Documentary filmmakers hopeful for DMCA exemption

"If you want to use material pursuant to fair use, you have to commit crime despite your constitutional right to do so," Donaldson said.

There is a mechanism in the law allowing groups to apply for an exemption, which Donaldson did on behalf of the International Documentary Association last October. He said filmmakers are waiting on the U.S. Copyright Office to issue its ruling, some holding back release of their documentaries until the legal questions are resolved.

"It's been a really long time as far as the community of filmmakers is concerned — some are holding up finishing films because they need to get materials," Donaldson said, adding that filmmakers face a choice between an inferior way of getting content and getting it from DVDs, which is ideal but also illegal.