Fair Use, Syria, Music Therapy, and James Blunt: Updates from the New York Film Academy Broadcast Journalism School

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Copyright is an issue that producers come up against again and again. Students often ask me about using clips from well-known films and TV programs, or portions — sometimes very long portions — of popular songs. My response is always the same: Everything is owned by somebody. In fact, usually a number of somebodies…

In news, we will often acknowledge the source of a few seconds of borrowed video with a “courtesy,” listing the source of the material. Here in the United States, there is a principle called “fair use.” If you do not diminish the ability of the owner of the material to sell it, or use the material as the basis of commentary or for an educational purpose, and you don’t use a lot of it, you are probably OK. Or you’re not. This why TV stations and networks have lawyers. (This legal interpretation applies only in the United States: Every country has its own copyright rules and regulations.)

A recent court decision involving Fox News further clarifies this issue. A company went into business selling digital “clips” of Fox News programming to subscribers. They termed it “fair use,” claiming they were only redistributing material that has already been distributed freely by the copyright holder. The court said NO, the material belonged to Fox, and distributing it to subscribers without permission from Fox was like selling somebody else’s chicken. (OK … I added the chicken part, but the principle is the same — if you don’t own it, you can’t sell it.)
There is no “fair use” outside of news. To give you an example, a number of years ago I used a clip from a classic 1930s Hollywood film called The Maltese Falcon. It was part of the tease for the first episode of a PBS documentary mini-series called The Stuff of Dreams. (Extra points if you can name the classic English-language author who originally used that phrase. Answer below…)

To use the clip, I had to negotiate payments for two actors (both dead), the director (dead), the writer (dead), the composer (dead) and the studio which currently owns the film (not the studio who originally made it). I did all of that before the program was broadcast, because afterwards these folks (or their legal heirs) can ask whatever they want, and you have to pay because you cannot “un-broadcast” the program.
And the author? William Shakespeare who, as he has been dead for centuries, does not have a lawyer. Plus the filmmakers used it before I did. Of course, they’re all dead.
I heard from NYFA Broadcast Journalism grad Ahlam Tabra via Facebook last week. The TV channel she works with broadcasts from Dubai, and is one of the most reliable sources of information about what is going on inside Syria.
“Since I have come back from NYFA, I have done a lot at work. Doing a daily talk show is amazing, but it is exhausting. As you said, there is never enough time, budget, or people. We run all day long to do a watchable 52 minutes.”

Keep up your important work, “Loumi.”
Also via Facebook, I got to see former NYFA student Georgia Hammond’s latest project, a wonderful short video about how music therapy is part of the treatment program at Sydney Children’s Hospital.

It’s Music Therapy Week and we can definitely say Sydney Children’s Hospital is a much happier (and louder) place thanks to the amazing work of the Music Therapy Team. In this video Music Therapist Matt shares how music can bring comfort and joy to patients and their families when they need it most.

And, thanks to Facebook (I see a trend here…), I found out that Brazilian NYFA grad Livia Fernanda recently interviewed British music star James Blunt. She got to use both the interviewing skills she developed at NYFA, and the English she had a chance to practice while she was in New York:

Momento em que gastei meu inglês. Entrevista com o dono de “You’re beautiful”, James Blunt ?? #jamesblunt #theafterlovetour

 

I also learned that emojis mean the same things in both Portuguese and English. At last, a true international language…

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