U.S. renews fair use exemption for DVDs, online video

The U.S. Copyright Office renewed a fair use exemption that allows doc makers to rip footage from DVDs and streaming video to use in their work until 2015, but did not extend the exemption to Blu-ray discs.
October 29, 2012

The U.S. Copyright Office has renewed an exemption to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) that allows documentary filmmakers to rip footage from DVDs and streaming video to use excerpts of in their work.

The exemption, which was first granted in 2010, allows “the circumvention of motion pictures contained on DVDs and delivered through online services to permit the use of short portions for purposes of criticism and comment in non-commercial videos, documentary films, non-fiction multimedia e-books offering film analysis, and for certain educational uses by college and university faculty and students and kindergarten through 12th grade educators.”

The exemption came into effect on October 28 and lasts until 2015. However, the Registrar of Copyrights and the Librarian of Congress did not extend the decision to footage ripped from Blu-ray discs despite calls from public interest groups and documentary producers to do so.

“We are pleased with this decision to extend the DMCA exemption for DVD and streaming video, which is necessary for documentary filmmakers to practice their fair use rights,” said Gordon Quinn, executive director of Chicago-based Kartemquin Films, which had campaigned for the extension.

“But we are disappointed that the copyright office decision doesn’t also cover Blu-ray. In this rapidly changing technical environment we will have to assess over the next three years how this may impact our ability to effectively make documentaries.”

Last year, Kartemquin was among a group of documentary representatives that argued an exemption for Blu-ray was necessary because many in the film industry are abandoning DVD in favor of increasingly high-definition formats and distribution.

Other groups to make submissions included the International Documentary Association (IDA), the Independent Filmmaker Project (IFP), and the National Alliance for Media Arts and Culture (NAMAC), in conjunction with the USC Intellectual Property and Technology Law Clinic and law firm Donaldson & Callif.

“In today’s digital environment, technological locks are ubiquitous and confounding,”¬†USC Intellectual Property and Technology Law Clinic director Jack Lerner said. “Without this exemption, filmmakers simply could not continue to do what they’ve done for decades: use the language of film to examine and illuminate our culture, history and civic life.”

Prior to 2010, it was illegal for documentary filmmakers, college and university professors, students and non-commercial video makers to break encryption on protected, commercially available DVDs for any purpose.

You can read the exemption ruling here.

About The Author
Barry Walsh is editor and content director for realscreen, and has served as editor of the publication since 2009. With a career in entertainment media that spans two decades, prior to realscreen, he held the associate editor post for now defunct sister publication Boards, which focused on the advertising and commercial production industries. Before Boards, he served as editor of Canadian Music Network, a weekly music industry trade, and as music editor for As content director, he also oversees the development of content for the brand's market-leading events, the Realscreen Summit and Realscreen West, as well as new content initiatives.