Some USC law students have won a major concession from the US Copyright Office on how documentarians (isn’t there a better word?) may use material from copyrighted works. In particular, it allows that material from DVD’s (protected by the DMCA) may be used in manners consistent with Fair Use and that filmmakers not be prosecuted for pirating the ripped material.

Obviously, if you’re venturing far into these realms, you need to understand your rights of Fair Use and should still consult an attorney before distributing your work. (More on Fair Use below.) But the great news is that relatively attractive footage can be obtained for free or little money… where previously either low grade (VHS) or expensive (studio masters) where required. Here’s an excerpt from the USC bulletin announcing the success:

USC Intellectual Property & Technology Law Clinic Wins Copyright Exemption for Filmmakers

Monday, Jul 26, 2010

 Documentary filmmakers now allowed to use material  

-Gilien Silsby

A team of USC Law students from the USC Intellectual Property and Technology Clinic has helped secure an exemption that will allow documentary filmmakers to use material contained on DVDs and other sources that were previously off limits.

The exemption to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) was announced today by the United States Copyright Office. The Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998 makes it a crime to break the digital locks on DVDs and other media. The restriction prevented filmmakers from making fair use of material, or using public domain material.

To really get a handle on what Fair Use is and the legacy of legal decisions that support the concept the best source that I’ve ever found remains the Center for Social Media. Check it out then go make a great mashed-up commentary!