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Copyright Learning Center

    Copyright law is a complicated, highly litigated, and controversial part of federal law.  Designed to protect intellectual property, copyright law prohibits (in most cases) people from copying music, movies, television programs, books, plays, poetry and various other forms of art without a license.  Licenses cost money.  This allows artists to derive an income from their work each and every time it is used.  From this perspective, copyright law encourages people to work in the arts, makes our culture richer, and is a "good thing."

    Home Use vs. Public Performance

    However, the practical application of copyright law tends to make people pull their hair out.  Buying an audio CD in the store, renting a DVD from Netflix, or tuning in to a football game on the television gives one a private home-use license.  This means that the music or movie may be played in the home AND for the owner of a copy of the work and his/her immediate circle of family and friends.  If you've ever watched an NFL game on television, a deep voice introduces the start of the game with, "This telecast is copyrighted by the NFL for the private use of our audience. Any other use of this telecast or of any pictures, descriptions, or accounts of the game without the NFL's consent, is prohibited."  This means that you can't show the game in a restaurant without a license...or a school auditorium for that matter.  At the beginning of any movie you've watched in your home, you've likely seen this:
    This, too, indicates that the movie is only for "home use."  The opposite of home use is a "public performance."  Public performances are any performances of a work that are not done in the home and for the owner of that copy of the work and his/her family and circle of friends.  Thus, all performances of movies, music, etc. in a school are, by virtue of not being in a home, a public performance.  Public performances require a special license, which, as you likely guessed, cost money.  This means that playing an audio CD in the auditorium for the student body, even if you've purchased the CD, requires the purchase of a license.  The same would be true for a movie, a taped or live television broadcast, etc.  Contrary to what many people believe, it is a violation of copyright law to have a public performance of a copyrighted work without a license even if you do not charge admission or benefit financially from the performance.

    Fair Use

    At this point, you are likely thinking that all music and movie performances in a school would require a license.  However, when applied to educational institutions, copyright law gets murkier because of a provision called "fair use."  According to the federal copyright statutes, when intellectual property is being used in an educational setting to render instruction, so long as certain criteria are met, it is not necessary to obtain a license to use that intellectual property.  This is not a blanket provision for schools and classrooms to use any media at any time...it is very limited and specific.
    Greater detail on this subject is provided kindly by the Miller Canfield lawfirm (http://www.millercanfield.com/publications-alerts-279.html)...a local copy of their article is here.  For the performance to qualify for this exception known as "Fair Use," three criteria must be met:
    1. Performances must be shown "in the course of . . . teaching activities" which involve "systematic instruction [and] whatever their cultural value or intellectual appeal", do not involve performances "given for the recreation or entertainment of any part of the audience,"
    2. Performances must involve "face-to-face teaching activities" meaning that either an instructor must be present in the room or "in the same building or general area," and
    3. Performances must take place "in a classroom or similar place devoted to instruction" such as "a studio, a workshop, a gymnasium, a training field, a library, the stage of an auditorium itself, if it is actually used as a classroom for systematic instructional activities." It is important to note that the exemption does not apply to "performances in an auditorium or stadium during a school assembly, graduation ceremony, class play or sporting event where the audience is not confined to members of a particular class." If a performance of a copyrighted movie falls outside these parameters, it will not qualify for the classroom exemption.

    Let's consider an example.  Let's say that a building principal and his/her entire faculty have come together with a plan to show the film Of Mice and Men to the building's full student body.  If all of the students' teachers have been using the book Of Mice and Men as part of their teaching activities, we can certainly assert that showing the movie Of Mice and Men is not for recreation or entertainment, but rather as a continuation of instruction. If teachers will be present in the room with the students who are watching the movie and those teachers occasionally pause the film to ask pertinent questions, we can also satisfy that this is a "face-to-face" teaching activity. And, as long as the movie is shown in classrooms in the school, we can even say that the performance is happening in a place devoted to instruction. This could even be extended to an LGI room, an auditorium, or a gymnasium, as these are instructional spaces.  However, the final two sentences of #3 above are the part that is most troublesome if one plans to show a movie to the whole student body. Even if we interpret a particular class to mean all the members of a particular grade, the performance is for members of many grades...in fact the whole school. It is a school-wide assembly (even though all students have been involved in a study of the book), which is specifically mentioned in the legal opinion.

    What to Do

    The guidance, therefore, is that when showing movies or playing any media in schools:
    1. Be capable of demonstrating that the movie/media is tied to curriculum that is currently being taught.  This should involve planned courses (board-approved curriculum) and lesson plans;
    2. Ensure actively-teaching teachers are in the space where the movie is being shown or the media played; and,
    3. Show movies/play media in individual classrooms when possible; when using the auditorium, ensure that all students are from one "class."

    If all of the above criteria cannot be met, then either (a) do not show the movie/play the media, or (b) purchase a public performance license.

    Public performance licenses for movies are issued for a particular building and can cover either (a) a single performance of a single movie on a single day for $80, or (b) an unlimited number of performances of an unlimited number of movies for 12 months for $425.  These licenses cover pretty much any movie except those from 20th Century Fox.  You can obtain a license via http://www.movlic.com/k12.
    Public performance of music licenses are available from ASCAP at this address and cost $305 per year.

    And, what if....

    What happens if you violate copyright?  That's hard to say.  People violate it every day and get away with it, so no one is suggesting that you are surely doomed.  However, if the MPAA, RIAA, BSA, or some other industry association becomes aware of the violation, they will file suit.  The police will not come to arrest you, but you will be sued in civil court for a sizable amount of money.  If it is deemed an unintentional violation and no financial benefit is derived, the maximum fine for a movie is $30,000. If it is an intentional violation for financial gain, the maximum fine for a movie is $250,000.


    If you have any questions about copyright, feel free to pose them to a member of the tech department.  If they can't answer the question, they can locate an expert who can.

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