The school has an old filmstrip that it wants to convert to DVD. May it do so?

Under section 108(c) of the Copyright Act, the library must first try to buy the filmstrip on DVD. If it does not exist, then because the format is obsolete, the library may copy it into the new format. The statute states that "a format shall be considered obsolete if the machine or device necessary to render perceptible a work stored in that format is no longer manufactured or is no longer reasonably available in the commercial marketplace." Moreover, a library does not have to acquire used equipment, only new. Filmstrip projectors likely qualify as obsolete today.

A faculty member has a DVD of a Disney movie that was originally produced in 1957. She wants to take a freeze frame from the movie and make a poster from the image and is concerned about whether the work is still under copyright.

It is still under copyright. Disney Studios has always been very careful about renewing its copyrights. The copyright in the original movie would have been 28 years, so it was protected without renewal until 1985. In 1991 the Copyright Act was amended to eliminate copyright renewals for pre-1978 works and to give works published between 1964 and 1978 an automatic 75 years of protection. In 1998 the term of copyright was extended by an additional 20 years, so the work produced in 1957 will remain under copyright until 2052.

If the poster is to be used in the classroom as a part of instruction, then it may qualify under section 110(1) of the Copyright Act, or as a fair use. The poster format makes it seem as if the use is outside of education, however. Further, Disney Studios is very vigorous in enforcing its copyrights.

There was a video produced by the BBC in 1988 called Race for the Double Helix. It is out of print but available used through several vendors. The BBC will not respond to the library's request for permission to make a copy. Various offices have stated that they are not responsible for the film and cannot help. If the library makes every effort to get permission and fails, must it purchase a used copy, or could it make a copy from a loaner?

The question omits some critical information. Did the library once own the video that has now been destroyed or damaged? Or is this an acquisitions question? If it is the former, section 108(c) of the Copyright Act applies. The library may duplicate the tape from a loaner after it makes a reasonable effort to find an "unused" copy at a fair price. In other words, it may replace the lost or damaged copy but only if new copies are no longer available. The fact that the BBC has not responded may be evidence that the video is not available for purchase, but not necessarily so. The library may decide to assume the risk and go forward with reproducing the work under section 108(c). Or the library could decide that a used copy would meet its needs and purchase one for the collection.

On the other hand, if the library is trying to acquire something it has never had in the collection, the Copyright Act provides no permission to reproduce the tape at all. Thus, purchasing a used copy may be the only way to add the video to the collection.

The library has some 16mm films from the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) that are used by the Aviation Department. If federal government materials are in the public domain, is it possible to convert the format of the films to video? If the library does change the format, does the film still remain in the public domain?

If the films were actually produced by the FAA, a government agency, then they are public domain. This means that the library or anyone else may reproduce them or convert the format. It might be a good idea to examine the films carefully to make sure there is no copyright notice. It is possible that they were actually produced for the FAA by a government contractor, which actually may hold the copyright. Changing the format of a public domain work is permissible, and it does not create any new copyright in the underlying work, unless new content is added. The original content still remains in the public domain because a change in format does not create a new copyright absent new content.

A librarian has created a children's promotional video that uses a song by the Jacksons from 1978, "Blame It on the Boogie." The video will be used only for nonprofit purposes. Is there any problem with playing the video on the local government channel?

Many people would respond that this should be fair use and it should be! Unfortunately, it likely is not. If the librarian simply played the video for classes in a nonprofit educational institution in a face-to-face classroom under section 110(1) of the Copyright Act as part of instruction, there would be little problem. To perform the video even on cable television, the library needs a license in order to use the Jacksons's recording. In fact, the library needs both a performance license and a synchronization license (for synchronizing the video with the music). Both the underlying musical composition and the sound recording are still under copyright.

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