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Bound By Law: Tales from the Public Domain

Bound By Law: Tales from the Public Domain

Written by Elyse Eidman-Aadahl
June 07, 2011

Digital writers and teachers have been trying to make sense of copyright and Fair Use policies for awhile and there are excellent resources to assist them. But the case of documentary filmmaking presents a particularly complex challenge in its heavy use of archival footage and collected images. Where other media can get by with suggestive and artistic images, or the substitution of a similar setting or artifact, documentarians strive for exactitude and correctness.



Digital writers and teachers have been trying to make sense of copyright and Fair Use policies for awhile and there are excellent resources to assist them. But the case of documentary filmmaking presents a particularly complex challenge in its heavy use of archival footage and collected images. Where other media can get by with suggestive and artistic images, or the substitution of a similar setting or artifact, documentarians strive for exactitude and correctness. 



Students making documentaries, or perhaps PSAs or digital stories in social studies, might benefit from this comic book by the Duke Center for the Study of the Public Domain. Written by Keith Aoki, James Boyle, and Jennifer Jenkins, Bound By Law follows the adventures of a documentary filmmaker as she tries to navigate fair use. The comic is freely available as PDF (below) or through a variety of web deliveries—and remixing and translating are encouraged by its Creative Commons license. Students can read the Foreword by filmmaker Davis Guggenheim to get a feel for the limitations that ambiguity about Fair Use creates for filmmakers as a great, short introduction to the comic itself.

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