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Movies intellectual property

Alex, OK |

I'm from Egypt. I'm planning to start my own Language teaching center. The point is that I have designed the course as follows: every class , the students will have to watch at least 30 minutes of a movie , or an animation in class. This is because exposure to the language is the only way to learn it. So, an instructor will be present in class with the students and will play a part of the movie every class until they finish the movie and then we start another movie. I will make sure that the movie is subtitles either in English or Arabic to help the students learn more vocabulary. The movie will be an original DVD.

My question is: does this fall under education exemption?
If yes, then I understand that I can play the movies., right?
If no, what should I do to be able to play them?

Attorney Answers 4

  1. Best answer

    You are engaging in public performances of the movies in question (as any member of the public who pays tuition can come in and see the movie performed). Public performance is one of the five exclusive rights of the copyright holder, so unless a limitation and exception (L&E) applies, your acts are infringing.

    There are two types of L&E to copyright law.

    First, there are specific narrow L&E, such as some of the L&E that specifically apply to "nonprofit educational institution[s]" (i.e. 17 U.S.C. § 110(1) and (2)).

    Second, there are broad and flexible L&E, such as Fair Use (17 U.S.C. § 107).

    If your language teaching center is in fact non-profit, then I would recommend you hire a copyright lawyer to confirm that you meet the other requirements of 110(1) or (2).

    If your language teaching center isn't non-profit (i.e. you intend to own the center and personally realize the profits from it), then you won't qualify under 110(1) or (2).

    However, even if you aren't non-profit (or otherwise fail to qualify for 110(1) or (2)), there remains Fair Use. Fair Use is a flexible standard that adapts to new technology and circumstances. Unfortunately, it's adaptability makes it difficult to know with certainty whether or not it applies.

    Fair Use looks at all relevant factors in order to determine whether the new Use is Fair (and hence not a copyright infringement). Assuming you are profit-seeking, that hurts Fair Use. However, an educational purpose helps Fair Use.

    There are other factors we can discuss, but the bottom line is that you have significant factors cutting both ways. You'll need to sit down with a copyright lawyer to learn more about your facts (and possibly review the case law) in order to come to a Fair Use conclusion. Regardless of that conclusion, the copyright lawyer can also discuss the ramifications of being wrong, so you can make an informed risk analysis.

    The bottom line on all of this is that if you want to move forward, you'll need to sit down with a copyright lawyer. This simply isn't a situation that can be resolved on a service like Avvo.

    Regardless, good luck in your endeavor!

    - Neil Wehneman

    The standard disclaimers apply. These are general statements of law, and not legal advice, because I do not have all of the relevant facts. I am licensed to practice law in Indiana, and only practice outside Indiana through association with local co-counsel. If you have other questions or if you would like to discuss your situation in more detail, feel free to contact me. FEEDBACK on this post is appreciated, either thumbs-up or thumbs-down.

  2. I agree with Attorney Wehneman's response and his comments. I would only add that if your Language Teaching Center is a for-profit institution (as seems likely), ruling out the Section 110 exemption and thus forcing you to rely on "fair use," it would be advisable to use less than 30 minutes of any particular film.

    One of the factors in the fair use test is the "amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole." See In situations where a person is engaging in some "transformative use" of the original material, the "portion used" factors often takes a backseat to the other factors in Section 107. However, your situation does not appear to be one of "transformative use." As such, the "portion used" factor may be important here, and thirty minutes of a 1h30m or even two-hour movie strikes me as a significant percentage. If you are set on this class format and are unable or unwilling to license the use of the films for your classes (which would be especially advisable if you have grand ambitions for your Language Center, like expanding beyond a single location), it might be prudent to use smaller pieces of more films -- say, five or ten minutes of each. From a non-legal perspective, this could also have educational benefits, as it would expose students to a greater variety of speakers and accents.

    This answer does not constitute legal advice, and should not be relied on in place of a consultation with an attorney. No attorney-client, contractual, or fiduciary relationship has been formed as a result of this post or anyone's use of it. The only manner in which an attorney-client relationship can be formed with Charles Colman Law, PLLC, is via a countersigned letter of engagement on CCL letterhead. Charles Colman is only admitted to practice law in New York State, and before New York federal district courts. Although he endeavors to answer all Avvo questions knowledgeably, he cannot and does not provide any guarantees as to the thoroughness or accuracy of his responses.

  3. I don't think this is educational for purposes of a copyright law exemption or anything "fair" about this kind of use. It's clearly a comercial use that requires a license from the films' owners.

    See an IP lawyer for help.

    PLEASE READ THIS BEFORE YOU COMMENT, EMAIL ME OR PHONE ME. I'm only licensed in CA. This answer doesn't make me your lawyer, and neither do follow-up comments and/or emails and/or phone calls, and you shouldn't expect me to respond to your further questions if you haven't hired me. We need an actual agreement confirmed in writing before any attorney-client relationship is formed. This answer doesn't constitute legal advice, and shouldn't be relied on, since each state has different laws, each situation is fact specific, and it is impossible to evaluate a legal problem without a comprehensive consultation and review of all the facts and documents at issue.

  4. I agree with the general analysis of my colleagues---this sounds like a "for profit" teaching center which means that the only possible doctrine that would permit you to do this would be "fair use". I seriously doubt if this would be deemed fair use because you use a substantial portion of a film (30 minute). Bottom line---I think you will need to get a license in order to play these films. And that means you will have to negotiate with the copyright owners (probably the movie studios). By the way, you have no right to use these films, and the copyright owners have no obligation to grant you a license. They have the right to reject your request and they might do so.

    Even more importantly, however, if you are starting a "language teaching center", you are going to run into many IP law questions. There is no general "educational institution" exemption to liability for patent, copyright or trademark infringement. To the contrary, educationl institutions, including universities and public schools, often pay substantial license fees for the right to use materials in their classrooms. This means that unless you proceed to obtain appropriate licenses and permissions, you run the risk of a very expensive law suit. Bottom line---you must retain IP counsel to represent you in this matter if you want to proceed. Otherwise, you could be on the losing end of a major law suit.