Thursday, March 12, 2009

Punk Rock Video Rights

Dear Rich: My friends and I have some old video footage we took from punk and new wave bands from the early 1990s. Some of these are local Bay Area artists and some are national artists. We never got release forms from the artists, but they knew they were being filmed and didn't demand anything. Could we release these videos for profit? What about releasing them on YouTube? What about making a documentary? I'm so glad you asked. We assume that you have videotaped musical performances, in which case you could have problems with all of the uses you propose. It's true that you (or whoever took the videos) owns the copyright to the video. But the artists (or the artists' publishers) control the rights to reproduce the music. You need what's referred to as a sync right -- which is the right to match visuals to a musical performance. (Sample sync rights forms are included in the book Getting Permission). As for the non-musical footage that you shot, you probably are free to use that for documentary and YouTube purposes. The fact that the artists knew they were being filmed does not provide you with any rights, although a lawyer might try to argue that the failure to object implied consent. Based on the Dear Rich staff's personal observations, individual posting of unauthorized music videos at YouTube doesn't have dire consequences other than disabling of your YouTube account. However, you should assume -- as with all infringing uses -- that the more you profit, the more likely you will get hassled.