Does using a newspaper article in my documentary fall under fair use?

by Leo

My documentary is based on a crime. Would like to use screen capture of local newspaper article (s) as b-roll. Please explain limits. Can I use the headline? Can I use only a portion of the text in the body of the article? Can I use the entire screen capture of the article? Can I use the photo that is included in the article as part of the screen capture? Will I need to contact the newspaper for clearance or can I use the article (with or without the image) without clearance? No budget to pay license fees. Options?

Desktop Documentaries | Answer

This is a great question Leo.

For my PBS documentary Briars in the Cotton Patch I used numerous news articles, mostly from the 1950's and 1960's, throughout the film. We did not get permission as it was assumed those were in the public domain. There has never been a problem in the ten years since it was originally released and broadcast on PBS. I was new to documentary filmmaking at the time and frankly, it was never even considered to get permission. As a safety, PBS purchased E&O Insurance for our documentary which would have covered us if any legal problems had come up.

My intuition is that showing a headline/news article in your documentary would fall under Fair Use, but I highly recommend asking an attorney to make sure. As for a photo, as long it is shown in context of it being part of the article, I would think that would be okay too. But if you just wanted to use the photo alone, you would need to get permission.

You've heard the saying "better safe than sorry"! It's smart that you're asking around. And if I was producing my documentary again, I would definitely check to make sure.

**Please understand I am not a lawyer, so advice and comments are based solely on my personal experience as a filmmaker and do not constitute as legal advice.

One resource you may want to try is Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts.

You may also want to pitch your question in the forums over at D-Word.com where a lot of professional documentary filmmakers hang out.

Additional articles that may help:

Visitor Question: How To Get Permission To Use Materials In My Documentary

In Need Of An Entertainment Lawyer. Help!

Copyright Question: Can I use footage of TV shows from youtube that I shoot second-hand

If you find out your answer, please do check back and let us know.

Anyone else have experience with Fair Use laws and the requirements for using newspaper articles in a documentary? Please leave your comments below.

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