Documentary filmmakers have won a ruling from the U.S. Copyright Office that allows them to legally break the encryption codes of DVDs and online streaming content to obtain clips for their projects.
The material still must fall under the “fair use” exemption of copyright law, but the decision by Register of Copyrights Maria A. Pallante was hailed as a victory for non-fiction filmmakers seeking high-quality clips for their movies. The decision also allows educators and multimedia e-book authors, as well as makers of non-commercial videos, to circumvent copy-protection software to obtain such clips, although the use has to be limited in scope.
Pallante determined that “when a short excerpt of a motion picture is used for the purposes of criticism and comment, even in a commercial context, it may well be a productive use that serves the essential function of fair use as a free speech safeguard,” according to the ruling published in the Federal Register on Friday. A rationale was that other means of obtaining the material, like screen capture, often do not produce the desired quality.
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