Clinic Wins Battle on Behalf of Filmmakers, E-book Authors

The Clinic achieved a historic copyright exemption today when the Librarian of Congress determined that documentary filmmakers and multimedia e-books authors may obtain materials from DVD and online media for commentary in their works.

“Encryption and other forms of technological locks have become pervasive in the digital environment, and these locks have special legal protection under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act,” said Jack Lerner, a professor at USC Gould and director of the Intellectual Property and Technology Law Clinic. “That is why today’s exemption is so important—it preserves the ability for filmmakers and e-book authors to use films in criticism and commentary, as they have done for decades.”

Under Lerner’s supervision and in collaboration with co-counsel Michael C. Donaldson of Donaldson & Callif in Beverly Hills, USC Gould students Brendan Charney ’13 and Alex Cohen ’13 drafted lengthy comments and coordinated a nationwide coalition of documentary filmmakers and filmmaker organizations, including the International Documentary Association, Kartemquin Films, Independent Filmmaker Project, and the National Alliance for Media Arts and Culture, as well as several prominent film scholars.

“When I found out that I had been accepted into the Clinic, I never imagined that I would have the opportunity to go to Washington, D.C. and argue in front of the Copyright Office on behalf of such an impressive group of filmmakers and authors,” said Cohen. “I am particularly proud of the Clinic’s role in giving filmmakers and e-book authors access to the exponentially growing number of materials delivered through the Internet that are restricted by digital locks.”

Included in the comments were 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 Arab and Mormons Make Movies, require the DMCA exemption, as do a burgeoning group of authors using new tools to create multimedia e-books on platforms such as the iPad and the Kindle Fire.

“Multimedia e-book technology allows authors to express ideas in amazing new ways,” said Charney. “Film scholars can now embed film clips and other media into their books, enabling them to present analysis in book form that had previously been confined to the classroom. Today’s decision means that authors can now explore that technology without the fear of crushing legal liability.”

Without this exemption, many important projects currently in production could not have been made, said Donaldson. “This is a great day for documentary filmmaking and for the future of books.”

The exemption goes into effect Monday, October 28, and will expire in late 2015. The ruling may be found at


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