Eyes on the Fair Use of the Prize

02:11 min
Advocacy Short
Director: Jacob Caggiano
Producer: Jacob Caggiano

Winner of the Fair Use Award


More About Eyes On The Fair Use Of The Prize from Director/Producer Jacob Caggiano

Eyes On The Fair Use Of The Prize was conceived of at the last minute and it is somewhat of a miracle that it got made. I was packing my bags to go home for the winter holiday, and while ordering my bus ticket on the web I randomly decided to load up the Media That Matters website. “Hot cross buns!” I yelped, “The deadline is in three weeks!” I sunk my head and told myself I would just have to wait until next year. But then I noticed that they were looking for submissions on Fair Use, a topic I happened to know a little bit about. Intellectual property is a hot button issue for budding documentary filmmakers like myself, who want to tell a story, but do not have the deep pockets or legal know-how to avoid being sued.

In the age of corporate ownership and media consolidation, every cultural footprint has a trademark logo etched at the bottom. Symbols and artifacts permeate every aspect of our lives, yet trying to show this on film has become a nightmare that usually ends with six digit figures and bottomless stacks of paperwork. Sadly, the important task of preserving history is now a business decision with serious consequences to the public. I read about hundreds of examples where documentary filmmakers had to pull the plug on their projects because they couldn’t track down the owner of a song, never got a letter back from some company, or freaked out because someone’s Jay-Z ring tone went off in the middle of a perfect shot. I found out that the rights for most newscasts cost almost $90 per second, even for C-SPAN, which is outrageous to think that we have to pay in order to show people what our government is up to. The most alarming example I came across involved the award winning documentary Eyes on the Prize, which regardless of its rare footage that defined the Civil Rights Movement, was forced out of print because of expensive license renewals and legal entanglements. It’s come to the point where educating people is nearly out of the question unless you’re willing to cross your fingers and hope that nobody notices.

“Okay, that’s all sad and unfortunate,” I thought, “but the deadline is in three weeks and I’m going home. There’s nothing I can possibly do about it.” That was something I said to myself a lot, and usually had no problem convincing myself that it was true, but for some reason I couldn’t stamp out the little voice telling me to go for it. I called my wise mentor JT who gave me the inspiration to take the risk, even if it meant being a madman for the next three weeks.

So there I was, hunched over on my mom’s laptop, unbathed and unclothed while the rest of my family was decorating our Christmas tree. Luckily the university library had all 14 tapes of Eyes on the Prize, as well as a good recording of the song “We Shall Overcome,” and the rest was up to me. (Later on I had to jump through several flaming hoops to get the rights for “We Shall Overcome,” but that’s a story for another time). My total budget added up to $25 at the pawn shop for a VCR, plus the lack of sleep, and whatever harm to my bladder resulted from holding in trips to the bathroom. Throw in a little psychological damage from avoiding any social interaction and I had myself a cheap movie that somehow turned out to be a success. It still amazes me to this day that it all worked out; because I seriously thought I was eroding my life away for nothing in return. It just goes to show that when there’s a will, there’s a way, and there’s also a reason why cheesy clichés become cheesy. Sometimes they actually tell the truth! So you might as well follow your dreams, because it’s better to die knowing you at least tried than to live your life asking “what if?” and never getting an answer. Plus you never know, someone else may do it and get to own the rights for it.


Media That Matters 6,
Creative Commons License: Attribution, Non-Commercial, No Derivative Works


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