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The Need-to-Know of Video Copyright Law

The Need-to-Know of Video Copyright Law


At some point during our years of education, we learned about copyright law. We were educated in the dangers of plagiarism and instructed that our work – be it an essay, an academic paper, a photograph, or otherwise – should be our own.

Indeed, the internet has opened up the world to a plethora of copyright infringement opportunities, so any time we post something that is uniquely ours – including videos – we must be sure to not only protect our own property but also abide by the rules in regards to the property of others.

Today, we create and share videos easily and, potentially, with millions of others on this planet. In the U.S., however, copyright laws are strict and breaking them can carry a huge penalty. That’s why it’s important to know the ins and outs of federal copyright law BEFORE you create your first video, whether you plan to make DVDs, sell it as a digital download, or offer it in a streaming mode.

Infringement of Copyright
More than ever, it’s easy to steal the work of others, even if you do it inadvertently. Simply put, however, you cannot use someone else’s work unless you have permission to do so…with the permission coming directly from that individual. Those who infringe on another’s copyright face large fines that climb to more than $100,000 in many cases.

Remember, you CAN be caught, even with the vast number of videos on the internet. If it’s out there for the public to see, you can easily be reported for pilfering someone else’s property.

Recording Location
While you may think that it’s okay to shoot your video anywhere, that’s not true. While public streets and other outdoor locations are generally not a problem, if you’re on private property (a residence or business) you must check with the owner of the property before taping. Even if he/she gives you a verbal okay, it’s a good idea to obtain a signed release should the permission come into question at a later date.

Videotaping People
Chances are you’ll have human beings in your videos at one time or another. If so, you’ll also want to have them sign a release before you post the video. Anyone who speaks on the video or is in clear focus should be asked if you have their permission to have them appear on screen and should sign a release agreeing to such. A release will protect you against any legal action and gives you permission to distribute the video in which they are included for both commercial and non-commercial purposes. If you are filming a crowd scene with focus on no particular individual, you don’t need releases for everyone in the scene.

Using Audio Legally
Even if Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” is your favorite song, you can’t use their version for background on your next exercise video, no matter how motivating you think it might be. If you want to use audio that was NOT created by you, just as with other content, you’ll need to obtain written permission to do so from those who own the rights.

You might also consider the use of so-called “buyout music,” which – for a one-time fee – gives you unlimited access to royalty-free music of your choosing. When you “buy” this music, you can use it as much as you like and for multiple videos. Prices vary.

Using Images and Stills
Again, if you’re using still photos or other images in your video, you MUST obtain permission from the owner and from anyone who appears in the images.

The Fair Use Provision
Not everything you’ll want to use in your video will require permission. The U.S. Copyright Law contains a Fair Use provision, which allows for the free use of certain items such as scientific research, news reporting, comment and criticism, and more. Still, parameters exist and you should peruse the provision carefully before using anything without permission. http://copyright.gov/fair-use/index.html

Using a Copyright Notice
If you need to protect your video from being used illegally by others, place a copyright notice on it. It will simply read ©your name and the year. Place it near the beginning or end of your video (or both!) and be sure to include it on the packaging as well.

Register your Copyright
If you view it as necessary, take time to register your video with the U.S. Copyright Office at www.copyright.gov. It doesn’t cost much and requires relatively little paperwork but could save you lots of grief if someone tries to steal your content. Be sure to educate yourself as to the length of your copyright. A visit to the above website can help you determine the parameters and how long your video(s) will be protected.