South African Documentary Filmmakers Release Plan of Action for Use of Copyrighted Materials

Sean Flynn
March 27, 2009

Following the meeting on Copyright User Rights and South African Documentary Film, March 22-24, 2009, in Cape Town, South Africa’s Documentary Filmmakers’ Alliance and Black Filmmakers Network and American University Washington College of Law’s Program on Information Justice and Intellectual Property (partner organizations) adopted the following plan of action. 

The partner organizations will:

  • Work together to develop a consensus “best practices” document explicating current rights to quote or otherwise use copyrighted content in documentary films without permission from or payment to the content owner;
  • Include within the best practices statement standards for the fair and reasonable use of historical documents and footage; art, music and stories that are traditional to indigenous groups; and the personal narratives of individuals.
  • Work with the University of Cape Town Intellectual Property Unit to develop a legal advice network for documentary filmmakers on user rights in copyright law;
  • Develop a list of pressing copyright policy proposals for pending revision of the South African Copyright law, such as expanding the incidental use exception for “artistic works” to include capture of background audio and visual sources.

The organizations also adopted a set of longer term objectives that will be included in their planning processes, including:

  • Develop other policy reform goals, such as positions on copyright term extensions;
  • Research law reform strategies, including research into constitutional free expression grounds for user rights exceptions to the copyright law;
  • Research how documentary filmmakers can create or contribute to projects in South Africa to audit all archival and documentary footage (public and privately held) and create “open” archives through which material would be more widely available to filmmakers and other researchers;
  • Research the development of model transfer agreements for footage from filmmaker private archives to open archive projects;
  • Research the utility of international best practices statements that attempt to harmonize user rights interpretation across borders.

The meeting on Copyright User Rights and Documentary Film Copyright was convened by the partner organizations with support from the Ford Foundation. The meeting was attended by over 40 South African documentary filmmakers as well as representatives from PIJIP, Creative Commons, University of Cape Town Intellectual Property Unit, University of Cape Town Visual History Archive, i-Heritage and the South Africa History Archives.

The meeting followed a period of research on the actual and perceived barriers that South African Copyright law is posing to the development of the local documentary film industry. The research included comparative legal analysis of “fair dealing” and other limitations and exceptions in copyright laws of Commonwealth countries and a survey of the perceptions and practices of South African documentary filmmakers. The final findings and recommendations from the first year of the project, including an analysis of the filmmaker survey results, will be released by July 1, 2009.

More information on the project can be found at

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