Something mildly interesting and possibly a little more long winded than my normal little one or two paragraph blurbs. I found it amusing how this subject came up since I had just had a discussion with someone online a few weeks ago about copyright rules. As some may know, I work in television. Nothing fancy unfortunately, nor in the capacity that I had hoped for when I first started many years ago thinking I would use it as a stepping stone to bigger things in television, film, and acting. I was once a very decent sized fish in a small pond that became a tiny, insignificant fish in huge pond the size of Lake Michigan falling victim to the disease known as outsourcing that has become rampant in pretty much every type of industry across the board as well as the economic downturn of the early 2000s from which many are still trying to recover. Just because I am now a tiny fish doesn’t mean I don’t know anything. I know more than the people I work with give me credit for. Anywhoo, getting back on track to the story at hand here. Sorry, sometimes the train of thought jumps track a bit.
We have a show running on our station from an outside source (of course) that contains some copyrighted stuff but has never given us proof that they have permission to show this material over our station. While it could still land one in hot water, the “copyright police” would probably look the other way if it was airing over some little mom & pop operation or on some obscure website in the far corners of the internet. Our station on the other hand is owned by a big corporation, therefore not as easy to get away with such things. The “copyright police” would surely notice and, with dollar signs in their eyes, could sue the pants off the station. We were recently hit with a cease and desist on another show because on it there was a shot of someone’s business lasting only a few seconds and the business owner did not appreciate it even though the show did not mention the business or cast it in a bad light. I will not go into specifics here, but needless to say that since we did not have written permission from the business owner or his legal department, we had to pull the program. So you can see why we are a bit antsy about this other program.
My supervisor contacts the producer on Monday informing them that we need documentation saying that not only do they have permission to use this copyrighted material, that it is alright to broadcast it on our station as well. The producer is obviously not very well versed in copyright law as they were giving my supervisor all this stuff about fair use and that it’s a news program and just really trying to skirt around the issue. First of all, I think there is a big difference between a newscast and entertainment news. Secondly, fair use does not exist in this case. If this producer has permission to use all of this material, there should be no problem whatsoever with complying to my supervisor’s request for legal documentation stating the fact. These people have obviously never heard of C.Y.A. This is not some silly little video being posted on Youtube, although I’m sure it can probably be found there. This is a program being broadcast over a network owned by a big company that doesn’t want to lose money over any possible lawsuit that could ensue if Ts are not crossed and Is dotted.
Copyright law is a mine field not to be taken lightly. Even if you think you’re safe, C.Y.A. is always the best policy. If you are making programs to air over a network or even just online, be sure to get written permission from those appearing in your show. If you use music or clips from movies or tv, permission must be obtained from the copyright holders. The letter of permission should clearly state that not only do you have clearance to use the material but that you also have clearance to show it on “network X” or “website A“. And yes, if you’re just playing to a small audience and not making money off of it, the authorities MAY turn a blind eye, but don’t always count on it.