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Notes from the Reel World: The President's Column, Spring 2010

By Rachel Kamerman

Dear IDA Community,

In the past year, IDA has worked extensively with entertainment attorney Michael Donaldson, as well as with Kartemquin Films and the USC Law Clinic, to petition the US Copyright Office to grant filmmakers exemptions to the DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act), which considers the breaking of digital locks or encoding for duplication--even to exercise legitimate fair use--a punishable crime. That decision is still pending, but we believe we've made a substantive case.

Looking ahead, and at the behest of IDA, Michael will focus much of his future advocacy work on the issue of net neutrality.  

Over the last several years, beginning with the 2006 documentary This Film Is Not Yet Rated and continuing here at IDA, I've become aware of the rather onerous potential of corporate gatekeepers to control the flow of information. And yet, the Internet is much bigger than any one work; it's everything the future of media represents: user-controlled and user-programmed, with choices never before seen or imagined.  

That is, if its accessibility remains neutral. And recently, the FCC began hearings reconsidering exactly that.

Were corporations to control the Internet--as they control radio and television--much of its unlimited promise would be severely compromised, if not outright quashed. And this level of control would strike nonfiction media-makers on multiple levels: as information gatherers, disseminators and distributors.   

First, as gatherers: The Internet has provided the most accessible, unbiased and open exchange of information in our times. Were that information flow regulated, controlled or cut off by corporate interests, the raw materials of nonfiction storytellers could be severely crippled, if not, in many cases, blocked entirely.

Second, many of our members who use these tools are the foremost purveyors of investigative journalism today. But corporate interests have made that kind of work all but disappear from the production arms of the traditional media landscape. Much of our community's work, made independently, can be challenging--even disparaging--to the status quo.

At the same time, nonfiction filmmakers of all stripes have increasingly found that the best way to distribute their work may be completely independently, targeting niche audiences through the remarkable publicity, distribution and exhibition advantages of the Internet. The punishing economics of traditional media alone have driven many filmmakers to harness new media in order to survive.

An Internet that is not neutral could weaken, marginalize and eventually shut out the very work our community produces, as it is so often politically, socially and fiscally threatening to the corporate interests that control mainstream media and now seek to regulate the digital realm. This hurts the community immeasurably, but it also hurts a global audience that relies on our work for hard news as well as valuable insights into the human condition.   

So, beyond filmmakers themselves, isn't this a broader civil liberties issue? You bet: The loss of a neutral Internet may well represent the loss of freedom of information.

That's why IDA will be working to fight for your rights--as makers and consumers of information. This could be the most important "big picture" issue we encounter in this next decade, and I look forward to working with you on it. 


Eddie Schmidt
IDA President