Copyright Question

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    • #49165

      Copyright question! I want to be able to videotape performances at my local elementary schools and charge a nominal fee per DVD. Do I need to secure permission from the author(s)/company that have written the material?

    • #201370

      If you want to be all legal and above-board the answer is yes. Rarely, but occasionally, the school will have acquired MORE than just performance rights, if that, to the production and music, but that doesn’t usually offer copyright violation protection to you, the videographer. There’s a bunch of information here on the boards regarding copyright issues when covering live performances and selling DVDs of them. You might want to do some lookup.

      People often hope for, look for or try to justify GREY areas of the copyright laws, but they really do not exist. With the exception of certain “fair use” standards, copyright is copyrighted and presumably protected against someone else using and claiming ownership to OR making money off of another person(s) copyright materials.

      The occasional school will go so far as to obtain rights to perform as well as rights to videotape and sell copies of the performance, but it will be a rare “occasional” I assure you. Other schools will use this as the reason for NOT hiring you, or any videographer, to videotape and produce DVDs of their performances, but will however often have a kid or parent volunteer or even the spouse of the teacher or director videotape and distribute videos marking them “for educational purposes only” but that is a real stretch and not likely to hold up under copyright violation scrutiny.

      Do people produce, sell and do this as a matter of business, for pay or not, OF COURSE. Is it legal? No, not really. Videotaping and selling or distributing copyrighted plays, music or other performances for pay or for free could get you into some legal hot water. With all performance groups AND video producers to do so or not is a personal decision based on your personal values and perception of the penalties you might incur.

      I’m NOT an attorney and am not presuming to be one here. Nor is what I said intended to be taken as legally correct information. Any use thereof is at your own risk and I accept NO liability for same.

    • #201371

      While I agree completely with EarlC’s excellent analysis of the situation, let me add a couple of additional observations. Getting permission to shoot should NEVER be the videographer’s responsibility! As Earl indicates, it is the person putting on the play, musical, pageant or whatever who has a contract with the copyright holder, not the videographer. Any use of the copyright protected material is, contractually and legally, between the copyright holder and the producer of the play or musical and this includes video taping, putting material on the web, doing bits from the production on community TV to promote it, etc.

      Our contract not only requires the producer to declare that he/she has permission to have the material video taped, but has three additional sections which must be initialed, indicating that everyone connected with the production — e.g., cast, crew, musicians as well as the copyright holder — has given their permission to having the event be taped.

      This last is especially important: you don’t want to be in the position of taping Aladdin Jr, with permission in hand to tape, only to discover that there are union musicians in the orchestra who expect to be paid if recorded, or that there are kids in the play whose parents are horrified that little Johnny’s privacy has been violated by your DVD being distributed all over the school.

      Finally, this is not legal advice, just sharing advice we paid for several years ago: our attorney made it very clear regarding all of this that you “can’t hide your head in the sand.” That is, if you know the piece is being done without the copyright holder’s permission you would be wise to stay away from shooting it. But if the producer asserts, both verbally and in writing on your contract, that permission has been obtained, you’ve done your due diligence and (probably) will be held harmless should there ever be a law suite.

      If you’re planning on shooting performance for pay, I suggest you draw up a contract and show it to an attorney. It’s the best buy for the money you’ll ever spend. Then have a chat with your conscience and see whether you think violating someone’s copyright is a good idea. Think of it in terms of how you’d feel if you discovered someone was profiting by selling DVDs of your award winning video that he’d downloaded from Vimo or You Tube.


    • #201372

      Above posters are correct. I used to do it myself until I started picking up some new schools as clients, whom told me their last videographers stopped videoing because of copyright infringement issues they were having. Honestly that was enough to make me stop doing it. I don’t want to have any legal troubles as far as copyright issues go. Its unfortunate that the cast and crew can’t buy copies of the DVD for their own reels and personal use.

      I think that the best thing for the theaters and schools to do would be to hire a videographer to video the event and make DVDs for a flat rate, then give out the DVDs to the cast members. Though I’m not sure what the legality of that either.


    • #201373

      Tony, it’s not legal either, though some might find a way to justify doing so. Simply put, just read the usual warnings on most commercial distribution, where it says “with or without compensation” and uses terms “unauthorized distribution” or public display or exhibition.

      As I mentioned, there have been instances where folks have produced these performance DVDs and labeled them “not for resale, for educational purposes only” but I haven’t heard or read or found anywhere where that has been tested via the courts to establish its validity or position as pertains to copyright violation.

      So, also, it isn’t the SPECIFIC that a videographer would MAKE MONEY FROM IT, but that simply using and distributing copyright material without permission is not in keeping with the letter and intent of the law.

      Also, I’m not standing on a soapbox here, or behind a pulpit, preaching against the sins of copyright violation and thumping my puritan chest. My comments are without prejudice or indictment or moral judgement. I mostly seek to get each individual to understand and face the fact that what any of us does if we produce, use, share or sell something that contains somebody else’s creative property is illegal.

      There’s a bit of info in related booklets, etc. that carries the statement “ignorance of the law is not a defense,” primarily pertaining to state driving laws. So, if I’m in a 35 mph zone with no speed bumps or signs for say, a couple of miles, not that THAT would happen πŸ˜‰ and get pulled over and ticketed for going 50 mph, I can’t tell the judge that there were no signs posted, or I didn’t see them, or I wasn’t aware that I was in a residential area or 35 mph speed restricted zone and expect to get by with it.

      Same goes for copyright violations. If a person WANTS to do so, NEEDS to do so, PREFERS to do so, just admit that what’s being done is not legal, but don’t do it thinking that in some way breaking the law is justified or OK based on personal preference and interpretation over the letter and intent of the law. That’s all.

    • #201374

      You guys are great…not exactly what I hoped to hear but then if I wanted to get the answer I wanted, then I wouldn’t have asked the question.

      I suppose, it’s back to the drawing board and look for other opportunities to earn a living. Thanks to everyone for posting your experience and knowledge.

    • #201375


      Check out Earl’s blog for some awesome info.

      One of the past posts lists a bunch of ideas for local videographers to make money. See



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