Fair use review for films and videos FAQ

Are you a filmmaker? Are you reusing copyrighted works in your film such as clips of news stories, movies, TV shows, music or art? Are you wondering if it’s ok to reuse those copyrighted works? Well you’ve come to the right place! New Media Rights helps many filmmakers every year with fair use and properly reusing content in films and videos.

As you're thinking about fair use for your film, we recommend that all filmmakers read this excellent best practice guide for using fair use in documentary films. Once you've read through this FAQ, you can request legal services for your film or video using our our contact form. If we can take your film on, we'll set up a phone call to discuss fair use with you, especially if you are in the early stages of editing your film and have a few preliminary questions. 

If you are in the later stages of editing(usually between the rough cut and final cut stages) many documentary filmmakers often need more in depth help reviewing their entire film, or specific portions of the film for fair use. Typically these reviews are aimed at preparing a letter for E&O insurance regarding fair use. Here are a few FAQ’s about how we review films at NMR.


What is NMR's process for reviewing films and videos?
NMR works with many filmmakers ever year on fair use reviews. Every project is a little different but most projects involve the following steps

  • Fill out a contact form.
  • We’ll get back to you and let you know if we have the capacity to review the film.
  • Fill out an "E&O Spreadsheet" for the rough cut of the film: So we know what to review in your film we'll ask you to fill out the an "E&O Spreadsheet" for all reused footage, photos, music and any other copyrighted works you reused in the film. The spreadsheet asks for critical information like timestamps of where the clip is reused in your video, the name of the clip, if you have permission etc.
  • Review of the Rough Cut of the Film: Once you provide us with the E&O Spreadsheet we'll start our review of the film. We'll review every single piece of footage listed on the E&O spreadsheet and divide them up into three categories.
    • Things that you have permission for or have very strong fair use arguments.
    • Things that aren't fair use at the moment but could be fair use if changed. We'll also provide helpful suggestions on how the clip could be modified to make it a strong fair use argument.
    • Things that are not fair use. Some reuses just aren't fair use, even with changes. We'll identify these clips for you and suggest taking them out or getting a license to those works.
  • You go back to the rough cut and makes changes based on our suggestions.
  • We review the final cut of the film.
  • Provided our advice was taken into account, we will write a letter for your E&O insurance that explains why clips that we have deemed to be fair use are fair use if you need one.

How much does this cost?
Review of a feature length film is a time-instensive process.  Some film projects that have a particular public interest benefit and significant financial need will qualify for pro bono services and we will do the review for free.  

That said, even if you don't qualify for free services, if you are working on a tight budget you may qualify for reduced fee services.  Under our reduced fee model, we charge $545 to review an entire feature film (up to 50 clips). For shorter films or portions of films it's $225 for every 5 fair use clips to be reviewed.

Since we're experts in the area of copyright and fair use we also can work with larger budget films. If you’re working on a more significant budget but would like to work with NMR, please fill out a contact form and we can further discuss pricing.

But do I need E&O insurance?
Probably. If you intend to distribute the film through things like public television, at film festivals or through most major distribution companies you will be required to have E&O insurance.

Where should I go to get E&O insurance?
At this time we don't have a list of providers but we're working on one.

How much lead time would you need?
Film projects are huge undertakings for our small organization. In most cases a month lead time is sufficient. Please note that we need more lead time to take on fair use review projects during the following times where our capacity is limited.  

  • Late April/Early May
  • Thanksgiving- The second Week of January
  • Late August/ Early September.

You may still contact us during these periods about starting a project but we will not be able to start working on the project until the periods below are over.

How long will the review take?
Again it depends. A short targeted review of a few clips may only take a few weeks from the date we get the footage, or even a few days if there’s only one question about one particular piece of content you reuse in your film.

However the initial review of a feature documentary with hundreds of pieces of reused footage may take up to two months. Secondary review, where our recommendations were largely followed, writing an E&O letter may take up to a month.

Why should I come to NMR for help with fair use?
New Media Rights has a long history of helping filmmakers and video creators avoid legal trouble by conducting fair use reviews. We've helped everyone from documentary filmmakers Michael Singh on his film Valentino's Ghost to cultural critics like Anita Sarkeesian and Jonathan McIntosh. We're respected in the legal community as experts on copyright law and especially fair use.  We want to help you understand how fair use and copyright law can actually empower your creative work and keep you doing what you do best, creating awesome films.

In addition, since we're a non-profit whose mission includes educating the public on copyright related matters we try to make sure that you as a filmmaker walk away with a better understanding of fair use. In other words, we won't just tell you that something isn't fair use; we'll tell you why it isn't. This increases your understanding of the law, which you can bring into the field on future projects to make the creative process easier in the future.

If you’d like assistance with fair use questions related to your film you can contact us via our contact form here.

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