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Old April 3rd, 2008, 03:23 PM   #1
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Copyright question

Client has paid another video company to produce a God Bless America video that is played at events. I am taping a commencement for them in June. He sent me this email:

"I'm worried about using the God Bless America video within the commencement disc because of copyright issues. I know we pay ASCAP licensing fees and we own the rights to the video, but I was told there was a different license needed if we distributed it within the commencement discs. Can you check on that to see if that's the case, or is this fair use, since it's part of the ceremony."

So I guess my question is if I record an event where the God Bless America video is played and I include that portion on the completed event DVD, am I breaking copyright laws? This is for a medical school that pays me to record the event and produce a DVD for each graduate. My contract is with the medical school. Should I be worried? Should they be worried?

Thanks for any input.
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Old April 3rd, 2008, 04:06 PM   #2
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Don't really know but if you search the internet there is or at least was a place I think in New York called the 'rights workshop' or something close to that and they were always very helpful about telling me what was and wasn't legal.
If you can find them they just might be able to clarify the issue for you.

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Old April 3rd, 2008, 04:39 PM   #3
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God Bless America in indeed copyrighted

Holy smoke, Herm, is nothing sacred anymore?

Doing a quick search, I figured, "Nah, how could the national song for the United States be copyrighted?" Well, sure enough the popular version of the song is indeed copyrighted:

"God Bless America" by Irving Berlin (c) Copyright 1938, 1939 by Irving Berlin (c) Copyright Renewed 1965, 1966 by Irving Berlin (c) Copyright Assigned the Trustees of the God Bless America Fund International Copyright Secured. All Rights Reserved. Reprinted by Permission. Recording of "God Bless America" from the Loras John Schissel collection.

My guess is you won't have a problem getting permission from the copyright holder to use the song at a reasonable fee for your commercial enterprise. Yet as your client points out, "God Bless America" is technically not a freebie. FYI - here's where the proceeds goes:

"Berlin supported Jewish charities and organizations and donated many dollars to worthwhile causes. He was honored in 1944 by the National Conference of Christians and Jews for "advancing the aims of the conference to eliminate religious and racial conflict." Five years later, he was honored by the New York YMHA as one of "12 outstanding Americans of the Jewish faith." On February 18, 1955, President Eisenhower presented him with a gold medal in recognition of his services in composing many patriotic songs for the country. Earlier, Berlin assigned the copyright for "God Bless America" to the God Bless America Fund, which has raised millions of dollars for the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts."

I double-checked this at Wikipedia - they agree:

Thanks for piquing my curiousity, Michael
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Old April 3rd, 2008, 04:58 PM   #4
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I am not a lawyer and I suggest you consult with one.

There are a couple of sets of rights issues to be concerned about. First of all, the perfomance rights your client has do not (normally) extend to combining the music with moving pictures - ie, performance rights do not include sync rights. So you (or your client) will need to secure the sync rights to the music itself, since as Michael pointed out it is under copyright.

But sync rights deal with using the music and lyrics only and there's a second wrinkle Michael didn't address. And that is that it appears the music is not being performed live while you are filming but rather you are incorporating a recorded performance made by someone else into your own piece. Well, that specific recording that you're going to be using has its OWN copyright completely separate and distinct from the copyright on the music, owned by whoever made the recording, and to use it you'll also need to secure master reproduction rights from whoever owns that copyright as well. If the rights to that recording have already been transferred to your client then no problem but otherwise you need to make sure the licenses to use it in your production are obtained.

As to who secures the rights, that depends on the arrangment you have with your client. If you are shooting a "work for hire" and are simply turning over raw videotape to them, then getting the rights would clearly be their responsibility - your role is just running the camera for them as their employee. But if you're shooting, editing, and otherwise creating the final program which you are then selling to them, then you are the program's producer and securing the necessary rights and clearances (or making sure they have been obtained) would be your responsibility.
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