Scary Movie Screening a Film Publicly at Your Condo or Co-op Could Violate the Law

Movie projector (Open Clip Art)

Who knew? Who'd ever thought that your weekly movie screening inside your condo or co-op's rec room could get your HOA into possible legal trouble?

Incredible as it may be, but that seemingly innocent and fun activity with your neighbors can run afoul of copyright law, according to a recent blog post by attorneys Rebecca Drube and Bill Gourley of the Georgia-based law firm of Weissman Nowack Curry & Wilco.

Copyright Infringement?

That is because screening a copyrighted movie for members of an HOA or any other group in a public setting constitutes a public performance. Showcasing a work 'publicly' is defined by Title 17 under the U.S. 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.” That not only applies to community associations but also to other public places like churches, bars, restaurants, libraries, clubs and summer camps.

For example if you are a movie theater and you want to exhibit a movie to several hundred people in the theater, you need to get permission from the copyright owner,” said Ben Sheffner, vice president, legal affairs for the Motion Picture Association of America. It applies to essentially any place where members of the public are gathered and you exhibit a work to them. Or because I want to play songs to the public at a radio station, I need to get permission from the copyright owner. It applies to essentially any place where members of the public are gathered and you exhibit a work to them. ”

Copyright law still applies to a public performance of a copyrighted work even if you are not charging admission or if you are a for-profit or non-profit group. “There's an old Supreme Court case (Herbert v. Shanley) from the early 20th century about playing music at a restaurant,” said Sheffner. “The restaurant owner said, 'Hey we're just charging people for food, we're not charging for people to come in and listen to music.' The court explained, 'Look, music is an important part of the atmosphere, it's what makes the restaurant more desirable to its patrons. Therefore you should have to pay.'”

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