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Can you Use Production Audio from Another Movie in a Documentary Under Fair Use

Can you Use Production Audio from Another Movie in a Documentary Under Fair Use?

Fair use represents one of the most important limitations as to the exclusive rights of a copyright owner. Under fair use law the use of certain copyrighted works, including things like music or audio that was produced for a movie, without permission from the copyright owner is acceptable provided the use satisfies one of the listed exceptions or limitations set forth by the U.S. Copyright Act. If you’re remotely familiar with Fair Use law, then you might be wondering. Can you use production audio from another movie in a documentary under fair use?

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What is Fair Use?

Fair use is a defense against copyright infringement. It basically allows for the use of various copyrighted materials without seeking owner permission. So long as the material is utilized under certain circumstances. 

You might think that fair use allows you to steal the work of others who have copyrighted their material. But this isn’t the case.

Fair use does allow for existing copyright material to be used without permission. But such use must provide new value to the original work. As well as be done in such a circumstance that it creates something entirely new. 

Various Interpretations

Many filmmakers are unsure about fair use and how such a defense can be defined. Unfortunately, court rulings on fair use vary. And there is no cut and dry means of determining whether something is fair use, or not.

Before you decide to use copyrighted music, production audio, or other works from a copyrighted movie in your documentary…

Keep the following in mind:

  • Fair use defense is determined on a case-by-case basis. Discuss your intention of using any copyrighted material with a Copyright attorney prior to such use.
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  • It’s always better to try to get permission to use copyrighted material if you can. Doing so demonstrates good faith and your effort to avoid copyright infringement.
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  • Be clear, concise, and limit what you use. It’s better to keep copyrighted material that you use limited. And to make it very clear what your point is in using the material versus a situation where you overuse copyrighted material.
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  • It’s always best to consult with a U.S. Copyright attorney prior to any potential use of copyrighted material, whether you’re planning a documentary or any other type of film.

Documentary Filmmaker’s Statement of Fair Use

As a documentary filmmaker, relying on fair use is certainly not something to be taken lightly. However, you’ll frequently find that the works that you are creating will often require the use of copyrighted material.

Therefore, if you intend to utilize production audio from another movie that has been protected by U.S. Copyright, the best considerations for you will be to first seek permission from the copyright holder.

If there’s limited time, or if you are having trouble tracking down the copyright owner, you can consider speaking with a U.S. Copyright attorney about fair use to determine the next most appropriate steps for your own safety. 

That if you use production audio from another movie or film and expect protection under fair use, that protection comes after you are sued for copyright infringement and not before.

Can you use production audio from another movie in a documentary under fair use?

What this means is, that you are better off being proactive, and seeking permission in advance, rather than being reactive and seeking permission after the fact.

Although it is generally acceptable to use production audio under fair use for your documentary, provided it is being used for an entirely different purpose and for the use of educating others on a particular subject, it’s best to speak with a Copyright attorney prior to doing so. 

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