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Copyright Law Basics – Entertainment Law Asked & Answered



Jodie wrote in with a Question about posting old television shows on YouTube.

Hi I'm Gordon Firemark and this is Entertainment Law asked and Answered, where I answer your entertainment law question so you can take your career and business to the next level


Jodie asks “What if a TV show has been out of circulation and has not been seen on TV for more than 20 years.  I want to post episodes of a certain show. Is this copyright infringement and is this OK for me to do so?”

Well, Jody the short answers are: Yes this is copyright infringement and NO it is not OK for you to do so without the permission of the owner of the television program.

This question made me realize that I've talked quite a lot about things like fair use, and how to get rights to use stuff, but very little about the actual basic rule of copyright and copyright infringement. So here goes:

When a person creates an original work of expression that is developed an idea and set it out in His or her own particular style and choice of words, and then fixes that expression in a tangible form such as a recording, setting pen to paper, or typing it into a computer, Or Filming the work, that person immediately owns a copyright in his or her work.

The owner of a copyright has a set of exclusive rights with respect to that work. Those rights are:

  1. The right to make copies.
  2. The right to distribute copies.
  3. The right to display or perform the work in public.
  4. The right to make derivative works based upon the original.


And because we’re talking about exclusive rights that means that nobody else is allowed to do those things without permission from the copyright owner.

Now, copyright law lasts a good long time. Because they’re created by corporations, Protection for TV shows created since 1978 lasts for 95 years from first publication.

For older shows, the Duration determination is a little more complex, but it's a safe bet that most television shows are still protected.

So, to answer Jodi's question more fully, posting old television episodes without permission from the owner would infringe the distribution and public performance rights.

That's pretty sure to bring a strike against your YouTube account, so it's not something you want to do.

That's it for the session of asked and answered.

If you've got a question about Entertainment Law that you'd like me to answer here, and I'm over to

I'll see you again soon.


This is intended as general information only and does not establish an attorney-client relationship. It is not a substitute for a private, independent consultation with an attorney selected to advise you after a full investigation of the facts and law relevant to your matter. We will not be responsible for viewers'’ detrimental reliance upon the information appearing in this feature.

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