Understanding "Fair Use" of Copyrighted
Although in most cases, you need to get permission from the owner
of copyrighted material before using or reproducing it, Title 17:
Chapter 1 § 107 of the United States Code does provide for special
instances in which copyrighted materials can legally be used without
permission from the owner.
Section 107, "Limitations on
exclusive rights: Fair use," says in part:
The fair use of a copyrighted work ... for purposes such as
criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple
copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research, is not an
infringement of copyright. In determining whether the use made of a
work in any particular case is a fair use the factors to be considered
- the purpose and character of the use, including whether such
use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational
- the nature of the copyrighted work;
- the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation
to the copyrighted work as a whole; and
- the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value
of the copyrighted work.
In other words, for certain non-commercial, nonprofit educational
purposes, a small portion of a film (for example, a still or clip) can
be reproduced without first obtaining the permission of the copyright
holder, but you should still give credit to and acknowledge the
copyright holder as the source of the material. (For example,
under an image or clip from BAMBI (1942): "©The Walt Disney Company".)
For more information, check out the
Helpful Licensing Links below.
Understanding "Public Domain":
Material that was never copyrighted is considered to be in the
"public domain" and can be used freely by anyone (although just
because the work was never formally registered with the
US Copyright Office does not
mean it is not copyrighted).
There is also previously copyrighted material whose copyright has expired that
is now in the
public domain (meaning it is no longer protected by copyright laws
and can be used freely by anyone). However, contrary to popular
belief, age has very little to do with determining
the copyright status of anything. (Only materials copyrighted before
1923 are now in the public domain due to age.) The fact that the
company that produced, published or originally copyrighted something
is now out of business is also irrelevant.
domain materials lost their copyright protection because their copyright owners failed to renew the copyright
on them (which has do be done periodically). But determining
whether or not that has actually happened to any specific work is
very complicated and requires research at the
US Copyright Office.
If the renewals have been kept up properly, there is a complicated
method for determining the duration of the copyright for anything produced
in or after 1923 (depending on the date the work was created and the
date of death of its creator), but essentially most copyrighted
material will fall into the public domain 95 years after it was
originally copyrighted -- so that won't begin to happen until 2019.
(And the last two times that expiration date has
approached, the big media firms have lobbied Congress to get the
term of copyright extended -- from 28 years, to 75 years, to the
current 95 years. Basically, the Walt Disney Company
does not want Mickey Mouse (copyrighted in 1928) to fall into the
There is no official list out there of all the
movies, photos or other copyrighted materials that have fallen into
the public domain, so it is incumbent upon the user to determine the
copyright status of anything before it is used or reproduced.
Back in 1973, people thought
IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE (1946) had fallen into the public domain,
and the film was freely shown on television and sold on video tape
unlicensed until 1993 when Republic Pictures determined that
although it had inadvertently allowed the copyright on the film
itself to expire, it still held the copyright to the film's music.
Thus, while the video component of the film is in the public domain,
its audio isn't, and who wants to watch a "talking picture" without
sound? In other words, even if everyone else is using it
without permission, that doesn't mean it's necessarily legal to do
For more information about public domain materials, see the
Helpful Licensing Links below.
Using Movie Stills or Film Clips:
Using classic movie photos or images in any kind of commercial
publication or project -- for example, in a newsletter, magazine, or
newspaper, or on any kind of consumer product like a t-shirt, poster,
Christmas ornament, mouse pad, etc. -- requires a license from the
copyright holder, as does the use of movie clips in documentaries,
movies, advertisements, etc. In addition to getting permission
from the copyright holder (step 1), in instances where the use of the
movie image is not directly related to the promotion of the movie
itself (if for example, you wanted to use a still of John Wayne boxing
in THE QUIET MAN to promote or illustrate something other than the
film THE QUIET MAN -- like, say, a poster for an upcoming boxing
tournament), you must also contact the stars (or, if deceased, their estate) featured in the still or clip and get permission
from them to use their name, image or likeness (step 2). If
using a film clip, you must separately get permission for the use of
any music that may be featured in the clip from everyone involved in
writing, performing, publishing or producing that music or song (step
permission from the film clip or still's copyright holder can be expensive but is
relatively easy compared to getting permission from the stars (or their
estates) and the music publishers. Read on...
When it comes to photos and movie stills, there are independent
vendors who license hundreds of thousands of photos for commercial or
professional use, many of whom have a large selection of classic
movie-related images to chose from. Although the licensing
departments of the studios themselves will generally have the largest
selection, they can often be more difficult to deal with. When
it comes to film clips however, there are no intermediaries -- you'll
need to license directly from the studios. Below is some contact
information that should help you obtain the permission you need.
(step 1) Independent Licensers of Images for
- The Motion Picture and Television
Photo Archive (16735 Saticoy Street, Suite 109, Van Nuys, CA
91406, tel: 818-997-8292, fax: 818-997-3998) --specializing in the
work of still photographers whose subject matter is primarily the
entertainment industry, MPTV licenses its images for editorial and
commercial use and also makes gallery prints available for public
- Archive Photos (530
West 25 Street, NY, NY 10001, tel: 1-800-447-0733, fax:
212-645-2137) --commercial only; does not sell directly to the
- Everett Collection
(104 W. 27th Street, New York, NY 10003, tel: 212-255-8610, ext. 1;
fax: 212-255-8612) --another large collection of movie-related
photos and stills available to the publishing industry worldwide.
British Film Institute --the BFI sells prints of photos, movie
stills and poster images from its vast collect both for personal use
and for use in publications and online.
Hershenson-Allen Poster Image Archive --licenses
publication-friendly transparencies of poster art from more than
35,000 classic movie posters and lobby cards.
- Corbis Digital Pictures
--digital (computer file) pictures for personal or professional use.
- Getty Images
--the leading provider of imagery and film to communications
professionals around the world
(step 1) Studio Image/Clip Licensing Departments:
- Allied Artists (273 W. Allen Ave., San Dimas, CA 91773; tel:
626-330-0600; fax: 626-961-0411) --licenses only from post-1980
Allied Artists Pictures library.
- HBO Archives (1100
Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10036; tel: 877-426-1121)
--licenses the use of video clips from their in house productions
and sporting events as well as the famous MARCH OF TIME newsreel
series (produced by the publishers of Time and Life
from 1935-1967) and the Universal newsreels.
- Disney Consumer
Products (500 S. Buena Vista, Burbank, CA 91521-6781) --licenses
the use of movie stills, video clips and audio clips from titles in
the Walt Disney Pictures, Buena Vista Pictures, Touchstone Pictures,
Hollywood Pictures, Miramax Films and Dimension Films libraries.
- MGM Clip+Still (2500
Broadway Street, Santa Monica, CA 90404, tel: 310-449-3572, fax:
310-449-3277) --licenses the use of movie stills, video clips and
audio clips from titles in the post-1982 MGM, post-1996 Samuel
Goldwyn Films, United Artists, Orion, Polygram and Cannon libraries.
Clip Licensing (5555 Melrose Avenue, Hollywood, CA 90038; tel:
323-956-5184; fax: 323-862-2231) --licenses the use of movie stills,
video clips and audio clips from titles in the Paramount Pictures,
Republic Pictures, Rysher Entertainment, Spelling/Worldvision, and
Viacom Productions libraries.
- Samuel Goldwyn Films (9750 W. Pico Blvd, Ste 400, Los Angeles,
CA 90035; tel: 310-860-3100; fax: 310-860-3195) --licenses the
use of movie stills, video clips and audio clips from titles in the
Samuel Goldwyn Sr., pre-1996 Samuel Goldwyn Jr., and portions of the
Rodgers & Hammerstein film libraries.
Sony Pictures Entertainment Clip & Still Licensing (10202 West Washington Blvd.,
Turner Bldg., Suite #4314, Culver
City, CA 90232; info line: 310-244-7306; tel:
310-244-7554; fax: 310-244-1336) --licenses the use of movie
stills, video clips and audio clips from titles in the Columbia
Pictures, TriStar Pictures, Screen Gems, and Sony Pictures Classics
Century-Fox Licensing and Merchandising (P.O. Box 900, Beverly
Hills, CA 90213-0900; tel: 310-369-1000; fax: 310-369-4647)
--licenses the use of movie stills, video clips and audio clips from
titles in the Twentieth Century Fox, Fox 2000 Pictures, Fox
Searchlight Pictures, and Fox Animation Studios libraries.
- Universal Studios Media
Licensing (100 Universal City Plaza, 1440/15, Universal City, CA
91608; tel: 818-777-1273; fax: 818-866-2399) --licenses the use of
movie stills, video clips and audio clips from titles in the
Universal Pictures, Universal/International Pictures and
International Pictures libraries.
- Warner Bros. Licensing Department (4000 Warner Blvd., Building
#11, Burbank, CA 91522; info line: 818-954-2298; tel: 818-954-1853;
fax: 818-954-3817) --licenses the use of movie stills, video clips
and audio clips from titles in the Warner Bros., First National
Pictures, pre-1982 MGM, pre-1948 RKO and Turner Entertainment libraries.
(step 2) Contacts for Licensing the Name/Image/Likeness of a
- Screen Actors Guild
(5757 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90036-3600; tel: 323-954-1600)
--the place to start when attempting to contact a living performer
about getting permission to use their image or likeness; in most
cases, SAG can put you in contact with the star's agent or other
- CMG Worldwide
(10500 Crosspoint Boulevard, Indianapolis, IN 46256; tel:
317-570-5000) --licenses the image and likeness of dozens of
deceased classic movie stars and other celebrities.
- The Roger Richman
Agency (9777 Wilshire Boulevard, Suite 700, Beverly Hills, CA
90212; tel: 310-276-7000 ) --another major firm licensing the image
of dozens of deceased Hollywood legends.
- Global Icons
(12400 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90025; tel: 310-820-5300)
--representing the estates of deceased stars like Bing Crosby,
Marlene Dietrich and Greta Garbo.
- MODA Entertainment
(311 W 43rd St, Suite 1101, New York, NY 10036; tel: 212-873-3324)
--coordinates licensing for the likes of Gary Cooper, Lauren Bacall,
Humphrey Bogart, Betty Garrett, Joel McCrea, Alan Ladd, Celeste
Holm, Frances Dee, John Garfield, Robert Mitchum and Patricia Neal.
- Greenlight Rights
(6060 Center Drive, Suite 100, Los Angeles, CA 90045; tel:
212-445-8107) -- manages personality rights for a few deceased
celebrities, including Steve McQueen and Mae West.
- Other individual estates or licensing representatives:
(step 3) Contacts for Licensing Music:
- BMI Licensing -
represents the songwriters, composers and publishers of millions of
pieces of music; one of the two big stops for obtaining blanket
public performance licenses that allow you to play/broadcast/feature
music that is copyrighted.
- ASCAP Licensing -
licenses the right to perform songs and musical works created and
owned by its thousands of songwriter, composer, lyricist and music
publisher members; the second big stop for obtaining blanket public
performance licenses that allow you to play/broadcast/feature
- Christian Copyright Licensing
International - licenses a wide variety of religious music to
churches for congregational use.
- Individual Music Publishers:
Helpful Licensing Links:
Hosting a Public Movie Screening:
A "public screening" of a classic movie means showing a film
outside of a private home environment or to someone other than family
or social acquaintances. Hotels, restaurants, private clubs, prisons,
factories, summer camps, public libraries, day-care facilities, parks
and recreation departments, churches, and non-classroom use at schools
and universities are all examples of situations where a public
performance license must be obtained before a movie can be shown. This
legal requirement applies regardless of whether an admission fee is
charged, whether the institution or organization is commercial or
non-profit, or whether a federal or state agency is involved.
To obtain permission for a public screening of a specific film in
the United States, contact the film's distributor listed on the
16mm & 35mm Films page. (Public
performance licenses are generally sold by the studios' distributors
-- who, in most instances, also rent prints or broadcast-quality tapes
of the films -- rather than the studios themselves.) For
distributors who license public screenings outside the U.S., see the
Umbrella Licenses which permit the non-revenue-generating public
performance of home videos and DVDs are available to non-profit
groups, certain businesses and government organizations for a low
annual fee through the
Motion Picture Licensing Corporation.
Groups such as child care programs, public libraries, schools, clubs,
park and recreation departments, and certain corporations who would
like to host multiple public film screenings over a given period of
time (and without charging admission) may wish to pursue this option.
Qualifying churches and other ministry organizations (such as
church schools, childcare, conferences, and camps) can obtain
umbrella licenses which permit the non-revenue-generating public
performance of home videos and DVDs (of both religious and
mainstream secular titles) from Church
Video Licensing International.
Non-U.S. Licensing Links:
- Launching Films --
web site of the UK's Film Distributors' Association
- National Film and Video
Foundation -- South Africa's national film body
- To find licensed distributors for other parts of the world,
contact the individual studios using the information in the Clips
and Still Licensing section above.