By Kat Saunders
Showing movies just got a whole lot more expensive for a number of UMW campus groups.
In the past, many school clubs and organizations simply rented or purchased movies to show members for entertainment or discussion.
Now, however, concerned about possible copyright violations, the Office of Student Activities and Community Service is reminding campus clubs that they must also purchase film rights as well—costs that can range from $200 for foreign films to as high as $900 for domestic blockbusters.
Fines for violating copyright law can run as high as $30,000.
French Fliques, a club devoted to the study and appreciation of French cinema, was one of the first groups contacted about possible copyright violations, and had to request additional funds in order to buy the rights to screen the group’s final movie for fall semester, “Paris, Je T’aime.”
“Before the Spring semester we plan on meeting with finance committee again to request a new budget that will reflect our projected expenditures for the viewing licenses,” said French Fliques President Laura Ryerse. “Will our club run normally? Time will tell, especially this coming semester.”
According to U.S Copyright law, it is illegal to publicly play videos licensed for home viewing. Fair use laws allow videos to be publicly viewed for educational, non-profit purposes, but according to OSACS officials, that doesn’t include student groups—a point made clear in the OSACS Student Organization Policy Handbook, which states on page 28, “No student organizations may publicly show a movie for an event or program without purchasing the movie from a licensed film distributor.”
Ryerse, however, said that OSACS officials two years ago told her group that purchasing film rights wasn’t required, as long as French Fliques bought the films rather than renting them, and as long as the group could assure OSACS that the screening would be for educational purposes. None of the current OSACS officials were employed by UMW prior to this year.
“[I] and my fellow officers were under the impression that the previously mentioned ‘OSACS-approved’ guidelines were standard operating procedures for film clubs,” said Ryerse. “French Fliques was always under the impression that our club functioned legitimately and adhered to copyright laws,” she said. “All four French Fliques officers take issues of copyright infringement very seriously.”
OSACS Associate Director Stephen Thomas contacted French Fliques and other student groups in early October to advise them that they were in violation of the Fair Use policy, and that student groups who wanted to show films would have to buy film rights through another campus group, Cheap Seats Cinema.
“All clubs have been made aware of the copyright laws and so they should all now be following it,” said Thomas.
Cheap Seats Co-Chair Gabriella Arellano said that it is important for all clubs to contact OSACS and her club in order to ensure they are not violating any laws.
“They need to do it. However, all I can do is explain the rules to them,” she said. “They know what they are risking.”
Arellano said that clubs concerned with film costs can contact the student Finance Committee or look into co-sponsoring events with other clubs to save money. She also said that Cheap Seats may have its budget expanded to help other clubs afford movie viewings. The Cheap Seats current budget is $45,000, most of which goes to buying film rights for their weekly screenings of popular films.
Clubs concerned about copyright violations can contact Cheap Seats Cinema at firstname.lastname@example.org