Overview of PIJIP's Work on Copyright and International Documentary Film
PIJIP aims to explore (1) the problems that current interpretationsof South African Copyright law may be posing to the development of thedocumentary film industry, and (2) opportunities to address those problemsthrough changes in law or the practice of filmmakers. This project, which is apartnership between the Ford Foundation, South Africa filmmaker organizationsand the Program on Information Justice and Intellectual Property at AmericanUniversity, is being conducted in the context of an announced intention of theSouth African government to revise the Copyright Act and at a time of growingrecognition by documentary filmmakers around the world that a proper balancebetween the rights of copyright owners and of users of copyrighted materialsare necessary to help documentary film flourish.
All copyright laws contain provisions, sometimes known as “fair dealing” or“fair use” rights, that allow those producing new work to use copyrightedmaterial without permission or payment in some circumstances. For example, manylaws contain provisions that permit the quotation or other use of copyrightedmusic, photographs, film footage and other material in order to comment on orcriticize that work or to illustrate a point or argument. For documentaryfilmmakers and other media makers, these features of copyright law are oftenessential to promote free expression and ensure that copyright does not operateas a charter for censorship. At the same time, documentary filmmakers arethemselves copyright holders, whose businesses depend on respect for principlesof copyright law. Finding the right balance of documentary filmmaker interestsas owners and as users of copyrighted material is thus a key objective offilmmakers.
South Africans are not, of course, alone in these concerns. Indeed, in alarge number of countries including the U.S., Canada, Israel, Australia, the UKand the EU, filmmakers are working in various ways with government officials,courts and legislatures to achieve better recognition of use rights in legalpractice without harming the traditional interest of copyright law inprotecting the rights of content producers to benefit from their creations.
Photo of South African film screening by flykr.