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Threat of lawsuits can stymie, but also help documentarians

January 30, 2019

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Lights ... cameras ... and lawyers?

The path to the screen can be tough for the makers of documentaries that make damaging claims about powerful people, such as the recent Lifetime series “Surviving R. Kelly” and an upcoming one featuring two men who accuse Michael Jackson of molesting them.

But filmmakers and the lawyers who push such documentaries through production say the law is often their friend. Sometimes, they say the resistance they receive can be a sign that they’re doing it right.

Kelly and other celebrities are public figures, and must clear a very high legal standard that favors free speech above nearly everything else.

Lawyers for powerful figures also have a powerful legal tool: copyright violations can tie up a project and block it from the public.

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