Does Your Company Have a License to Show That Movie?
At the Association of Corporate Counsel annual meeting in Orlando last week, Julie Maresca, general counsel of the Motion Picture Licensing Corporation, attended a session on intellectual property. Given her line of work, its no surprise that the video clips used in the session left an impression.
Similarly, it makes plenty of sense to her why companies show movies in the officeespecially during meetings. They spice up a presentation, says the GC. But whether companies set up screenings in a conference room, a break room, or even an on-site child-care center, part of Marescas job is making them aware of the public performance license that MPLC administers. If its intended for your personal, private use, and you use it in a public setting, then our license would come into play.
Thats a message many in-house counsel might not have heard yet. When we approach companies, they dont realize that their training staff, or people who are giving presentations, are using films, she says. They just dont realize it.
An attorney with an MBA from Italys SDA Bocconi School of Management, Maresca has been with MPLC for nearly 10 years and is the organizations sole in-house lawyer. With a presence in 22 countries today, MPLC started in 1986 when Hollywood executives realized that individuals were taking video cassettes intended for personal home viewing and showing them in workplaces like dental offices.
Executives from MGM and Paramount, together with an attorney from the Motion Picture Association of America, took the lead to form MPLC. The idea was to gather public performance rights from studios, bundle them under one license, and make it easy for consumers to use properly licensed video, Maresca explains.
With an annual license, consumers dont have to knock on a producers door every time they want permission. Instead, the umbrella license allows them to watch any video they want from a given list of producers.
There are some limitations. License-holders, for example, cant charge an admission fee when they show movies, and they cant advertise the viewing to the general public. And, in keeping with MPLCs anti-piracy efforts, users can only get a license for material they obtained legallynot for bootleg copies or illegal downloads.
So how do people know theyre supposed to get a license? MPLC largely takes an informational approach to explaining how the law and the license work. Earlier this year, MPLC began partnering with the Copyright Clearance Center to better reach the corporate segment of the market. For smaller businesses, Maresca bears in mind many might find contact with a lawyer frightening.
This isnt Buy it, or youre going to go to jail. I want them just to understand what the law is, says Maresca. Eighty percent of what we do is just letting people know.
The reaction tends to be positive. Usually, when people know what the law is and are given a reasonable price point, they want to comply and do the right thing, Maresca says.
But nor does the company shy away from taking further action when necessary.
Maresca recalls one matter in which an attorney ran a chain of hair salons for children. Showing movies to keep kids entertained during a haircut was a big asset for his business. He thought wed never sue, she says. He knew the law and wouldnt take the license. MPLC eventually informed Disney about how their movies were being used, and the parties wound up settling out of court.
At the moment, MPLC is also trying to resolve an issue with a company in the oil industry that is showing movies on its rigs, sans license. Id say 90 percent of the oil industry is licensed. But there are a couple of hold-outs, Maresca says. So in those cases, we work with lawyers in the MPAA, and also our own litigation [counsel] to try to get them to be compliant.
While MPLC has investigators to help identify misuse, a companys employees also prove to be a font of tips. Youd be surprised how employees sometimes let us know about license violations, she says.
That can come as a big surprise to a companys own in-house attorneys. In one case that came to MPLCs attention, employees were blogging about their employers movie screenings in the office. And yet the in-house counseland I believe they were being sinceresaid, We dont use movies, Maresca recalls.
Nevertheless, Maresca says, in-house counsel have a responsibility to investigate how departments and employees are using films. You need to have a good faith look at what your employees are doing, and then decide whether you want to stop that, or license it, she says.