Michael C. Donaldson
Michael is an entertainment attorney who has been fighting for independent filmmakers for over 30 years. In addition to working on films by such industry icons as Oliver Stone, Davis Guggenheim and Lawrence Bender, Michael serves as General Counsel to Film Independent (home of the Independent Spirit Awards and the Los Angeles Film Festival) and the Writers Guild Foundation.
He is the industry’s go-to attorney for fair use (a doctrine in United States copyright law permitting limited use of copyrighted material without permission from the rights holders) and other clearance- and rights-related issues.
Michael graduated from UC Berkeley School of Law, Boalt Hall in 1967. His book Clearance and Copyright, now in its fourth edition, is used in over 50 film schools and has become the standard industry reference book. Michael also wrote Negotiating for Dummies (now in its second edition and translated into eleven languages), Fearless Negotiating (published in hardback in 2007 by McGraw Hill) and The E-Z Legal Guide to Trademarks & Copyrights.
Michael has worked on such projects as “This Film is Not Yet Rated” (where all 134 clips were utilized under fair use), “Wanderlust” (saving its filmmaker over $400,000) and “Expelled” (which featured the song “Imagine,” prompting an unsuccessful law suit by Yoko Ono). Michael has also worked with the Geffen Playhouse and the REDCAT, as well as representing Center Theatre Group (Ahmanson Theatre, Mark Taper Forum and Kirk Douglas Theatre) for over twenty years.
Aside from lecturing frequently at law and film schools across the United States and in Europe, Michael is an avid skier, trapeze flyer, hiker and kayaker, and award-winning photographer. He also won a gold medal at the 1998 Senior Olympics for Parallel Bars and a silver medal on the rings. But what remains most important to Michael (in addition to his partner Tim Kittleson and his three daughters and three grandchildren) is his pro bono and philanthropic work.
Awards and Honors
2018 State Bar of Texas Star Award for excellence in the areas of Sports and Entertainment
2009 International Documentary Association Amicus Award winner. The Amicus Award was given to
him in recognition of his significant pro bono work done on behalf of filmmakers. Over the past 25 years it has only been given to Impact Partners founder Geralyn Dreyfous, Steven Spielberg, Discovery Channel founder John Hendricks, and Norman Lear.
2009 Benjamin Franklin Award for his book Clearance & Copyright: Everything You Need to Know
for Film and Television (3rd ed.) presented by Independent Book Publishers Association
2018 Named in Best Lawyers’ “The Best Lawyers in America” list.
2018 Named in Super Lawyers’ “Southern California Super Lawyers” list.
2017 Named in Super Lawyers’ “Southern California Super Lawyers” list.
2016 Named in Super Lawyers’ “Southern California Super Lawyers” list.
2016 Recipient of one of Daily Journal’s California Lawyer Attorney of the Year (CLAY) Awards
2015 Named one of Daily Journal’s Top Entertainment Lawyers
2015 Named in Super Lawyers’ “Southern California Super Lawyers” list.
2015 Named one of Daily Journal’s Top Entertainment Lawyers
2015 Donaldson & Callif named one of Daily Journal’s “Top Boutique” firms in California
2014 Named in Super Lawyers’ “Southern California Super Lawyers” list.
2013 Named in Super Lawyers’ “Southern California Super Lawyers” list.
2012 Named in Super Lawyers’ “Southern California Super Lawyers” list.
2011 Named in The Hollywood Reporter’s “Top 100 Power Lawyers” list.
2010 Named in The Hollywood Reporter’s “Top 100 Power Lawyers” list.
2009 Best Book Award Winner in the Current Events and Media Entertainment category for his book
Clearance & Copyright: Everything You Need to Know for Film and Television (3rd ed.) presented by National Indie Excellence Awards.
2009 Best Book Award Finalist in the Business category for his book Clearance & Copyright: Everything You Need to Know for Film and Television (3rd ed.) presented by National Indie Excellence Awards.
1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th editions of Clearance & Copyright: Everything You Need to Know for Film and Television: 5th Edition, Expected Release 2021, co-authored with the attorneys of Donaldson + Callif + Perez, LLP.
Clearance & Copyright: Everything You Need to Know for Film and Television: 4th Edition, 2014, co-authored with Lisa Callif, is used in over 50 film schools.
American Bar Association’s Legal Guide to Independent Filmmaking, 2010, co-authored with Lisa Callif.
Negotiating for Dummies, 2007, now in its 2nd edition, has been translated into 11 languages and has sold over 200,000 copies in English.
Fearless Negotiating: The Wish, Want, Walk Method to Reaching Agreements That Work, 2007.
E-Z Legal Guide to Trademarks & Copyrights, 1995.
Donaldson contributed to the following:
The Art of Film Funding: Alternative Financing Concepts, 2012, Carole Lee Dean. (Contributing author).
Independent’s Guide to Film Distribution, 2012, edited by Erin Trahan and Michele Meek. (Contributing author).
Moving Images – Legal Standstill? The Film Heritage and its Legal Framework, 2012, Paul Klimple, Book II Chapter 5: Fair Use and Archiving. German Publication. (Contributing author).
Selling for Dummies, 2011, Book V: Chapter 1 Preparing for Negotiating Success, Chapter 2 Planning the First Session, Chapter 3 Drawing Lines and Setting Boundaries, Chapter 4 Telling It Like It Is, Chapter 5 Win-Win Negotiating. (Contributing author).
Thriving in the Work Place for Dummies, 2010, Book I Chapter 5: Negotiating to Get What You Need and Deserve; Book 5 Chapter 4: Dealing with Difficult Bosses and Co-Workers (Contributing author).
Statement of Best Practices in Fair Use of Dance-related Materials, 2009, Produced by Dance Heritage Coalition (contributions to this report through the Legal Advisory Board).
Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for Online Video, June 2008, American University Center for Social Media (contributions through the Code of Best Practices Committee).
The Documentary Film Makers Handbook, 2006, Andrew Zinnes. (Contributing author).
Documentary Filmmakers’ Statement of Best Practices in Fair Use, 2005, American University Center for Social Media (contributions through the Legal Advisory Board).
Conversations with Michael Landon, 1992, Tim Ito and Michael Landon, Mc-Graw-Hill/Contemporary (Introduction).
Being appointed to the Executive Committee of the Copyright Society of the USA.
Being named to Variety’s 2019 Legal Impact Report.
Being honored as one of Hollywood Reporter’s Power Lawyers in 2010 and 2011.
Co-authoring with his partner The American Bar Association’s Legal Guide to Filmmaking.
Being honored with the Amicus Award by The International Documentary Association – an honor bestowed on only two others in the 25-year history of the awards: Steven Spielberg and John Hendricks (founder of the Discovery Channel).
Serving as one of the authors of the Documentary Filmmakers Statement of Best Practices in Fair Use and being the only attorney in private practice to serve on the drafting committee for the recently released Statement of Best Practices for Online Video.
Serving on the Advisory Committee of the Stanford Fair Use Project.
Successfully negotiating with Media Professional Insurance Company and Chubb Insurance Company to offer fair use riders on the E&O insurance policies, allowing many films to be made under the fair use doctrine.
Assisting in the drafting and lobbying for Orphan Works legislation.
Being the sole American attorney to assist in the drafting of the Rome Resolution of 2007 to harmonize Fair Use across the European Union.
Holding the position of President of the International Documentary Association.
Organizing and leading the Documentary Credits Coalition in negotiations with the cable networks to prevent the wholesale migration of credits from the screen to the Internet.
Contributing to The Film Foundation’s book entitled City Secrets: Movies.