Avoid the Dangers of Posting Videos on the InternetMary O. Foley
Move over, Steven Spielberg. Making movies is easier than ever. You or your teen can burn your own movies on your home computer, edit them with ease, and add soundtracks by downloading music from the Internet. And with sites like YouTube and Photobucket sharing those movies with friends or family is a snap.
But if you post movies that have copyrighted music, will it get you or your child into legal hot water? What are your rights if someone else copies parts of your movie off the Internet? And what can you do to protect your family’s privacy and safety?
Here are a few things to consider before posting that cinematic gem for the world to see.
1. Know the copyright laws
First, know your legal obligations before posting a movie that features popular music -- or even samples of popular music -- as a soundtrack. Here are some basics:
- What’s a copyright? It’s a legal protection given to the creator of a musical, literary, or other artistic work. It ensures that no one can recreate or make money off the creator’s work without their permission.
- How long does a copyright last?
For most works, it’s for the life of the author or creator, plus 70 years. In terms of music, that means pretty much everything from the 1912 classic “It’s a Long Way to Tipperary” to Sheryl Crow’s latest release is protected.
- When does a copyright go into effect?
A copyright goes into effect the moment a work is created. That means that even unpublished works, like that poem in your bottom drawer, are copyrighted.
- But isn’t there a Copyright Office? What does it do?
Although works are copyrighted from creation, a creator cannot sue someone for using them unless their work is registered with the U.S. Copyright Office#IF($EnableExternalLinks) (w#COMMENT#ENDCOMMENTww.c#COMMENT#ENDCOMMENTopyright.g#COMMENT#ENDCOMMENTov)#ENDIF. The cost of registration is $45. A creator can register works at any time, including after someone else has illegally used them.
- What are the legal penalties for downloading music from
a free site?
According to the U.S. Copyright Office, the creator can sue an unlawful user for $30,000 to $150,000 per illegal download. For repeat offenders, penalties can include five years in jail. And creators are suing: the Recording Industry Association of America, a trade association representing the nation’s major music labels, has sent lawsuit-warning letters to nearly 3,000 U.S. colleges and universities about illegal download activities on their campuses since February 2007 alone.
2. Stick with legal downloads
3. Consider the (negative) consequences
If you still want to post your home movie, there are some other pretty big risks to consider, experts say.
The first is your own copyright protections, notes Sam Bayard, assistant director of the Citizen Media Law project at Harvard Law School’s Berkman Center. “If you really care about the work, you should register it to protect it,” he says. After all, YouTube clips are turning up in some pretty unlikely places, even auto insurance commercials.
But even if you do register it, think through what might happen to your work before you put it out there. From a practical standpoint, taking legal action against someone who takes scenes from your movie and displays them elsewhere -- such as in pornographic material -- is expensive and time-consuming for the average consumer, Bayard notes.
A second important consideration is your family’s safety. “Kids are giving way too much information on these videos,” warns Rob Nickel, founder of #IF($EnableExternalLinks)Cyber-Safety.c#COMMENT#ENDCOMMENTom#ELSECyber-Safety#ENDIF, author and noted child-safety advocate. “Not only are they showing images of themselves, but they are dropping information about their hometowns and parents’ travel plans, and basically letting the world know when their house is empty,” says Nickel, a former Canadian police officer. “Potential predators and bad guys could be watching.”
And lastly, Nickel says, consider your teen’s future. “Once that video is out there, they’ll never get it back,” he says. Outrageous, risqué, or illegal behavior, caught on video, could endanger your teen’s ability to get into college or be employed -- even years from now.
So don’t let visions of Hollywood cloud your judgment. Educate yourself -- and your teen -- before launching that movie into cyberspace.
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