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Big news from the Library of Congress today. In their three-year annual review of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, restrictions on documentary makers related to the fair use of copyrighted materials were significantly eased. Attorney Michael C. Donaldson, who assembled the coalition lobbying for these changes and provided pro bono counsel, commented, “Documentary filmmakers have been freed of the high price extracted by rights holders, or the high price of possible criminal prosecution, when they need to reach public domain material or material to be used pursuant to fair use. All they have to do is follow a few simple rules and they can copy such materials from commercially available DVDs.”

Here is a summary of the new regulations provided by Donaldson’s publicists:

Today the Librarian of Congress approved the recommendations of the Copyright Office granting relief to all documentary filmmakers. It granted the International Documentary Association’s request for an exemption from the provisions of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) that made it a crime to rip a DVD.

The exact language is that if you are engaged in documentary filmmaking, you can copy a DVD without violating the DMCA as follows: “solely in order to accomplish the incorporation of short portions of motion pictures into new works for the purpose of criticism or comment, and where the person engaging in circumvention believes and has reasonable grounds for believing that circumvention is necessary to fulfill the purpose of the use…”

In order to qualify for the exemption you must meet all of the following criteria:

1. You must have lawfully acquired a lawfully made DVD. In other words, don’t buy a pirated copy. Don’t steal a legitimate copy.

2. You may only copy short portions of material for a “non-infringing use” which essentially translates into material in the public domain or material that you plan to use pursuant to the doctrine of fair use.

3. You must be making the copy to use in a documentary.

4. You want to be sure that you are well aware of public domain and fair use laws.

5. You must be a member of an organization such as the IDA or taking a filmmaking course at a recognized institution.

6. You must only copy what you need, you cannot copy the entire DVD.

7. You must not retain a copy of anything from the DVD that you do not use in your film.

It is important that documentary filmmakers be very diligent in complying with the details of the regulation when they take advantage of the exemption, as the Copyright Office will be reviewing the issue anew in three years.

There are other significant implications of the rulings, as noted in this informative article from Ars Technica. Specifically, you can now legally jailbreak your iPhone. From the ruling:

“On balance, the Register concludes that when one jailbreaks a smartphone in order to make the operating system on that phone interoperable with an independently created application that has not been approved by the maker of the smartphone or the maker of its operating system, the modifications that are made purely for the purpose of such interoperability are fair uses.”

Here is a government PDF with the compete explanatory text.

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