Friday, September 21, 2007

Wedding Videography and Copyright Law

A month ago or so, I set out to get some definitive answers about copyright law as it would apply to wedding videographers; people who record weddings and provide an edited DVD product to the bride and groom. I have friends and acquaintances in this business, and have found wildly divergent perspectives on copyright, and what defines legal usage of copyrighted material within the confines of wedding video productions.

Using an informal polling method of calling my friends and asking them questions, I heard a few common themes, but everyone differed on the details. On a couple of occasions, I've contacted the (very, very helpful) Beverly Hills Bar Association, publishers of The Musicians Business and Legal Guide and run the various theories past them. I've tried to distill the questions to rather broad categories. As with most things legal, the devil's in the details. IANAL, and this post is not meant to constitute legal advice. If you've still got questions, call the Beverly Hills Bar yourself (they have 1/2 hr free consults) to discuss your particular details.

Q: As a wedding video producer, do I have any exposure to potential copyright claims?

A: It depends on your business model.

Generally speaking, weddings are private events; they are not open to the public. Because they're private, infringement claims are generally dismissed. When a person purchases a compact disc recording, they're (usually) granted a license that reads: "Licensed for private, non commercial use." or a similar language. That's the license that allows someone to use a Tim McGraw song during their wedding.

If your business model involves simply recording the event, editing, and delivering a shiny disc product to the bride and groom, a videographer is covered the bride and groom's license. That is to say, you are specifically licensed to use that material in any your clients see fit, providing it remains private and non-commercial.

Q: I was paid to produce the video - doesn't that make it "commercial?"

A: No. Your recording and subsequent editing of the private event does not constitute a "derivative work", nor is your being paid in any way related to the copyrighted material. That you have been hired by the licensee simply means you're "for hire" and generally indemnified against a copyright claim. This legal structure varies between states, so make sure to TALK TO YOUR ATTORNEY TO MAKE SURE THIS APPLIES TO YOUR BUSINESS.

Q: Doesn't "Fair Use" cover me in these situations?

A: No - "Fair Use" does not apply. Fair Use is a special class of exemptions from infringement claims. As you're already licensed to use the music via the purchase of the CD or "for hire" status, "Fair Use" is not required.

Q: Under what circumstances would I have to obtain licensing?

A: Imagine you're product includes a short piece highlighting the bride and groom's first meeting - a kind of retrospective. You decide to include television clips ("When Dick and Jane first met 6 years ago, THIS is what was on TV...") or other copyrighted material IN ADDITION to what was recorded during the private ceremony, they you'll certainly need a license, as you're essentially reselling those clips.

Another scenario would be if you intended the wedding video to be released publicly - resold in stores (who'd buy it!?!?) or broadcast on a public network. In those cases, a videographer would absolutely have to obtain coverage (most likely via an agency like Harry Fox).

One probable scenario is having a portion of your wedding video featured on television, ala America's Funniest Home Videos (or Bridezilla and it's ilk). In a case like that, the broadcast company (ABC) would usually go about obtaining the license (if they don't already have blanket coverage). Even in that scenario, however, the burden of license does not fall on the videographer.

I hope you've found this post helpful and informative. Questions/corrections can be submitted in the comments.

Photo by Daquella Manera.


Tazmaton said...

I understand that in Australia videographers pay a $300/yr. licensing fee to use copyrighted music in wedding videos. It would be nice if we had something like that here.

Jeremiah said...

We do: it's called the Harry Fox Agency. They handle all kinds of bulk licensing on behalf of ASCAP, BMI and their members.

Darth Weasel said...

Amazingly helpful. I am in the early stages of trying to develop an alternative to traditional wedding videos that this touches on very heavily and my research had been...well, less positive. ASCAP would have us believe it would be thousands of dollars per year for licensing which seemed a bit non-sensical and also likely to derail the entire project but you have given me some great avenues of thought. Much appreciated.

Anonymous said...

Hi there

I'm a wedding videographer and my client has asked that I put clips from "Shrek" and "Beauty and the beast" into their intro. I am in South Africa. Where do I get a license for this and how do I go about it? Thanks so much.

Anonymous said...

There seems to be two things to clarify with this very informative post... 1) It's okay to video the wedding while Tim is BEING PLAYED in the background on a sound system; but is it legal to 2) borrow the disc from the bride, rip it to your editing software, and add it as a soundtrack to the video I am producing? Any help on number two would be appreciated.

Jeremiah said...

Anon - the short answer is "Yes", it's perfectly legal to do so. (or so my understanding goes.)


Anonymous said...

Hi Jeremiah,

Insightful topic...we run a small part-time wedding video business in Canada, filming 6-8 weddings a year. We use top 40 music for our sample highlight videos on our website We specifically indicate on all of our samples that we do not own the music and reference the owner and ask that they be supported by recommending people purchase their albums...are we exposing ourselves to severe penalties?

Jeremiah said...

"We use top 40 music [snip] that we do not own [snip] are we exposing ourselves to severe penalties?"


Lauryn said...

Thank you for the very helpful article! Two questions:
1. Say I sell multiple copies to the B&G. If I provide THEM with five copies and THEY give them out to friends and family, who's to blame for "distributing" the music?
2. Is there ever a scenario in which I can post their wedding video online, without obtaining rights to the music?

sean chandler said...

how does this apply to real estate video?

Anonymous said...

If I want to include some music in the wedding DVD that was not used during the recording of the day (such as a favorite popular song of the bride and groom) can I do this using a CD that I already own? If not, would I have to require the client to purchase the songs and then provide them to me? And finally, would it be possible to stipulate in my contract with my clients that a portion of the payment is to cover the cost of purchasing music on their behalf for use in their DVD? Thanks in advance for any help.