A community college regularly films the lectures of speakers invited to speak on campus. In order to place a video copy of the lecture online, must the institution seek permission? Is a webinar the same thing?

In order to record the lecture of the guest speaker, the institution should obtain prior written permission from the speaker. The release should also specify what the institution intends to do with the recording, such as podcasting it, and how long it will remain posted. The institution also needs to have the permission of the speakers and to specify how the webinar will be used, whether it will be repeated, and so forth. Speakers' releases are both copyright and privacy issues, but typically speakers have waived privacy by agreeing to participate in the program. Releases protect the institution from liability.

If an educational institution sponsors a conference with speakers, educational materials, and handouts, should the institution ask presenters and speakers to confirm that they are the sole authors of any conference materials or, if not, that they have obtained copyright permission from the owners to distribute their works at the conference? Should speakers be asked for permission to copy their presentations and materials onto a CD for distribution to conference participants or for posting on a website?

It certainly is a good idea to ask speakers to sign a speakers' agreement certifying that the material included in handouts and slides is their own work, or if someone else's copyrighted works are used, that the speaker has permission to distribute those works at the conference. This is especially important if distribution will be beyond the attendees at the conference, such as publishing the proceedings or posting them online with the handout material included. Some institutions ask for a list of materials that speakers want to use and actually seek permission themselves rather than rely on the speaker to have obtained appropriate permissions.

Any planned distribution of speakers' original conference materials should be detailed in the speakers' agreement. Some speakers will give permission for distribution in handouts but not for any electronic distribution, whether on CD or on a website.

A faculty member is writing a book about the history of a corporation that was founded in the 1930s. He retained the Writers Research Group to negotiate permission for the use of photographs, copies of newspaper articles, and excerpts from books, magazine articles, and monographs. In at least two instances, Writers Research Group identified and sent permission requests to the presumptive copyright owners for things that were published prior to 1941a book that was published by a leading New York publishing company and photographs that were published in a magazine around the same time. The magazine still exists but has changed ownership twice during the interim. The Writers Research Group has received no response from either despite repeated follow-ups. What should the faculty member do?

Unfortunately, receiving no answer from the publisher happens all too commonly, and it creates negative feelings about copyright holders. The faculty author has some choices at this point: (1) He could find other excerpts, photographs, and so forth, for which he can clear copyright. (2) He could decide to go ahead and publish the materials without permission and assume the risk, which likely is pretty low due to the age of the book. In fact, assuming a 1941 publication date, the copyright existed until 1969 at which point it either entered the public domain or was renewed for an additional 28 years, now expanded to an additional 67 years. So, if the copyright was renewed, it will not expire until 2036. The magazine photos may be a bit more problematic, but in all likelihood, the copyright was not renewed on these items. The degree of risk one is willing to assume is dependent on how important that particular item is to include in the faculty author's book. The publisher of the faculty author's book may or may not agree to this assumption of the risk, of course.

A librarian recently sent someone an e-mail message; the recipient responded asking permission to quote a sentence out of the message in an article he might write. The librarian was surprised by this request, but the requester said he is obligated to ask permission for such things. Is this correct? If so, the librarian's copyrights have been abused left, right, and center over the last few years!

Assuming that the length of the e-mail message was more than a couple of sentences or so, and that there was enough originality in the message to meet the very low originality/creativity standard, the e-mail message is protected by copyright just as other literary works are protected. When one wants to use all or a portion of an e-mail message in a publication, one would use the usual fair use factors to determine whether the use is a fair use. A good rule of thumb for both publications and web pages is to think of these as scholarly works, and whether messages from such a work can be quoted, and how much can be quoted with attribution but without permission from the author. Most publishers do not require permission for short quotes, maybe even for quotes of a paragraph or two. But beyond that, publishers generally require their authors to get permission.

Although this question dealt specifically with private e-mail messages, a similar application exists for listservs. The copyright law does not say so, but many people seem to believe that there is an implied license to use listserv submissions without seeking permission from the author of the message. No court has so held, so it is safer to follow the rule of thumb about quotes.

A librarian with curatorial responsibilities for a university library music collection is making an educational/promotional film about one of the collection's donors, a classical musician of note. The film is part of the fundraising efforts to support the collection. As a member of a performance group, the donor made many classical music recordings on the Philips label, and the librarian wants to obtain permission from Philips Records to use part of one track from one of these recordings in the film.

Assuming that the music on the recording is under copyright, the right the librarian is seeking is called the synchronization or "sync" right, which involves the use of a recording of a musical work in audiovisual form, such as in a film. It is called the synchronization right because the music is "synchronized" or recorded in timed relation with the visual images. Sync rights are licensed by the music publisher (the publisher of the sheet music) and not the recording company, and typically the Harry Fox agency is the source for acquiring sync rights.

The reason that the sync rights belong to the owner of the copyright in the musical composition is that the sync right is a part of the right of public performance right, and sound recordings do not have public performance rights.

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