Fair Use in Film Courses: Broderick Fox on Empowering Creators


by Emily O’Connell
headshot of Broderick Fox

Broderick Fox: Documentarian and professor at Occidental College

For Broderick Fox, a documentarian and professor at Occidental College, fair use is a necessary ingredient for teaching aspiring filmmakers.

In the second edition of his book, Documentary Media: History, Theory, Practice, recently released by Routledge, Fox has taken an already powerful instructional guide to filmmaking and emboldened it with materials on copyright and fair use.  “Documentary practitioners need to understand the array of responsibilities that come with appropriating and recontextualizing existing media,” Fox writes. “At the same time, CMSI’s Documentary Filmmakers’ Statement of Best Practices in Fair Use has been profound in its impact, educating independent media makers to know their rights, particularly in the face of increasingly consolidated and corporatized media control.”

This impact is something that Fox has experienced first hand. In his film Zen and the Art of Dying (2015), he researched and established his claim to fair use saving money, stress, and the anxieties of licensing content that is usable under fair use guidelines: “I wasted so much time and money on past documentary works of mine, entering into licensing deals with corporate music publishers, commercial photography houses, and media distributors…for instances of what I now feel confident are defensible examples of fair use.” With the aid of the Documentary Filmmakers Statement of Best Practices, Fox has also assured distributors and streaming services that his work exhibits defensible examples of fair use, which has been “tremendously empowering and money-saving.”

Now, armed with a clear and continuing appreciation of fair use, Fox is looking to share the possibilities with readers and students alike, hoping they’ll benefit from early exposure to the protections that might be available to them. He incorporates CMSI fair use resources in the very first assignment his students undertake in their introductory media production class. This remix and found footage project requires students to read and engage with fair use materials so that they know there are resources and protections provided to them as artists and creators. Meanwhile, at the advanced level, all students at Occidental College working to craft media thesis projects are directed to the Documentary Filmmakers Statement of Best Practices as a critical resource, rounding out student education in a way that enables students to progress in their careers with the reassurance that fair use is a tool at their disposal.
The key, according to Fox, is that “students and documentary media makers need to be educated in order to become agented,” and with the Documentary Filmmakers Statement of Best Practices in hand, creators are that much more empowered and prepared to protect themselves and their projects.


Broderick Fox Profile Link: https://www.oxy.edu/faculty/broderick-fox

Broderick Fox Book Link: https://www.routledge.com/Documentary-Media-History-Theory-Practice-2nd-Edition/Fox/p/book/9781138677562

Statement of Best Practices Link: https://cmsimpact.org/code/documentary-filmmakers-statement-of-best-practices-in-fair-use/


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