Indy Filmmakers Go to Washington
Indy Filmmakers Go to Washington
Indy Filmmakers Go to Washington

    Get Involved Today

    Amid the net neutrality madness on the Hill, Public Knowledge brought six individuals, including independent filmmakers, their organizational representatives and their insurers, to meet with Congress members and their staffs about orphan works — works for which the copyright holder cannot be found. This was the first time that any of them had come to Washington to educate policymakers.

    Joining us were Pam Colby, a filmmaker Executive Director of the Minneapolis Telecommunications Network and President of the Board of the National Alliance for Media Arts and Culture (NAMAC), Diane Estelle Vicari, a filmmaker and President of the International Documentary Association(, Michael Donaldson, a film producer and a partner in the law firm of Donaldson & Hart, Sandra Ruch, Executive Director of the International Documentary Association, Winnie Wong, Vice President of DeWitte, Stern Group, an entertainment insurance broker, and Jen Urban, Director of the IP Law Clinic at USC. Except for Pam, everyone was from California. PK hopes to make these visits at least an annual event, to ensure that members of Congress and their staffs understand that independent filmmakers have their own interests in copyright and technology policy that often differ from the large Hollywood studios.

    Here we are right before our first meeting:

    Visiting Filmmakers

    Each filmmaker had a story to tell about how the inability to find a copyright holder led them either to forgo using an orphan work or to take an enormous risk — under current law, if an artist uses an orphan work and the copyright holder reappears, the artist could be liable for the full panoply of damages under the Copyright Act, which could amount to tens of thousands of dollars. Obviously, small artists like independent filmmakers cannot afford to take such a risk, in large part, as Winnie Wong explained, “Errors & Omissions” insurers will not insure a filmmaker who might be subject to a huge financial liability. Without that insurance, filmmakers cannot get their film distributed. The Copyright Office has proposed limiting artists' liability if they cannot find a copyright holder after undertaking a “reasonably diligent search” to find them. Rep. Lamar Smith has a bill that adopts this core proposal.

    We had 12 meetings, which included meetings with Representatives Linda Sanchez (D-CA), Martin Olav Sabo (D-MN), Adam Schiff (D-CA) and Anthony Weiner (D-NY). We particularly enjoyed meeting Rep. Sanchez' dog Chabo, who slept through our entire presentation.

    Universally, there was an understanding that the orphan works problem is a pervasive one, and that Congress must do something to ensure that artists can engage in their craft. For independent filmmakers, the problem is particularly acute, as they often use dozens of orphan photographs and film footage. While we were mostly praiseworthy of the Copyright Office's and Congress' efforts, we also talked about where we thought that the Copyright Office's recommendations fell short — particularly its recommendation that a rights holder to an orphan work be entitled to “reasonable compensation” from the user. The filmmakers and PK would like to see a cap on damages, to ensure the kind of certainty that insurance companies need to provide insurance to independents.

    Here we are at the Cannon Building:

    Visiting Filmmakers at the Cannon Building

    Here we are after our 11th meeting — still looking pretty fresh, I'd say.

    Visiting Filmmakers after 11th Meeting

    Much thanks for the pictures to PK intern Sarah Zenewicz, who before becoming a law student, was a professional photographer.