February 23, 2007  ·  Lessig

Yesterday, in LA, in partnership with the insurance company, Media/Professional, and LA lawyer Michael Donaldson, we (the Stanford CIS Fair Use Project) made a major announcement. In my just about 10 years working on these issues, this is the most important announcement yet.

As reported just over a year ago, American University’s Center for Social Media released the Documentary Filmmakers’ Statement of Best Practices in Fair Use. This fantastic report outlines principles to guide filmmakers in the fair use of copyrighted material in their films. It was an important step towards helping to clarify this unruly area of the law.

Working with Media/Professional, and Michael Donaldson, the Fair Use Project has now found a way to insure films that follow the Best Practices guidelines. For films that are certified to have followed the Best Practices guidelines, Media/Professional will provide a special (read: much lower cost) policy; Stanford’s Fair Use Project will provide pro bono legal services to the film. If we can’t provide pro bono services, then Michael Donaldson’s firm will provide referrals to a number of media lawyers who will provide representation at a reduced rate. Either way, filmmakers will be able to rely upon “fair use” in the making of their film. The Fair Use Project and Donaldson will defend the filmmakers if their use is challenged. Media/Professional will cover liability if the defense is not successful.

This is a huge breakthrough. As many of us have been arguing, the real constraint of fair use comes not from the courts, but from those in the market who are trying to avoid any risk of copyright exposure. This market-based solution will now clear the way for many films to be released which before could not secure insurance. And we are eager to use the inevitable cases that will emerge to solidify the fantastic Statement of Best Practices developed by the Center for Social Media.

The project has an advisory board: filmmakers Kirby Dick, Academy Award-nominee Davis Guggenheim, Arthur Dong and Haskell Wexler; professors Peter Jaszi and me; and intellectual property attorneys Michael Donaldson and Anthony Falzone.

To remix a bit EFF’s slogan: Fair Use’s posse just got a whole lot bigger — and with insurance now to boot.

  • Alex

    That’s fantastic. Now, if only someone would do this for authors…

  • http://www.slumdance.com/blogs/brian_flemming/ Brian Flemming

    Wow. This really is major news. From a documentary filmmaker who has dealt with fair-use issues, kudos to everyone involved with this much-needed project. Obviously, it just got a lot harder for corporations and individuals to intimidate doc filmmakers away from criticism and other fair use.

  • http://cyberlaw.stanford.edu/blog/colette-vogele Colette

    This is great news. Congrats to the Fair Use Project. I know that many will benefit from this partnership.

  • http://gruntmedia.com Craig Syverson

    I’m very excited by this announcement – this will be a major boost to all of us who don’t want our culture to shrivel up and disappear under a shroud of legalese. I’ve been empowered by reading the Statement and applying the rules that were laid out so succinctly. This legal assistance will further advance independent filmmakers ability to assert these imperative rights on a larger scale.

  • http://www.videomaker.com Jennifer

    Well done, well done! I was in the audience at the pre-Oscar program honoring documentarians that was sponsored by the International Documentary Association when this announcement was made to the collection of docu-makers in attendance. The announcement got a standing ovation, something I think insurance folk never expected to get. This will surly open doors for more people with a vision to tell a story to actually get that story told.

  • http://www.bestblogsite.org/ George

    Congratulations! :-)
    It’s great to see how well the project is doing.