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This film is free and open to the public

Oct. 13, 2008

KALAMAZOO--Western Michigan University officials are urging all students, faculty and staff to beware of copyright infringement, specifically with regard to public screenings of films.

"There are a number of widespread misconceptions about copyright law as it applies to showing films," says Thom Myers, director of electronic communication. "Our office, university relations, has had to address these misconceptions, because of our role in helping publicize campus events."

Working with the general counsel's office at the University, Myers has developed a list of myths about showing movies on college campuses.

Myth: If admission to a film is free of charge, there is no violation of copyright.

Fact: Not true. You may not make copies of books, songs or other original works protected under copyright and distribute them without permission. Whether you profit directly, indirectly or not at all from the distribution of copyrighted material is not relevant. The same applies to showing movies.

Myth: We are an educational institution, so showing films is not subject to copyright.

Fact: Not true. "Educational Fair Use," which is exempt from payment for rights to show a film, is limited to an instructor showing a film to students enrolled in a specific class, and the film must be relevant to the course of instruction. As soon as you open the screening to anyone else, including students not enrolled in that class, you are offering a public screening, and that is not exempt from copyright under educational fair use.

Myth: If only members of our student organization or students majoring in our discipline or students enrolled at WMU can attend, it is a private screening and not subject to copyright.

Fact: Not true. "Private Home Use" is exempt, but very limited. While the law is less specific in this area, the courts have typically ruled that private use is limited to you showing a movie to generally no more than a dozen family members and close friends.

"Every movie you rent from the local video store opens with a warning that the movie is intended for private home use only, and violations will be subject to prosecution," says Myers. "They are not kidding, and the penalties can be significant.

"Every event publicized in WMU News, the Western Herald, Kalamazoo Gazette and most other public news media is immediately indexed and searchable in Google and other search engines. If you promote a public screening of a movie for which you have not secured permission, and a movie owner wants to go after someone violating their copyright, it is not that difficult to find you."

Myers is not an attorney, and the advice offered in this article does not constitute a legal opinion. For legal opinions, consult an attorney in copyright law. For suggestions on how to obtain rights for a public screening of a film, WMU faculty members and student organizations may contact Thom Myers at thom.myers@wmich.edu.

Media contact: Tonya Hernandez, (269) 387-8400, tonya.hernandez@wmich.edu

WMU News
Office of University Relations
Western Michigan University
1903 W Michigan Ave
Kalamazoo MI 49008-5433 USA
(269) 387-8400