Legal Issues in Online Video

Follow this advice on copyright and licensing to ensure that your association’s videos don’t pose legal risks.

Video can be a great tool for recruiting members or promoting association events. But careless video production can result in legal issues.

"There are a number of cases where associations or other nonprofit organizations have been found liable for copyright infringement," says Jefferson Glassie, a partner at law firm Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman. Of course, association staff want to comply with the law. But it's possible to move forward with a video project without realizing all the legal implications and inadvertently finding yourself in hot water.

Before taking your videos live, keep in mind these tips:

Obtain permission to use music. Yes, you even need permission to use the music played in the background of your video slideshow. "While there is a doctrine of fair use that may be applicable to the use of some copyrighted works, it is always better to obtain permission to ensure compliance with the law," Glassie says. "The fair-use doctrine is very vague and uncertain, and associations have been found liable for failure to comply in the past."

Ask speakers to sign releases. If you plan to videotape sessions at your annual meeting or other event, ask speakers in advance to sign a release giving your organization permission to record them, both on audio and video. Make sure any questions of copyright and compensation are worked out to the satisfaction of both your speaker and your association. "Failure to [obtain a speaker release] could give the speaker a legal cause of action or permit them to seek compensation from any sales or distribution of the video," Glassie says.

Don't forget volunteers. Anybody who has a role in producing or appearing in the video should provide permission by signing a release, even if he or she is a volunteer for your organization. "Ideally, the association should obtain the appropriate approvals or licenses from everyone associated with the video production, from the actors or speakers to the production company, to the musicians or songwriters, to ensure compliance with the copyright law," Glassie says. "There are a number of cases where associations or other nonprofit organizations have been found liable for copyright infringement, such as for unauthorized use of photographs taken by a volunteer."

Nancy Mann Jackson is a freelance writer in Birmingham, Alabama. Email: [email protected]