written by: Shane Burley•edited by: Rhonda Callow•updated: 7/4/2011
In the fields of guerilla documentary freedom is the keyword, and removing your name from the credits may do just that. Disclaimer: This article does not intend to endorse or condone any illegal activity, whether state or federal.
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Obscenity laws are also something to consider, though not as often applied in modern situations. This is a tricky legal framework, but if you are attempting to assert a radically subversive value that is contrary to those standards in your community you may want to remember that you could leave yourself open to these types of accusations. This will probably not be a concern unless you are filming exploitive violence or very graphic sexual activity.
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A common concern for documentarians is using the images of people that have not expressed consent, either verbally or through some type of legal documentation. You may be interviewing people quickly to get their opinions in a more spontaneous fashion, or videotaping a controversial event that people may later not want to appear at. In the effort of capturing honesty and film energy you may want to go ahead and make the decisions of what footage you want to use based on your own judgment as an artist instead of the possible legal recourse that could come against you. Once your name is off of the film they could still try and get it removed from the places where it is being screened, but as long as you maintain no ownership over it, it will be hard to make you responsible.
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You can sell a film anonymously, but the likelihood is that if there is any footage in it that violates copyright laws it will just leave the distributor legally liable. Usually a distribution organization is not legally responsible for sharing information about a source that may have acquired footage illegally, but this is not an absolute answer and they may still be compelled to do so. There have been numbers of cases where a publication has been charged with contempt or other crimes for not revealing sources, so it is important to make sure that you will have a company that will support you if this situation was to occur. Using the image of people without explicit release is always a legally liable situation and it is likely that no film distributor would touch footage that would leave them open to that kind of legal action.
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It is important to remember that making yourself anonymous will not free you from all legal concerns. If you break the law in the effort to film certain things you could still be charged accordingly, and the film will simply serve as evidence that certain actions were taken. People that saw you working on your project could still testify against you and in most cases it would not be difficult to figure out who did a certain action. Even though you are wearing a mask as an artist it is important to keep a moral compass and act with compassion. It is attractive on occasion to violate common ethical lines once you cover up your face from the public, but here it is even more important to do the right thing because you are in a special place to create important and influential work. If you are using copyrighted material it is not appropriate to employ it unless it really adds to your own creativity, and it should not be passed off as your own. If you are filming people without their permission it is hard to find the correct ethical standpoint, but its use should be one of purpose and not exploitation. Likewise, factual truth and integrity has importance far beyond the financial and legal need. If you are entering this type of filmmaking you likely already have a certain conviction about the need for a certain type of voice and there is no reason that you should resort to audience manipulation and dishonesty. Keep in mind that the audience needs to install their trust in you and it is crucial that this faith was not misplaced.
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Revolution for the People
The video artist needs to have accountability to the people similar to any civil servant or citizen, and this is true whether you are taking credit for a blockbuster film or anonymously publishing a clandestine docu-film. In every field there are people who act without a moral framework, and film is just as open to the possibility of corruption as any other. If you want to have the freedom that comes with being a shielded culture jammer then you have a large moral responsibility resting on your shoulders.