Why Netflix Changed Its Rules To Help Ava DuVernay’s 13th

Since making its debut at the New York Film Festival in September 2016, Ava DuVernay's hard-hitting documentary 13th has made headlines, and secured awards, for its unflinching look at the state of race relations on our country. By interviewing civil rights leaders, politicians and social justice warriors, the Selma director traces the roots of America's racial history -- and our nation's ongoing racial divide -- while shining a necessary spotlight on the leaders who continue to close gaps between different groups in the U.S. And now, to help continue educating young minds on the content of 13th, Netflix is granting the film permission to hold educational screenings so that groups can continue to spread the film's message. To explain why, Netflix VP of Original Documentary Programming Lisa Nishimura stated:

We have been overwhelmed and inspired by the response to 13TH from people of all ages. Communities across the country are feeling the full weight of this particularly divisive moment in time. And, when some are capitalizing on this fear, we are especially inspired by the next generation, who are able to acknowledge the complex system they have inherited while simultaneously vowing to change it. Like DuVernay, they understand that we must come face to face with our past before we can fix our future.

Here's where things, normally, would get dicey, from a legal perspective. Screening 13th from your Netflix account for a group in public likely would be committing copyright infringement against the distributors. People are not allowed to publicly perform copyrighted materials without permission of the owner. What Netflix is doing, essentially, if granting that permission, likely in accordance with an agreement made with Kandoo Films, the production company. But seeing as how Netflix is the distributor of 13th, an original composition commissioned by the streaming service, this is allowed... so long as the following stipulations are followed, per Netflix's Web site:

The documentary may only be accessed via the Netflix service, by a Netflix account holder. We don't sell DVDs, nor can we provide other ways for you to exhibit the film.The screening must be non-profit and non-commercial. That means you can't charge admission, or solicit donations, or accept advertising or commercial sponsorships in connection with the screening.Please don't use Netflix's logos in any promotion for the screening, or do anything else that indicates that the screening is "official" or endorsed by Netflix.

Ava DuVernay's 13th has acquired numerous awards since screening, including Best Documentary from the Critics' Choice Documentary Awards, Best Documentary at the Satellite Awards, and Best Documentary from the British Academy Film Awards. It has been nominated in the Documentary category for the Academy Awards, which will be handed out on Sunday, Feb. 26. To see the film's trailer, click to the next page. Hopefully it will inspire educators to share DuVernay's doc with students in a nearby school soon.

Sean O'Connell
Managing Editor

Sean O’Connell is a journalist and CinemaBlend’s Managing Editor. Sean created ReelBlend, which he proudly cohosts with Jake Hamilton and Kevin McCarthy. And he's the author of RELEASE THE SNYDER CUT, the Spider-Man history book WITH GREAT POWER, and an upcoming book about Bruce Willis.