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Documentary Filmmakers’ Statement of Best Practices in Fair Use

Documentary Filmmakers’ Statement of Best Practices in Fair Use

Written by Erin Wilkey Oh
December 07, 2011



Educators interested in helping student filmmakers understand copyright law and the doctrine of fair use will find great value in this resource.   

In order to help documentary filmmakers navigate the U.S. copyright law's frequently misunderstood doctrine of fair use, veteran documentarians collaborated to create the Documentary Filmmakers' Statement of Best Practices in Fair Use. Issued in November of 2005, this straightforward guide addresses four common types of situations that documentary filmmakers confront in regular practice. In each of these situations, documentarians must decide if they can or cannot rely on fair use. 


  1. Employing copyrighted material as the object of social, political, or cultural critique

  2. Quoting copyrighted works of popular culture to illustrate an argument or point

  3. Capturing copyrighted media content in the process of filming something else

  4. Using copyrighted material in a historical sequence



The Documentary Filmmakers' Statement of Best Practices in Fair Use provides a discussion of support for citing fair use in each of the above situations, as well as a discussion of the limitations the artists must consider. 

The resource concludes by clarifying common misunderstandings about fair use.

Read more at the Center for Social Media or download the PDF.

To Use in Schools Students at all levels increasingly choose to create films as a mode of composition. Lessons and discussions about fair use are essential to help students wisely navigate the nuances of copyright law. In this age of digital media and remixing, guides like the Documentary Filmmakers' Statement of Best Practices in Fair Use should be included in classroom conversations about multimodal composition.         

Statement Authors:  Association of Independent Video and Filmmakers Independent Feature Project International Documentary Association National Alliance for Media Arts and Culture 
Women in Film & Video, Washington D.C. Chapter
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