Copyright laws prohibit unauthorized copying or reproduction of original audiovisual works. In today’s digital world, videos exist not only in a physical form, but also in electronic formats online. Both viewers and creators of videos should have a basic understanding of copyright laws set out in Title 17 of the United States Code. Breach of copyright can lead to substantial fines.
Definition of Audiovisual Works
Section 102 of the Copyright Act protects original audiovisual works of authorship. The Copyright Act defines audiovisual works as consisting of a series of related images that are intended to be shown by use of projectors or electronic equipment. The creator of a video owns the copyright for that video. Anyone who sells, distributes, copies or otherwise reproduces all or part of the video breaches copyright laws.
Copyright law allows individuals to watch videos or DVDs in their own homes in the company of friends and family. The law does not permit public performances without the permission of the copyright owner. Section 101 of the Copyright Act defines a public performance as one for people outside the normal circle of family and friends, or at a venue that is open to the public. If you want to show videos in a public place, you should purchase a license from the copyright owner.
The fair use doctrine allows individuals and organizations to use copyrighted material, including videos, in certain circumstances such as news reporting or education. A school teacher, therefore, may show a legal copy of a video to a group of pupils as part of a classroom lesson. The video should relate directly to the course that the pupils are studying. Most educational establishments have their own guidelines for using videos.
If you create a video, you may want to include elements of copyrighted material such as music or images, mixed into the final work. The fact that you own a CD or any other form of musical track does not mean that you have the right to use that music except for personal or home use. You can, however, include copyrighted material if it is incidental or accidental. For example, if you video a couple’s first dance at a wedding and include the wedding music, this will not constitute a breach of copyright law.
- United States Copyright Office: Chapter 1 - Subject Matter and Scope of Copyright
- Motion Picture Association of America: Public Performance Law
- Williams College Libraries: Public Performance of Video Recordings
- Center for Social Media: Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for Online Video
- VideoUniversity.com: Copyright for Video Producers
- Thinkstock Images/Comstock/Getty Images