Monday, February 28, 2011

Using movie stills at a website

Dear Rich: I am planing to make a site that shows screenshots from the movies that I love. A movie might have 50 or so, (or even more?) screenshots in it. There will be no critics or teaching material. There might be an affiliate link to purchase movie. Of course I want them to be in good quality so these might not consider as thumbnails but not wallpaper size also. I made a quick research and have a roughly an idea what might be considered as copyright infringement. It seems like a very fuzzy area in my opinion. On one hand it is promoting the work but on the other hand copyright holders might ask for permission. History Dept. Did you know that prior to 1912, the U.S. Copyright Office did not recognize film as copyrightable subject matter? Early filmmakers had to print out every frame of the film and register each movie as a series of photographs. The law was amended in 1912 because, as a Congressional report announced, movie production, “has become a business of vast proportions.”
Yes, you're infringing. It's not really that fuzzy. Unauthorized reproductions are infringement unless excused by a defense such as fair use. You probably can't afford to fight a fair use battle, so the question you're probably more concerned about is whether movie companies will come after uses like yours. After all, a lot of websites freely use movie stills to discuss films and don't run into problems. Our suggestion: follow Aristotle's advice, "Everything in moderation." If you use two or three stills or only use thumbnails, you're unlikely to get much fanmail from movie company lawyers. But when you begin using 50 full-size images, you're more likely to show up on their radar screen.
Are you promoting the film? Many infringers argue that they're actually promoting the work they've ripped off ... and you can certainly bring that up as part of your fair use defense. But that argument rarely succeeds. First, you can promote the film without infringing copyright. Second, like many bloggers and website owners, it looks like you're really concerned with promoting your own site and earning money from affiliate sales.  Finally, copyright owners might not want to be promoted in the manner you do it at your blog. Part of the benefit of owning a copyright is that you can control, to a limited extent, the manner in which the work is promoted.
Speaking of theft ... We recently re-watched this heist film (we love Akim Tamiroff) and when we Googled it, we noted (wistfully) that the movie itself had been heisted.