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Playing a movie or music in your community is popular with residents and offers the added benefit of encouraging social interaction. But are you aware of when it’s considered a public performance and a license is required?

More than a few communities find the answer to that question when they receive a letter stating they’re in copyright violation, according to Nancy Reynolds, an attorney with LeClairRyan. “They’re given two choices. Cease and desist or enter into an agreement.” 

They’re given two choices. Cease and desist or enter into an agreement.”

A form of intellectual property law, a copyright offers protection for original works, including how and whether they may be used. Only the owners or those they authorize may perform these works publicly. Failure to obtain a license agreement or receive permission from the copyright owner is infringement and can carry steep penalties.

What is a public performance?

When DVDs, CDs, or other works are purchased, rented or streamed, they are only for personal and private use. A public performance of a work is defined in copyright law as:

to perform or display it at a place open to the public or at any place where a substantial number of persons outside of a normal circle of a family and its social acquaintances is gathered; or

to transmit or otherwise communicate a performance or display of the work to a place specified by clause (1) or to the public, by means of any device or process, whether the members of the public capable of receiving the performance or display receive it in the same place or in separate places and at the same time or at different times.

Are your movie nights in violation?

Providing entertainment is not only a great amenity but plays a strong communal role in senior living. Although residents can engage in activities privately in their residences, that doesn’t encourage them to engage with each other.

umbrella license image“Communities don’t want residents sitting in their rooms watching a movie,” says Sal Laudicina, licensing division president of The Motion Picture Licensing Corporation (MPLC). “They want them to come to the common room and watch. It gives them another opportunity to socialize with the other residents.”

But those who show movies or other audiovisual programs need permission or a public performance license. The MPLC grants an Umbrella License for over 1,000 studios and producers they represent. Renewed annually, the license allows for unlimited showings and makes it easy to be in compliance, Laudicina says, and it relieves your community from having to obtain consent from each copyright owner.

Approval is still required if the movie isn’t available to the general public, the organization is a nonprofit, or when no admission is charged. Even if a movie or program is shown in a resident’s private residence, if it arrives there by a closed circuit system, a license is still needed, according to Laudicina.

There can be quite a bit of confusion over understanding copyright protection but Laudicina says the MPLC is there to help educate. “We want to spread the word about intellectual property rights because everyone deserves to get paid for their work,” Laudicina says. “But we’re also a one-stop solution. And we keep our fees reasonable so that it won’t stop anyone from complying. People want to do the right thing but often don’t understand the law or regulations. We walk you through the process and help you make sure your [community] is in copyright compliance,” says Laudicina.

In 2016, MPLC partnered with the leading senior living and health care industry associations, including Argentum, and negotiated an agreement that offers “discounted Umbrella License coverage to their membership,” according to the terms.

Public performance of radio and television

Included in copyright law, establishments other than food service or drinking establishments that are 2,000 gross square feet or larger must obtain a public performance right if any of the following apply:



Becoming familiar with copyright law

Copyright can be a puzzling subject when trying to determine if and what license your community may need. The copyright owner holds on to all the rights of performance, but there are also exemptions and specifics, Reynolds says. She offers these tips your community may wish to consider:

An internet search is often what leads to communities being contacted regarding a copyright violation. Are you promoting movie nights or musical events? Be mindful of what you’re advertising.

Have a professional who understands copyright law conduct an audit, including what’s on display in your lobby, whether you’re playing music over speakers, and the content on your website.

Fees are typically “by the bed,” so bigger communities will have higher fees. Think about whether you want to engage in activities that require you to play copyrighted work.

If you receive a notice that you are in violation, call your attorney immediately. This is not something you can ignore. There are penalties for copyright infringement. If found in violation, they can range from $750 to $30,000 per copyright work, per violation. If it’s a willful violation, it can be up to $150,000.

copyright advice from pros chart


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