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How are videographers dealing with copyright restrictions?

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Sebastian AlvarezHow are videographers dealing with copyright restrictions?
by on Mar 3, 2012 at 4:06:30 pm

From reading about copyright restrictions in this and other forums it seems that videographers are banned from doing lots of live events or risk losing their business to a lawsuit at some point. For what I read you can't even record a dance recital or a school play unless they only use public domain songs (which probably most of them don't), or the part of a wedding where people are dancing to pop music, and many other type of events where at some point copyrighted music is being played.

So I'm wondering, how are most videographers dealing with this? Obviously no one is going to pay the excessive copyright fees to use 20 or 30 songs in a dance recital, so doing those is out of the question, and probably a couple getting married will not be happy when you tell them that you can't include any of the dances (including the first dance as husband and wife). They will most likely keep looking for another videographer that is willing to include everything in the video, including making a montage to their favorite song. Of course any videographer doing that is risking losing everything at some point.

So other than doing videos that don't require any use of copyrighted music, what is there left to do for a videographer? Are most videographers nowadays still working on weddings and school events with all these copyright restrictions?

Sebastian R. Alvarez

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Jonathan ZieglerRe: How are videographers dealing with copyright restrictions?
by on Mar 4, 2012 at 5:47:23 pm

Talk to a lawyer. Nobody here can give you legal advice.

I will say this:

It depends on the shoot and it depends on the client and what they'll do with the video. Or what you will do with it.

When you agree to shoot an event you need to make sure you have something in the contract that basically says you are shooting the event and the event organizer is responsible for any and all applicable copyright or licensing; client retains ownership of the video when you are done and is basically paying you to shoot the video, edit it, and provide X number of copies and your involvement ends there. Basically, you are putting the onus of copyright on the client - this is similar to what printers must do since they don't have the copyrights. Again, talk to a lawyer to protect yourself.

For schools, you really don't need to do that since educational institutions have a broader interpretation of how material can be used (I'm not a lawyer), but it doesn't really extend to your DVDs and copies of those DVDs. Your protection is that you don't own the video and claim no ownership to the DVD (you are just recording it for the client not making copies for your use) - those rights are assigned to the client when the video is done. Sort of like a work-for-hire, but you are an independent contractor not their employee (calling something work-for-hire doesn't make it work-for-hire and won't protect you so be careful of terms - hey, talk to a lawyer).

For weddings, have the bride and groom to be include something in the invitation or somewhere at the wedding/reception premises that there will be video, that their likeness will appear on video, etc. Get as many releases as you can (at least the bride and groom, wedding party, minister, etc.). Talk to a lawyer.

Finally, since you're not doing anything with the video when done other than make copies, you are essentially acting as a "printer." Its the customer's responsibility (often the DJ in these cases, too) to obtain any and all copyrights and licensing. Again, talk to a lawyer. Your original post sounds like you have been reading too many blogs. Pay the $ and talk to an IP (intellectual property) attorney (may even get a free consultation - ask the attorney) - tell them you have general questions. If you are doing this for profit or there is money involved, don't take chances, talk to a lawyer.

Jonathan Ziegler

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Sebastian AlvarezRe: How are videographers dealing with copyright restrictions?
by on Mar 4, 2012 at 9:51:48 pm

Thanks for your input Jonathan, but based on the multiple articles and posts I read about this, you can never pass the copyright liability to the client. The liability starts and ends with the individual or company that produces the video.

I wish I could afford a lawyer but it's impossible right now.

Sebastian R. Alvarez

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Todd TerryRe: How are videographers dealing with copyright restrictions?
by on Apr 6, 2012 at 7:56:49 pm

I'm very late to the party here Sebastian and I'm sorry for this very late post... but I just saw this (I don't come in to this particular COW forum too often).

You are absolutely correct. You CANNOT pass the liability on to your client or another party. To make a silly analogy, this is like getting stopped for speeding in your friend's borrowed car. You can't tell the officer "This is my friend's car, he said if I get stopped just send him the ticket, he's fine with that."

Jonathan is right in the aspect that it's as if you are acting as just the printer. BUT... if you've ever gone to a printer and attempted to get any copyrighted artwork reproduced you know that most of the reputable ones won't touch it, because yes that makes them liable, too.

The problem is that so many people have been skirting the rules for so long because in the past it has been difficult to get caught. It's very likely that a dance recital that you attend that is using recordings of 20 different popular songs did not pay the proper licensing fees to use those songs at that venue. But they know they won't get caught (unless they happen to be so unlucky that a BMI/ASCAP rep just happens to be attending that kiddie performance), so they do it anyway. Same for DJs at weddings and such. And in the past, if you did a video for, say, someone's wedding, you gave them one or two copies and that was the end of it. Not strictly legal it it contains copyrighted music in any way, but you'd never get caught in a million years. It's the internet that has changed that... because everyone's video now winds up on YouTube or Facebook or Vimeo or elsewhere... and the record companies' robot spiders are constantly scouring the internet to find fraudulent usages of their property. And they will find it, very often.

Also, the rights for music can be very expensive. Our commercial clients often say "Oh, and give me a version I can put on YouTube." We have to explain to them that we only have broadcast rights, but will be happy to secure the additional web rights needed to do that. They are usually surprised to learn that web-usage rights are often much much more expensive than broadcast rights.

Better safe than sorry. I know I didn't answer your question other than the advice "Don't do it." Because as expensive as the rights are, the penalties for misuse are much much greater.


Todd Terry
Creative Director
Fantastic Plastic Entertainment, Inc.

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