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Production company says Davis Guggenheim took 'NewsHour' footage for Michelle Rhee doc

Michelle Rhee is seen firing a school principal in footage from a segment filmed by Learning Matters for "PBS NewsHour." (Courtesy of Learning Matters)

This post was updated at 10:30 a.m. ET

It's a Michelle Rhee controversy that, this time, has nothing to do with Michelle Rhee.

The D.C. schools chancellor is featured in "Waiting for Superman," a much-buzzed-about new documentary about American public schools by Davis Guggenheim, the Oscar-winning director of Al Gore's "An Inconvenient Truth." Last week, it won a top prize at Sundance, and Paramount Vantage snapped up distribution rights before it even screened. In a key scene with Rhee, cameras capture the moment when she fires a school principal.

Problem is, that scene was filmed by another production team -- who claim Guggenheim used it without permission or payment.

Davis Guggenheim attends the "Waiting For Superman" premiere party at the Sundance Film Festival on Jan. 22. (AP Photo/Peter Kramer)

John Merrow, a veteran TV correspondent, said the footage came from a series of segments his nonprofit company, Learning Matters, produced for PBS's "The NewsHour." Last fall, he said, Guggenheim called to ask if he could use it. "I told him we had never sold any of our footage before," Merrow said, "but because of my great respect for his work, and because my nonprofit was strapped, I'd sell it for a decent price."

Guggenheim seemed sympathetic, he said. A month later, Merrow got a call from one of Guggenheim's partners, Lesley Chilcott, identifying the exact footage -- 2 minutes 17 seconds' worth. At a standard minimum rate of $100 per second, Merrow says, it should have been worth $13,700. He asked for twice that. She countered with $5,000, he says. Merrow said he rejected the offer.

A few weeks ago, he said, Chilcott "called to give me a take-it-or-leave-it because they were going to use it anyway" under fair-use rules.

Merrow says the "fair use" claim doesn't fly: The footage, he says, is "unique" and "irreplaceable."

Asked about Merrow's accusation, Paramount Vantage released a statement saying: "We recently acquired the movie for distribution. As with all movies we acquire, we go through normal legal clearances and are engaging in that process now."

By The Reliable Source  |  February 3, 2010; 1:04 AM ET
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Where's the text of the item? All I can see are the pictures and captions.

Posted by: subwayguy | February 3, 2010 8:58 AM | Report abuse

"nothing to do with Michelle Rhee"
You find nothing wrong in allowing a film crew roll tape while she fires an employee?

Posted by: mgb711 | February 3, 2010 5:23 PM | Report abuse

I would pay for footage of Michelle Rhee being fired.

Posted by: wtf1 | February 3, 2010 5:38 PM | Report abuse

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