UCI Law clinic files petitions to help filmmakers, e-book authors secure fair use rights

March 3, 2015

IRVINE, Calif., March 3, 2015 — The UCI Intellectual Property, Arts, and Technology (IPAT) Clinic has filed comments with the U.S. Copyright Office seeking exemptions to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) so that filmmakers and e-book authors may access and use materials from DVDs, Blu-ray discs and digitally transmitted video.

Filmmakers and authors have long held the right to make fair use of copyrighted material for such purposes as criticism and commentary, but the DMCA, enacted in 1998, made it illegal—and possibly a crime—to access copyrighted content by breaking technological protection measures, like encryption.

“What good is fair use if you have no way to access the material?” asks Jack Lerner, assistant clinical professor at UCI Law and director of the school’s IPAT Clinic. “Fortunately, Congress created a process for granting exemptions to people who are being harmed by the DMCA.”

Last fall, the International Documentary Association (IDA) and Kartemquin Films asked the Clinic to seek such an exemption. Both organizations have been fighting for years to secure these and other protections for filmmakers and are national leaders on a range of issues important to documentary filmmakers. Seven other national organizations, including Film Independent, subsequently joined the effort.

Authors Alliance also retained the Clinic to seek an exemption that would apply to e-book authors. Authors Alliance supports authors and authorship as vessels of creation and knowledge to be shared for the public good. To this end, they embrace the way authorship is changing in the digital age and seek to ensure that technology and law do not handcuff the longstanding doctrine of fair use. “It’s important that our members are legally empowered to create the pathbreaking kinds of books enabled by modern technology,” said Authors Alliance Executive Director Michael Wolfe. “This exemption will help ensure that fair use continues to play a vital role in authorship, regardless of the medium.” The American Association of University Professors, scholars Bobette Buster and Mark Berger, and two other organizations joined the comment.

Securing a DMCA exemption is a year-long process that requires research, several filings with the U.S. Copyright Office and testimony at hearings, among other things—and exemptions must be renewed every three years. Lerner was instrumental in obtaining exemptions currently in effect that apply to documentary filmmakers and e-book authors nationwide, which will expire in late 2015.

“The work involved is time-sensitive and incredibly expensive, making it nearly impossible to pursue for individuals or organizations lacking resources and manpower,” explains IDA Board President Marjan Safinia. “That’s why the IPAT Clinic’s involvement has been vital to the DMCA rulemaking process.”  

According to UCI Law student Matthew Germer: “Today’s technology allows new ways of storytelling that are simply not possible without the DMCA exemption. Any writer can now embed a video clip of a particular movie in his or her piece in order to analyze or comment on it. It has been a privilege to work with Authors Alliance to help them explain to the Copyright Office why the law must be recalibrated so that today’s technology can be used to its fullest capability.”

Michael C. Donaldson of Donaldson + Callif served as co-counsel on the filmmakers’ exemption petition. The Samuelson-Glushko Technology Law & Policy Clinic at the University of Colorado served as co-counsel on the e-book authors’ petition.     

About UC Irvine School of Law
UCI Law, which received full accreditation from the ABA effective June 6, 2014, is an innovative law school focused on educating talented and passionate lawyers driven by professional excellence, intellectual rigor, and a commitment to enrich our communities through public service. UCI Law is a collegial environment, and our faculty comprises accomplished, nationally-ranked thought leaders from around the country with a broad range of expertise. More about the Law School is available at law.uci.edu.

About the UCI Intellectual Property, Arts, and Technology Clinic
Law students in the Intellectual Property, Arts, and Technology Clinic work to support innovation and creative expression in the digital age. In the Clinic, students advise and represent clients on a range of matters dealing with copyright, patent, privacy and media law, among other areas. Through this work, they gain important legal skills while examining the role of the public interest in intellectual property and technology law. 

University of California, Irvine School of Law Contacts: 

Jack Lerner
Assistant Clinical Professor of Law
Director, Intellectual Property, Arts, and Technology Clinic
(949) 824-7684 office
(415) 577-2455 cell  

Colleen Taricani
Assistant Dean for Communications
(949) 824-3063