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Mike Allen
on May 16, 2008 at 4:07:13 pm

I do corporate video for a large business. Our writers like to use TV or Movie themes in their scripts. Usually the video is used for teaching purposes. We do not broadcast or give to clients. The program is used for internal teaching and training purposes only. Is this legal?

Whatever the case, can someone point me to supporting documentation interpreting the law. The law itself is very difficult to read through.


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Mark Suszko
Re: Copyright
on May 16, 2008 at 5:55:29 pm

Do you mean to say that you are actually grabbing footage from these films to use in the training? Like the "Coffee is for closers" bit from "Glen Gary, Glen Ross"? (Yes, some sales managers actually think that's a motivational video.)

Or do you mean by "themes", the music from those shows?

Neither of those is really legal to do. Some people might argue the parody exception under Fair Use law but that's a slippery slope to build a case on. Your main goal is not to make a social comment on the original film in this case, it is to appropriate a familiar creative work and populate it with your own actors and lines to forward a new agenda. The excuse of not showing it anywhere but internal to the company actually works against your case in that instance, because a real parody would be meant for a more public audience. That's my opinion, anyway.

But why have this problem at all? Aping old or current pop movies in your training is kind of a hack thing to do, and it is very hard to pull off right. What you usually get out of doing that is, people ignore the training and concentrate on comparing your imitation to the original, and since you probably didn't spend as much as they did to make the original, your show is going to suffer by comparison. Such projects are sometimes seen as vanity exercises where the boss with Hollywood dreams gets to cast themselves as the hero in a famous film. I think the training suffers when that happens.

You also have to take into consideration that the TV and movie audience is fractured now, and you can't count on everyone getting *every* movie and TV reference. If I write a joke for the CEO to talk about drinking his rival's milk shake, nobody really GETS the gag unless they've seen "There Will Be Blood". If you make a joke to me about something from the TV show "Lost", I won't likely get it, because I never watched it past the first episode. And these movies and TV shows come with their own themes and subtexts, that may or may not be congruent with your organizational message. If I'm using a gangster theme in my training video, is the audience supposed to think we want them to act like criminals in their day to day bank jobs? I'm not saying never ever do homages or parodies, but that doing them well takes work and more thought than some would expect.

Can you do a good job by generalizing and just imitating a genre' instead of a specific film? I would think so. But I would advise against going down this creative road in the first place to avoid all the problems I mentioned.

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Dan Brockett
Re: Copyright
on May 20, 2008 at 4:21:55 am


Great post, I agree 100%. Back when I used to do a lot of corporate, my eyes would roll back into my head when clients would request this and I would tell them many of the same points that you make.

I did produce a pretty high budgeted 10 minute science fiction film for a national sales meeting opener for an live audience of about 5,000 people, but it was done with puppets voiced by the corporate "talent". Script was written by an ad agency and we did execute it well, to the tune of about $200k. SHot on 35mm film, real crew, great model makers, etc. Film was a big hit, everyone loved it. It did have a message and the message was picked up on by the audience. But we didn't emulate or parody a specific movie or show, it was just generic sci-fi. Talking robots, a female hero, a sidekick dog, a crash into a rogue planet sequence, etc.

It was actually pretty weird for a corporate film but was really fun and creative, the client's loved it.

But in general, I agree with you. The audience does just look for the comparison in a parody. As pure satire, they can be fun, but for communicating a specific message as a business tool, pretty weak.



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Eric Berna
Re: Copyright
on May 19, 2008 at 7:40:06 pm

As long as you have an agreement with the holder of the copyright, you can legally use any creative work, including TV or Movie themes. Getting that agreement is the tough part.

Music you want to use in your videos may be available for free. Maybe it's public domain, or maybe it's published under a free to use license, such as certain versions of the Creative Commons licenses.

Music you want to use in your videos may be available for a fee. Various companies sell songs explicitly for use in videos. A recent thread on the COW mentioned Web sites like,,, among others. If it's a popular song, you may have to go to the publisher.

The copyright for music you want to use in your videos may be own by somebody unwilling to share the songs at any price. Many TV and Movie themes are owned by the owners of the larger work (the TV show or Movie). The owners may want to strictly control the use of the songs, so that their association with the TV show or Movie is not diminished. Therefore you'll be out of luck.

If the goal of your use of the music is to refer to the TV show or Movie, you may be out of luck (or have to break copyright law). But if your goal is to find music that evokes a feeling like the way a movie theme can evoke fear, or joy, or humor, you'll find plenty of reasonably priced music at those sites I mentioned above.

Eric Berna

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