Q: I work in educational theater. Every year we revisit the same topic: Filming performances. I keep telling the director and others that it is simply not legal to record a performance. The response I always hear is that they never sell the film. They are only making an “archival copy” which is given to the cast. I know it's illegal. I know it's specifically banned in the contract that the director signs. I've heard rumors of schools getting busted with huge fines, because clips showed up on You Tube. But I have no proof. What are the potential penalties? Are people schools really getting sued? Help me convince these people that they should stop.
A: It's irrelevant whether they sell the film. They're making and distributing copies of a derivative work of the play. That's copyright infringement. It doesn't matter if money changes hands. It's NOT “archival” (which isn't permitted anyway, under most licenses from play publishers).
The penalties for violations of these rules can exceed $150,000 per infringment, and each copy of the offending product can be considered an infringement. So, with a cast of 10, each receiving a copy, you're talking about as much as $1.5 Million dollars. (that's enough to put most school districts in a serious bind).
Schools and nonprofit organizations are sued ALL THE TIME over this kind of thing. They usually settle, so there's little media coverage… but it is happening. It's not just because videos wind up on the web….The major play publishers have ‘spies' everywhere, and they're reporting violations all the time.
Bottom line: It's illegal, it's a breach of the license agreement, and can be very costly. Also, once a play publisher catches you, they will put you on their blacklist, and never authorize another production again.
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