EXCLUSIVE: Oscar-winning documentary maker Alex Gibney just returned the serve the United States Tennis Association made on Friday when it sued the makers of a documentary about Venus and Serena Williams. The USTA told the U.S. District Court in New York that Venus And Serena uses film footage that infringed the organization’s copyrights including scenes — presumably Serena’s tirade at the 2009 U.S. Open — that are “not in the best interests of the sport.” Gibney, the film’s executive producer, says the USTA is trying to “censor this film about America’s most inspiring female athletes.” His colleagues “were entirely within their legal rights to use a small amount of widely seen footage” citing the “fair use” doctrine, which enables filmmakers and others to use copyrighted material without permission when it serves the public interest. The concept “is vital to filmmakers trying to tell truthful stories and embodies the essence of the First Amendment of the U.S. constitution,” he says. “Indeed, without the fair use doctrine, copyright itself would be unconstitutional. By its actions, the USTA is assaulting the very principle of free speech.” Showtime has exclusive U.S. rights to air the documentary beginning July 1, but execs may have second thoughts following the suit. Venus And Serena debuted at the Toronto Film Festival in October and has been available on VOD and iTunes. The USTA wants to bar further sales and showings, and collect damages. The suit says the producers didn’t follow through on efforts to license U.S. Open footage, which would give the organization discretion to over the amount and nature of the content that could be used. As a result, the USTA believed “that the project had been abandoned or would be completed without inclusion of any U.S. Open footage,” the suit says.
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