DMCA Exemptions and its Lasting Affects on the Industry

DMCA Exemptions and its Lasting Affects on the Industry

Filmmakers depend extensively on copyright laws and the ability to use intellectual property, through what’s considered to be fair use by law. Changes in these laws have already made things more difficult for independent filmmakers to get by, and the community is working out its own ways to address such changes. The main challenge comes from the strict policy set in place by the DMCA, as it’s focused on the use of technology rather than its purpose.


DMCA is a law established in 1999, when digital filmmaking technology and the internet itself were still quite young. The acronym stands for Digital Millennium Copyright Act, and seeks to prevent illegal copyrighting. However, its goals have been deemed as far too strict. The law prohibits filmmakers from ripping the content of DVDs, including materials previously considered “fair use”.

The Changes

Over time, the law has evolved to adapt to the needs of changing technology, but not without criticism from lawmakers. In 2010, documentary filmmakers were made exempt from this law, since most materials used tend to fall under “fair use”. Additional laws were passed in 2018 to provide clarity to these changes, adding additional uses deemed exempt from DMCA. These include instances in which “the clip is used for parody, or is biographically/historically significant in nature.”


The International Documentary Association is one of the oldest and most well-known NGO assisting those who work in the documentary industry. It has taken part in discussions concerning copyright issues, particularly in terms of broadening the definition of what is considered fair use within documentary films.

Official Statement

In addition to this work within the government, IDA has attempted to work with filmmakers directly, raising awareness of the laws and their implications. The document known as This Statement of Best Practices in Fair Use came about as part of this process. The document explains Fair Use as a concept:  how it can be implemented now, and what more should change in regards to documentary films.

.Center for Media and Social Impact

The Center for Media and Social Impact is a part of the Washington University: a scientific lab focusing on the affect of media in the political and societal realms. One goal of the lab is to write and publish information on the fair use of intellectual property. One such publication is entitled Examples of Fair Use in Intellectual Property. The document is a solid resource for filmmakers, providing a good overview of legal and effective practices.

A Public Discussion

It is important to broaden discussions on the issue. The problem is a legal one, and is often written about in boring, distant terms. However, the issue at hand is one of public interest. Those in the industry must organize to make their voices heard on the matter. Filmmakers know the field inside out, and their voices are crucial for enacting future DMCA changes.