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MPAA Pans Ruling on DVD Copying

28 Jul, 2010 By: Chris Tribbey

The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) is panning a ruling this week by the U.S. Copyright Office that gives documentary filmmakers and others the right to circumvent DVD copy protection in order to use clips of copyright-protected content.

The ruling, announced July 26 by the Librarian of Congress, provides an exemption to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DCMA). The MPAA had been fighting the International Documentary Association and others over the proposed exemption.

“The Librarian's decision unnecessarily blurs the bright line established in the DMCA against circumvention of technical protection measures and undermines the DMCA, which has fostered greater access to more works by more people than at any time in our history,” said MPAA spokeswoman Elizabeth Kaltman.

The exemption allows people to obtain small portions of material for DVD for non-infringing use, which was previously a crime under the DMCA. The exemption can be contested when the DMCA is up for review again in October 2012.

“I agree … that the record demonstrates that it is sometimes necessary to circumvent access controls on DVDs in order to make these kinds of fair uses of short portions of motion pictures,” James H. Billington, Librarian of Congress, wrote in regards to his ruling.

The ruling notes that the exemption only allows for circumvention “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 … .”

Entertainment attorney Michael Donaldson, who represented the International Documentary Association and others seeking the exemption, praised the ruling.

“The organizations and filmmakers who have joined together on this issue represent the cornerstones of the documentary filmmaking community in the United States,” he said. “The filmmakers knew it was time that they confronted this problem that hampered their work on a daily basis, so we decided to come together as a united front — filmmakers and advocates alike — to change the law.”

Chris Perez, a lawyer with entertainment law firm Donaldson & Callif, called the ruling “an important victory for free expression and the essential role that documentary film plays in our democracy.”

“To make social, political or cultural critiques, filmmakers need to quote from copyrighted material such as motion pictures,” he said. “It's well established that this type of use is permitted by the fair use doctrine in copyright law, but the DMCA was preventing it.”

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