What Do Lemmings Get By Jumping Off the Cliff? | Print |
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Written by Phillip L. Harris   

Question:  What Do Lemmings Get By Jumping Off
The Cliff With “Everyone Else?” 
Answer:  Company - Briefly

It’s not hard to imagine a teenager who whines to her parents that “everyone else” is going to an over 21 rave in the inner city so she should be able to do it, too.  Might a responsible parent say, “if everyone else is jumping off a cliff, would you jump, too?”  We’ve all heard this well-known comparison to lemmings.  Many of us have used that exact phrase with our own children. 

We all like to think of ourselves as “nice guys.”  Unfortunately, being the nice guy can get you in a whole bunch of trouble.  Have you ever been involved in the following scenario?

The drama teacher at your school, has decided that the spring musical is going to be “The Sound of Music.”  He must contact the licensing company who holds the rights to “The Sound of Music” and obtain permission to do the show.  He must pay performance fees and even rent the music scores for the pit band to play.  He, or some other agent at the school, must sign a contract.  That contract has many clauses in it, as you might imagine.  However, you may not imagine what one of those clauses says…

A week or so before the show is to open, the drama teacher comes down the hall to you, the Television Production or Broadcast Journalism teacher, and says, “Can you have your kids video record our show?  They’ve worked so hard on it I want to save an archival copy of it so I can show it to students in the future.”  You’re the “nice guy” we talked about earlier and you say to your colleague, “Sure, no problem.  It’ll be a good experience for my kids to shoot something live.  So it’s a win-win situation.”  Since you never saw the contract and the drama teacher never alerted you to what the contract says, you have no idea of the potential career destroying plank you just willingly decided to walk!

There are play and musical production licensing companies which amateurs (schools) must deal with to get performance rights for all material not in public domain.  Shakespeare is definitely in public domain.  Five of the largest of those licensing companies are listed below with a copy of the actual contract clause which applies to video recording.  Nearly every major play and musical you’ve ever heard of is handled by one of these five companies.  Each of these companies was contacted as research for this article.  For your own protection, read below carefully!

(NOTE)  Theatrical Rights Worldwide offers a video recording license for one archival
recording on a select few of their older, less-well known titles.  That license fee varies
between $300 and $400. The license must be obtained prior to recording the production.

(NOTE)  MTI offers a video recording license for one archival recording on a few of their
titles – notably some Disney titles.  There is an additional fee for this license and at the
time of this writing it was $75.00.  The license must be obtained prior to recording the production.

(NOTE)  Rodgers & Hammerstein Theatricals offers a video recording license for
one archival recording on a few of their titles if Imagem Company owns the movie rights to
some of the musicals it licenses.There is “a small administrative  fee”
for this license.  The license must be obtained prior to the recording of the production.

It is well-known in drama circles that these licensing companies employ people nationwide called “spotters” who attend amateur theatrical events specifically looking out for a video camera somewhere.  If they find a camera recording the production – there’s trouble in River City!

The fact that the video teacher was not a signatory of the contract is immaterial.  Copyright infringement is theft – theft of intellectual property.  The driver of the getaway car who never got out of the car will be charged the same way as the bank robber.  The mob hit man does not walk away from charges by fingering Don Corleone who hired him to perform the hit. 

Believe me, I fully understand everyone’s frustrations about this.  The kids want a copy to send to grandma 2 states away; the parents want a copy; you want to make some bucks for your department by charging duplication fees; the drama teacher who directed the show obviously wants to preserve his work.  But as equipment at the HD level becomes affordable to everyone (HD Flip Cameras for $139 at Costco!), it is entirely conceivable that we could make a video so good that, if distributed, could affect ticket sales of professional productions. 

Most importantly – we don’t own the property.  The licensing company owns the property.  We have no right to it!  As teachers we should always model professional behavior.  Tell the drama teacher, “no.”   Or ask to see the contract with your own eyes to determine if it will be legal for you to video record copyrighted material.  Now that you know what to look for, point it out to the drama teacher.  It is entirely possible that the drama teacher may not have seen the clause!  Be honest, when you bought your last car did you actually read every word of the contract?

It is true that some people are making these illegal recordings. Is it ok to go ahead and ignore the law and make a recording because it seems that “everyone else” is doing it?  Lemmings have lots of company on the way to the bottom of the cliff.  But then they hit the bottom and it’s all over.  Don’t be a lemming.

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