filmmakers and in fact would prevent a lot of films from being made.”

The USC Law students are working with Beverly Hills entertainment lawyers from Donaldson & Callif in representing Kartemquin Films of Chicago, IL, the International Documentary Association, Independent Filmmaker Project (IFP), and the National Alliance for Media Arts and Culture (NAMAC) and a national coalition of documentary filmmakers and filmmaker organizations.  They have also filed a similar request on behalf of several scholars who are facing the same problems as they create multimedia e-books. A decision is expected in the fall of 2012.

Under Lerner's supervision and in collaboration with Michael Donaldson, USC Law students in the IP Clinic drafted comments and helped coordinate the coalition of filmmakers and organizations. In the coming months, the USC Law students will assist filmmakers from Kartemquin Films prepare their testimony.

Alex Cohen, a 2L Intellectual Property and Technology Clinic student, said working on the project was a rewarding experience.  "I was very excited and honored to be able to work on the DMCA exemption project because of my passion for the intersection of law, technology, and business," he said. "In particular, it was humbling to learn about how the DMCA was negatively impacting the ability for both filmmakers and multimedia e-book authors to make fair use."

Included in the comments are statements from a variety of filmmakers working on projects that require taking fair use content from DVD, Blu-Ray and online video. A wealth of documentaries including Kartemquin’s The Trials of Muhammad Ali, American Araband Mormons Make Moviesrequire the DMCA exemption.

"Without a DMCA exemption for filmmakers, many important documentaries currently in production could not be made," said Donaldson.