May a library show a DVD series in its lobby on a plasma television set in order to promote interest in the series? The library has purchased a copy of the DVD series for the collection.

One of the rights of copyright owners is the right of public performance. Showing a video series in a public place is a public performance, and the lobby of a library clearly is a public space. The library should acquire a license if it wants to perform the video series in the lobby. It is possible that showing very small clips of the DVD series would qualify as a fair use, but it is not certain that this would be the case.

What is a public library's affirmative obligation when a patron charges out a movie on DVD and tells the circulation librarian of his intention to use it for a public performance?

Actually, the library has no obligation. Librarians do not inquire about what a user is going to do with books they check out, nor should they about videos. Section 108 of the Copyright Act applies to reproduction and distribution of copyrighted works, and there is an obligation found in subsections (d) and (e) for the library not to reproduce articles, chapters, and so forth for a patron if the library has notice that the patron is planning to use it for other than fair use purposes. On the other hand, librarians are not required to ask about the use the patron plans to make of the reproduced material.

Checking out a motion picture on VHS or DVD is permitted under the first sale doctrine found in section 109(a) of the Copyright Act. There is no affirmative duty not to check out the work to the user even if there is notice that he plans to use it for commercial purposes. Many libraries label their videos to indicate whether the library has the public performance rights for the video, however. If the patron publicly performs the motion picture he is liable, but not the library.

DVDs in a library collection are not purchased with public performance rights. Does it infringe copyright if patrons view a DVD in the library after they check it out? Does it make a difference whether they use their own laptop or the library's computers to view the DVD?

If the patron is using an individual viewing station in the library or viewing the DVD at home, it is not a public performance at all and therefore not a problem. Who owns the equipment is irrelevant. If the library's DVD viewing equipment is "an individual viewing station" then it is also not a public performance. However, if the patron is in a public area, and the volume is turned up so that anyone may hear, and anyone can join the patron in viewing the DVD, it likely is a public performance regardless of whether the performance is on an individual's laptop or on library equipment.

Recently a hospital library received a gift of CD players and CDs for patient use. The library wants to lend CDs and CD players to patients in their rooms so that they may enjoy listening to them. This is a not-for-profit hospital and the library offers the service free of charge. Even though almost all of the rooms in the hospital are private rooms, the administration is concerned that this activity will not comply with copyright law. Is there any way to design this service to ensure that it is copyright compliant?

Assuming that the donor purchased the CDs and that they are not downloaded via the Internet without permission of the copyright holder, there is no problem at all with lending these copyrighted works to patients, along with the necessary equipment. The first sale doctrine permits libraries to lend copies of legitimately acquired materials from their collections. The service as described does not entail reproducing the CDs but merely lending the original CDs the library received as gifts, and it creates no copyright problems. Placing the CDs in an individual patient room is a private performance.

An art museum is trying to put together an online gallery consisting of images of the paintings in its collection. Is artwork automatically copyrighted because it is considered to be unpublished? Does the chart "When U.S. Works Pass into the Public Domain" (unc.edu/~unclng/public-d.htm) apply to artwork? The collection mainly consists of pre-1950 artwork.

Works created before 1978 are covered by the 1909 Copyright Act, and federal copyright applied only to published works. When the work in question is a painting, what does "publication" mean? Publication certainly has a more consistent meaning for books, journals, and the like. The central question is whether display in a gallery or museum constituted publication. Unfortunately, the 1976 Copyright Act was not consistently applied in cases from various federal circuits. The majority view was that public display was equivalent to publication, however. Prior to 1978, the majority of courts held that sale of the original work transferred the copyright in that work unless the parties otherwise agreed. So, the museum may actually own the copyright in many of the works in its collection. Moreover, when no claim of copyright was made on the original painting, and there was no effort made by the artist, museum, or gallery to prevent copying, courts in some circuits have held that the work has become public domain.

Generally the "When U.S. Works Pass into the Public Domain" chart does apply to paintings, but it is not 100 percent accurate for pre-1978 paintings, depending on the federal circuit and whether the museum actually acquired the copyright when the original work was purchased either by the museum or by a donor who then gave the painting to the museum.

Since January 1, 1978, publication of a painting has not been an issue because copyright attaches automatically, and the copyright belongs to the artist. Sale of the painting does not transfer the copyright to the buyer. Instead, transfer of the copyright requires a written agreement to transfer it. The artist may want to hold onto the copyright or may be willing to sell the copyright along with the painting.

 
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