By Meredith Farkas | December 22, 2004
Here is a disappointing story about the licensing and intellectual property rights . The award-winning documentary, Eyes on the Prize, about the civil rights movement, can no longer be aired on TV or sold on DVD (or new VHS’s) because the filmmakers could only afford to pay for a few years of rights to the footage they used in the movie.
Securing clearance rights to archival footage is a growing problem for independent filmmakers — and documentary filmmakers in particular. Filmmakers must pay for the rights to use every song, photograph or video clip included in the film. Since many documentary films are made with small budgets, filmmakers often can only afford to buy rights for a limited amount of time. That leaves many filmmakers essentially renting footage, and rendering their work unusable after a certain number of years unless they can find more funding to clear the rights again.
With funding for documentaries (which often have great educational value) being so poor, filmmakers are unable to make as good a movie as they’d like because of the high cost of licensing. Or they have to limit the ability for people to view their movie by only buying the rights to the historical footage for a limited time. Most documentarians don’t have the funding of a Ken Burns. Personally, I thought the idea of intellectual property laws was to protect and encourage creativity. Here we have a situation where creativity and education are stifled because of intellectual property laws. Sadly it is only one of many similar examples. People associated with the film, thought to be the best on the subject, are trying to secure grant funding to buy the rights to all of the footage (at a cost of approximately $500,000), and believe that they may be able to get the series on TV by 2006. But how many documentaries of tremendous historical and educational value will never be seen again because of the high cost of licensing intellectual property?