Fed Ruling Lets Doc Makers Legally Rip DVDs

Exemption to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act allows content protection to be over-ridden in order to obtain footage covered under fair use doctrine

Documentary filmmakers won an important ruling Monday, when the U.S. Copyright Office ruled that they could legally circumvent DVD copy protection in order to rip content covered under fair use.

The ruling, which provides an exemption to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, not only affects documentarians, but teachers and film students, too.

The exemption allows documentarians and other select professionals to obtain short portions of material from DVDs for non-infringing uses, even when that material is behind encryption and other digital locks.

“If you’re making a documentary about Hollywood, or say, how a certain ethnicity is portrayed, a whole treasure-trove of content has opened up to you,” said attorney Michael Donaldson, who represented the International Documentary Association, Film Independent, the University Film and Video Association and several other parties in a two-year quest to gain the DMCA exemption.

Meanwhile, the Motion Picture Association of America, which fought the ruling, released the following statement: “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.”

The MPAA will have another chance to contest the ruling two years from now, when the Patent Office puts it back up for review.