Via an email tip, a pointer to this Wired article reporting on a comic book by three Duke University law professors on the difficulties that documentary filmmakers face in dealing with copyright law. The entire comic book is available for free online at Duke University’s Center for the Study of the Public Domain and provides a good overview of the ways in which copyright law can both promote and inhibit good documentary work. As the book illustrates, fair use protections do give filmmakers a lot of freedom, but uncertainty about what constitutes fair use still leads to a lot of confusion. The book also points to useful resources such as the Chilling Effects Clearinghouse that may be useful to filmmakers and other artists who are engaging with (or even passively capturing) copyrighted material or even trademarks that hapen to be visible in the background.
Update: While you’re in the neighborhood, Duke’s Center for the Study of the Public Domain looks like an incredibly useful resource for the topic of documentary and copyright, including this collection of films and videos that explore “the tensions between art and intellectual property law, and the intellectual property issues artists face, focusing on either music or documentary film.”