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Professor Aufderheide to Testify at Library of Congress

American University School of Communication (SOC) Professor Patricia Aufderheide.

Patricia Aufderheide, University Professor in the American University School of Communication (AU SOC), will testify at the Library of Congress part of hearings on the topic of Digital Millennium Copyright Act exemptions which will run April 10-12.

The Librarian of Congress, among many other responsibilities, decides whether Digital Millennium Copyright Act exemptions can be granted. DMCA makes it a criminal act to break encryption on media. Exemptions can be granted if a class of people, such as filmmakers, with a class of uses, such as reusing copyrighted material under fair use, cannot accomplish their work because the DMCA prohibits decrypting material and issues criminal penalties.

Aufderheide, founder of and senior research fellow with the Center for Media & Social Impact, based at SOC, has been writing about documentary films, journalistically and academically, for 45 years and has received life-achievement or scholarship awards from two documentary film associations and have received three lifetime-achievement awards for scholarship from academic associations. She has repeatedly been a film festival juror, including at Sundance.

An expert in Fair Use, she is the co-author with Peter Jaszi of Reclaiming Fair Use: How to Put Balance Back in Copyright (University of Chicago Press, July 2011) and has also recently published a report arguing that media creators struggle to understand and use important copyright exceptions critical to their work.

At the hearing, Aufderheide will be focusing her attention on two issues, both of which she is currently researching.

One is the topic of her testimony; that the current exemption, for documentary filmmakers, should also be extended to fiction filmmakers, because the field is a unitary field of practice. She will make the case that the distinction between documentary and other filmmaking is blurry at best, and that all filmmaking shares technologies, commercial environments, narrative strategies, and editing styles. This would seem to make any distinction under DMCA arbitrary. Additionally, the current exemption that exists for non-commercial video crosses the fiction-documentary line, which demonstrates a recognition that the two spheres can seen as a single area of practice. Aufderheide is joined in this effort by the University of California Irvine intellectual property clinic and a variety of film organizations in her support for extending the current exemptions to include fiction filmmakers.

The second issue Aufderheide will be monitoring relates to the work by software preservation experts, who are asking for an exemption in order to break encryption on software in order to access it for preservation and study purposes. Aufderheide and colleagues recently produced a report about the preservationists’ access to fair use in their work, and is in the midst of additional research on the topic.