Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Old Man and the ©: Book Cover in Video

Dear Rich: I'm working on a corporate video that will live on Youtube and Vimeo. In the video, we see the character reading Hemingway's "The Old Man and the Sea." Do I need permission from the publisher and/or writer's estate to be able to do this? To be clear, the character does not read the book aloud, we only see the book cover (essentially, the book is a prop). The short answer would be that if the book is used as a prop (anything an actor holds or carries), is visible for more than a fleeting shot (30 seconds or more) and if the book is used as a plot point (the character talks about it, or Hemingway relates to the story) then a clearance attorney would advise seeking permission from the owner of the book cover copyright. (We believe the cover at left is from the original 1952 publication published by Charles Scribner's Sons.) The rules might be different if the book is used as set dressing (for example, it is featured on a bookshelf and is not part of the plot) in which case clearance is probably not required. In his book  on clearance for film rights, Clearance and Copyright: Everything You Need to Know for Film and Television, attorney Michael C. Donaldson distinguishes these uses, explains the conflicting caselaw, and points out that even though the safe approach is to seek permission, "many scholars are of the the opinion that fair use might still apply."

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