Copyright Question: Video Recording Dance Using Copyrighted Music

Recently I was sent the following question:

 

• I taught Michael Jackson's Thriller dance to six elementary students at my school and we video taped it for them. We want to know if we can give each of the students the dvd of their performance without permission from the Jackson estate? We used his thriller music to do the dance. We are not charging anything at all and are not distributing these dvd's to anyone else in or out of the school, just the parents of the six kids who performed it. They did a great job and worked really hard to learn it! We are at a loss here as what to do because we are afraid of getting into trouble over it but these are kids from grades 3 to 5 and they worked hard to learn the dance and we just want them to have the dvd for their own use. We could send home letters to have the parents sign that would state they are for home use only and not to be used on the internet or anywhere else. Would this be acceptable? I would appreciate any advice you could give me in this matter and I thank you for you time.

First let me state that I’m not an attorney and what follows is not official legal advice. However, this isn’t a tough question to answer. , Syncing video to the music, re-recording the music and producing a DVD which you then distribute - all without obtaining permission from the rights holder is pretty clearly a copyright violation.

But this does bring up several points which are worth mentioning.

The number of DVD’s distributed or the fact that money does not change hands really has nothing to do with whether it is legal or not. Copyright is there to protect the intellectual property of artists from theft and theft can be described pretty easily as taking something which doesn’t belong to you without permission from the owner.

The really tough part of the question is the emotion and the pulling on heart-strings of the question. Clearly no one intended harm to the Jackson estate. These are elementary school age children and it seems very hard-hearted to deny them having this memory of their hard work. Besides, who would ever know if the DVD’s were made and distributed? Well, no one would know if the parents never posted it elsewhere – for example on you-tube so grandma who lives in the next state can see it. Perhaps sending a letter home requesting that nothing else would be done with the DVD would be honored by the parents – perhaps not.

As teachers, we are expected to demonstrate responsible behavior to our students. Therefore, if the DVD’s are made and distributed, then whether the makers are ever “caught” or not, the teacher will always know that both the law and the spirit of the law were not heeded. Will the students ever know a law was broken? Probably not, so the children wouldn’t change their opinion of the teachers involved. The parents may or may not care one way or the other about the legalities as long as they have a memory of their child’s performance.

What is the likelihood of being caught? Pretty slim as described in the scenario above. But as a teacher do you ever want to do anything where the concept of “getting caught” is actually a factor in the decision-making process? It’s unfortunate that the parents didn’t make their own recordings unbeknownst to you…


HarrisA former television production instructor, Phil is nationally-known as a textbook author and a break-out session presenter in the fields of television production and broadcast journalism. He has travelled throughout the country as a consultant and trainer sharing and advising session attendees on many aspects of teaching these subjects successfully. Phil has made presentations at VENE, ACTE, FETC, ITEA, JEA, SkillsUSA, STN, TSA, VATIE, and others.

In February, 2006, the first edition of his high school textbook Television Production was published by Goodheart-Willcox, Co., Inc. Phil’s new textbook, Television Production and Broadcast Journalism, also published by Goodheart-Willcox, Co., became available in March, 2011.

Phil has also written many articles for School Video News. Phil is the Technical Chair for the Television Production contest for SkillsUSA. Additional information, sample videos, and links for booking Phil can be found at www.video-educator-training.com.