Motion picture copyright misconceptions—and their cost
For several years, I have been reaching out to industry associations and meet- ing professionals to increase awareness
of motion picture copyright compliance.
Surprisingly, some meeting professionals
are unaware that almost all uses of motion
pictures and other audiovisual programs at
meetings, conferences and events require a
public performance license in accordance
with federal copyright law.
Copyright can seem like a complex issue.
However, the simple reality is that if movies
or short scenes are shown at a meeting, a
public performance license is likely required.
With fines for noncompliance starting
at $750 for each inadvertent infringement,
and going as high as $150,000 for each
egregious violation, common copyright
misconceptions can lead to costly legal
✔ Misconception: Only the person
“pressing play” is liable for copyright
✔ Reality: There is shared risk and the
host organization can have vicarious or
contributory liability for allowing speakers or guests to infringe.
✔ Misconception: Our use of movies is
educational so we don’t need a license.
✔ Reality: The educational exemption in
the copyright law is narrowly defined and
applies only to full-time, nonprofit, educational institutions devoted to instruction. It does not apply to foundations,
associations or educational groups.
✔ Misconception: Our use of movies falls
under fair use.
✔ Reality: Fair use is a defense presented
in, and ultimately determined by, a court
of law. Guessing ahead of time that an
exhibition falls under the fair use exemption is not a guarantee that someone
won’t bring a copyright claim against you
or that a court will find that your use did
not in fact require a license. There is
a four-part test in determining
whether or not a use is fair
use. One of the criteria is
to determine whether
the use is for reporting
the news, for example, or for a commercial purpose.
Some meeting professionals ask if there are
any scenarios where a motion picture public performance license is not required.
✔ No license required if: You
show something that already includes
public performance rights. Some
copyright holders sell special versions of
their works that include public performance rights. These versions are usually
purchased directly from the copyright
holder or manufacturer.
✔ No license required if: You show some-
thing in the public domain. These are
not merely “black and white” movies,
and in reality, very few popular titles
are in the public domain. Generally, 95
years must have passed since the title’s
publication, but the only way to know
for sure if a title is in the public domain
is to contact the Library of Congress.
✔ No license required if: You received
permission directly from the copyright
holder. The copyright holder could
grant your public performance license
request, but it is more likely that they
would refer you to a licensing organiza-
tion or license you themselves.
The best course of action is to ensure com-
pliance before your meeting, conference or
event has taken place. Public performance
licensing can provide blanket coverage
for a variety of motion picture studios
and producers under a single license
agreement. Once licensed, an
unlimited number of movies
by represented producers
may be shown in whole
or in part.
sionals can also
secure a one-time
licensing to cover
a single conference,
meeting or presentation.
In addition, for meeting
professionals working for a
specific association or organiza-
tion, annual licensing provides unlimited
annual coverage for all events.
By securing a public performance li-
cense, meeting professionals gain the legal
peace of mind that guests and speakers
who choose to show movies are in full
compliance with copyright law. Purchasing
a license is a simple and affordable solu-
tion to a potentially expensive problem.
Best of all, with a license in place, rather
than policing your speakers, you can en-
courage them to incorporate visual media
into their presentations with the assurance
of copyright compliance.
Eileen Korte is vice president of
the Licensing Division for the U.S.
office of Motion Picture Licensing
Corporation (MPLC). For over
10 years, she has worked with
nonprofit organizations, government
entities and corporations to ensure
comprehensive motion picture
copyright compliance through the
Umbrella License®. Learn more
about MPLC’s Umbrella License
solution for meeting professionals
at www.mplc.org or e-mail Eileen
directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
18 Meetings Today // 12. 16