Is Copyright Law Killing The Documentary?

from the ain't-copyright-grand? dept

A few years back, we wrote about a documentary that couldn't be shown due to copyright problems. It appears this problem is only getting worse. jprlk writes in to let us know about growing concerns from documentary filmmakers that issues concerning copyright make it increasingly difficult to actually make documentary films. Having reached this age where so many people are claiming "ownership" of content and demanding huge fees for any usage, documentary filmmakers run the risk of either getting charged repeatedly with copyright infringement or going through the long, difficult and expensive process of securing the rights. As the article quotes one documentary film maker saying, "Half of my budget is rights clearances, if you can get them." Given that the whole point of documentaries is to document things that are actually happening, it seems rather silly to realize that they can't document many things without first paying for the permission to do so.


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  1.  
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    Dennis, Apr 29th, 2008 @ 10:31am

    Copyright documentary

    It sounds like someone needs to make a documentary about this. Then when the copyright vultures come calling it will be sweet irony, which can be later added to the DVD bonus features.

     

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  2.  
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    Sandoz76, Apr 29th, 2008 @ 11:02am

    Amen

    This is interesting to hear. I work for a big media corp. They make their own footage and it is a nightmare for me to get this same footage to put into the education part of the web. Does this make any sense? Its a joke. Hurry up and retire, baby boomers. Ya'll are holding things up.

     

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  3.  
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    Max Christian Hansen, Apr 29th, 2008 @ 11:17am

    Mike: thanks for reminding me of this superb micro-documentary I saw on YouTube last year. Sandoz76: mind the broad brush, there. Many of us boomers who are aware of these issues are no more pleased with the status quo than are you gen-?-ers.

     

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  4.  
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    Christopher Todesco, Apr 29th, 2008 @ 11:24am

    Documentarians?

    Maybe if some wackos weren't making propaganda hit-pieces that target the corporate content owners thinly disguised as documentaries, they wouldn't be so quick to use copyright law to stop such efforts?

    Now I'm not saying I agree with copyright law as it stands now, but I'm just suggesting that supposed documentary filmmakers can't push and push and push against people, and then throw up their hands and cry foul when they push back.

     

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  5.  
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    Chris C., Apr 29th, 2008 @ 12:08pm

    Re: Documentarians?

    Now I'm not saying I agree with copyright law as it stands now, but I'm just suggesting that supposed documentary filmmakers can't push and push and push against people, and then throw up their hands and cry foul when they push back.

    Im curious what parallelism you're trying to draw in saying that documentary filmakers "push" and cant handle being "pushed back."

    Filmakers are trying to release content, while the target of their focus is trying to hide that content. So the only way they would be affected by being "pushed back" is if they had information they didnt want released... but that isnt the case; so what exactly do you mean???

    I assume you mean that they're peeved that they're trying to do something and someone is interfeering, which is the only similarity between both parties, and that's just everyday oridinary life... If someone is trying to hide something, they're going to take every available measure to do so; it's only natural they use copywright law to further conceal it.

    In other words you're just stating the obvious, but I'm pretty sure propaganda hit-pieces that are thinly disguised as documentaries made by supposed filmakers is the real issue you're getting at, so next time just say you hate Michael Moore.

     

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  6.  
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    Apendrag0n, Apr 29th, 2008 @ 12:14pm

    Re: Amen

    Sounds like a company I worked for in Evanston, IL...

     

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  7.  
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    comboman, Apr 29th, 2008 @ 12:17pm

    fair use?

    Wouldn't documentaries count as fair use, either under the educational or news reporting exemptions?

     

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  8.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Apr 29th, 2008 @ 12:20pm

    Re: fair use?

    Learn the first rule of fair use.

     

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  9.  
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    Dan Zee (profile), Apr 29th, 2008 @ 12:21pm

    Michael Moore ruined everything

    Ever since Michael Moore made $100 million on Fahrenheit 9/11 and Al Gore made $30 million with A Inconvenient Truth, no one wants to give away their film, video or sound clips without being hugely compensated.

    But on the other hand, there's a lot of documentary makers who just splice together a bunch of media clips, put a narration track under it (usually bashing Bush) and call it a documentary.

    I think documentary makers need to go back to their roots of actually going out, interviewing people, and shooting their own footage. Frederick Wiseman, for example, has never used a clip from somebody else in his entire career.

     

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  10.  
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    Reed, Apr 29th, 2008 @ 12:22pm

    The art of documentary

    "Maybe if some wackos weren't making propaganda hit-pieces that target the corporate content owners thinly disguised as documentaries, they wouldn't be so quick to use copyright law to stop such efforts?"

    So then your saying they use copyright laws to prevent public discourse about their actions?

    "Now I'm not saying I agree with copyright law as it stands now, but I'm just suggesting that supposed documentary filmmakers can't push and push and push against people, and then throw up their hands and cry foul when they push back."

    I am not sure where your are heading with this. Documentary makers don't keep "pushing", they typically make one documentary about a subject then move onto another. Your making it sound like it is a shoving match when it is just someone trying to create their form of art.

    The problem that I have always seen is the fact that we let people own the rights to art in the first place. Content owners cry fowl because they can't protect their ill-gotten works in an increasing digital world where their products transaction costs are reduced to zero. The answer is simple, go find a new way to make money!

    Capitalism would be a lot easier in this country if we actually forced companies to practice it instead of protecting their failing investments.

     

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  11.  
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    That Guy, Apr 29th, 2008 @ 12:35pm

    RE: Michael Moore ruined everything

    There is some truth to that only if you believe that he makes documentaries.

    Documentaries as they were originally concepted were about DOCUMENTING real life, as it happened. Take the documentary film Murderball. There were no "staged" scenes or interactions, and no original concept pieces created.

    The films that Moore makes are "borderline" documentaries. He creates large amounts of original material ( his cartoon from Bowling for Columbine for example ) and he CREATES elaborate staged scenes such as sending people to Cuba in his last film.

    Moore is one of the greatest "communicators" of our era, and he uses the medium of film to its fullest. But at the end of the day his latest films can't really be called documentaries.

    So if your making a FILM, for the dual purpose of communicating your ideas and making money, I think media owners should still own rights to their footage.

    It's not as those Moore is running a non profit organization, he runs a film production company.

     

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  12.  
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    R. Eelist, Apr 29th, 2008 @ 12:59pm

    Missing point.

    The excessive rights demands are hurting honest documentary producers. They can't afford to shoot real-life footage which contains even a tiny bit of someone else's copyrighted material. That's what has to be fixed.

    Everyone who is rambling about plagerisers is just muddying the waters.

     

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  13.  
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    andy, Apr 29th, 2008 @ 2:41pm

    the topic

    I agree with #12 I think this discussion should be about the trouble trying to license everything that incidentally made it into a frame or onto the audio. Posters, music in a store, the store its self. I recently edited a documentary about the homeless and we were planning on releasing it on the web and that is going nowhere, the company that owns the footage is dragging its feet, but to get to the point. If the people who worked on this project get the rights back and try to release it, there would be a huge amount of posters, stores (burger king, safeway), and beverage brands that might have to be blurred out. This is a total waste of time and does nothing to protect the consumer from bad inferences about the product in question. if you see a red soda can blurred out, you can be pretty sure it's a coke. This is the kind of thing I think should be protected by fair-use. But I can see that there are places where limits should be set. muddy water indeed.

     

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  14.  
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    mike allen, Apr 29th, 2008 @ 2:55pm

    what

    I make documentaries sometimes i dont care about copyright i go ahead and make it any IDIOT tries to screw money gets told to stick it where the sun dont shine so does any court judge or STUPID IDIOT WHO TRIES TO STOP ME.stick thst in your ass and drug it IRA sorry they were a terrorist org. RIAA on second thoughts whats the differance.

     

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  15.  
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    Reed, Apr 29th, 2008 @ 3:34pm

    Re: RE: Michael Moore ruined everything

    "So if your making a FILM, for the dual purpose of communicating your ideas and making money, I think media owners should still own rights to their footage."

    Discussing whether or not Moore makes documentaries is beside the point. He has NO problem paying any fees associated by copyrights anyways.

    We are talking about independent documentary producer who can't make their art because of the profound protectionism culture that has formed around content owners.

    Media consolidation has continued to cut out the little guy. Independents have little chance in the current marketplace and instead we find many "pseudo" independents that are just extensions of major production studios.

    The end result is we get less diversity and arguably less quality productions. Copyrights are primarily corporate game to extend their profits for generations to come at the cost of our ability to freely develop new art. We cannot continue to stand idly by while corporations commodify our culture and art and reduce it to nothing more than dollars and cents and then restrict how we can use it.

    The joke is on us I guess if we continue to allow our culture to be hijacked by people who only care about profit.

     

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  16.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Apr 29th, 2008 @ 4:46pm

    "I think documentary makers need to go back to their roots of actually going out, interviewing people, and shooting their own footage. Frederick Wiseman, for example, has never used a clip from somebody else in his entire career."

    But, at some point, he had to use a name or show a product or logo or some kind of thing that could be used to identify the object of the documentary. Which he could be sued for. Which doesn't make any sense.

    It should be fair use, just as I can review music, movies, or products on a website and sell ads on the website. People go to see the reviews and see my ads and make me money. That's still Fair Use. Why not a docu? Copyright law needs to stop everything and start the fuck over.

     

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  17.  
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    That Guy, Apr 29th, 2008 @ 7:53pm

    Re: Re: RE: Michael Moore ruined everything

    Reed,

    You and I are saying the same thing. I was just trying to point out to lump Moore in with the documentary crowd wasn't accurate, and if anything did harm to the legitimacy and rights of TRUE documentary makers.

     

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