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Micrographics & Audiovisual Special Interest Section


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Copyright and the Use of Audiovisual Content


AALL has a standing Copyright Committee to keep its members informed on copyright issues facing law librarians. Its Issues page and its Blog do an excellent job of this. Because the Committee's membership is limited, it cannot cover all copyright issues of interest to its members in equal depth. M/AV-SIS focuses specifically on copyright issues affecting the use of audiovisual materials.

DVD Ripping and the Use of Video Clips

The Background

DVD ripping and other similar technological circumventions of copyright protection systems has long been common in academic environments to create video clips for educational use. Until relatively recently, however, it was illegal in most circumstances. While the use of video clips in the classroom and similar environments is protected by sections 107 and/or 110 of the Copyright Act, the clips must be "lawfully acquired." DVD ripping is a technological circumvention of a copyright protection system and thus is prohibited under 17 U.S.C. §1201(a)(1)(A) (absent a statutory exemption). Video clips created through DVD ripping would not be lawfully acquired. Moreover, fair use is not a defense to technological circumvention.

The Statutory Exemption Generally

The Librarian of Congress is obligated under 17 U.S.C.§1201(a)(1)(D) to publish any exemptions to the statutory prohibition against technological circumventions of copyright protection systems. These exemptions last for a three-year period and are published by the Copyright Office in the Federal Register prior to being codified in the Code of Federal Regulations.

The 2006 exemption applied only to a "film or media studies department" and "media studies or film professors." The 2010 exemption expanded that to "college and university professors and by college and university film and media studies students" as well as "Documentary filmmaking" and "Noncommercial videos."

The 2012 Statutory Exemption

The 2012 final rule expanded the exemption still further, listing "(i) in noncommercial videos; (ii) in documentary films; (iii) in nonfiction multimedia ebooks offering film analysis; and (iv) for educational purposes by college and university faculty, college and university students, and kindergarten through twelfth grade educators." Though as librarians M/AV-SIS members might wish that the exemption would be even more expansive (or permanently codified in the statute itself), it is moving in the right direction.

The immediate practical effect of the exemption is modest. Many of those covered by the exemption were already making use of DVD ripping and similar circumventions before the Librarian of Congress recognized them as legitimate. Nevertheless, few (if any) of the parties filing comments in 2012 or 2015 treat the exemption as a mere formality.

The 2015 Statutory Exemption

In its December 2014 Notice of Proposed Rule Making the Copyright Office proposed expanding the exemption beyond DVD to other formats and identified eight proposed classes of exemptions for audiovisual works.  Class 1 included colleges and universities.  Class 4 included museums, libraries and non-profits.  The periods for supporting, opposing and reply comments are closed.      

Organizations representing faculty and libraries (e.g. AAUP, ALA) supported broader exemptions.  Organizations representing corporate content creators (e.g., MPAA) opposed broader exemptions.  The Copyright Office has not yet issued its final rule.

Last updated June 17th, 2015