Performance rights copyright questions

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  • My Library is expecting a donation of personal notebooks, slides and reel-to-reel audio tapes from the widow of one of our professors. This professor taught in the theater department, and was the director of many campus plays. The slides are from scenes taken from these plays, and the tapes record the entire play, including any music used in the play. The Library is considering digitizing the slides and posting them on an open web site. The tapes would be copied onto cds and would be available for circulation from the library (for research purposes). The participants in these plays included campus students, faculty and community professional players. I have several copyright questions regarding the use of the slides and tapes.

    1. Since the reel-to-reel tapes include music, did the professor have the right to make audio tapes of the plays for his own personal use? Should he have gotten copyright permission to tape record the music? Since his widow is donating his personal tapes to the library, does the library have to get copyright permssion from anyone to copy the tapes onto cds and circulate them? By the way, we plan to make two copies of the tapes; one to store and one to circulate.

    2. Can the slides be digitized and posted to an open web site without getting copyright permission from the participants of the plays? I assume an open web site negates the argument that the site will be used for educational purposes.

    3. Do the participants from the plays retain copyright, or since they appeared in university productions, does the university now hold copyright?

    Our Faculty Handbook includes the following information regarding University right of use.

    “The University shall have the right to use and reproduce for research and educational purposes scholarly and original works, whether owned by the University, Personnel, or Students, for which it has provided resources.”

    4. Since the University did provide resources for the plays, could the slides be digitized and posted on a web site that is password protected if posting to an open web site is illegal?

    I do realize that these questions cover several copyright areas. Even if someone can only answer one or two questions, I would appreciate any help offered. Thanks. JudyF
  • Question 2 & 3--As to the slides, you should be able to post these without any issues of copyright. One image certainly doesn't constitute performance of the play and the set and costuming belong to the university. No release from the performers is necessary either. Not sure of the exact legal argument, but something about photography/public places, ect and not making a profit from someone else's image. Someone else with more expertise in this area might be able to explain more clearly. It's the photographer who owns the copyright, so if the photos were taken by the professor or a school employee, then you should not have a problem placing them on the web.
  • The audiotaping of the plays is a bit tricky. I am assuming that the drama teachers acquired the right to perform the plays (sometimes this is a license that comes with scripts) but did not acquire the right to make a reproduction of the audio. Particularly with musical productions/stage plays (because of the nature of the work and the very well developed royalty market for music), there is the need to get permission before recording.

    Now the library did not do the actual recording, but the library is aware that the tapes were made, probably unlawfully. Do you have any evidence that the drama teacher sought prior to permission to make the audio tapes? If not, and you wish to retain these unlawfully acquired tapes, you should seek permission for a mechanical license from the Harry Fox Agency. It may get more involved because you want to make a copy and circulate that copy.

    To avoid all of that rigamarole, perhaps you could keep the single copies in special collections. Or make them available only to those enrolled in the drama class. Then an argument for fair use may apply.

    I guess bottom line, do you feel a need to accept this gift? Will these audio tapes really be a valuable addition to your library?

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