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Copyright Royalty Agencies Go After Pirates: Preschools and Community Centers

by October 28, 2008
Aaargh...Ill be commandeering that video now, matie.

Aaargh...I'll be commandeering that video now, matie.

When one thinks of a pirate, what’s the first thing to come to mind?

Why, villainous children at preschools and community centers of course.

The latest chapter in over zealous abuse of copyright fee collection is occurring in the UK where two groups, the Motion Picture Licensing Company (MPLC) representing Hollywood studios and the Performing Rights Society (PRS) representing composers and music publishers, are going after children at preschools in Ireland and charity based community centers in Scotland, respectively.

As the bastion of ethical business practices that it is, the MPAA has sent one of its licensing royalty collection front companies, the MPLC, to collect from that most devious of movie pirate, preschoolers.

Seems that the lads and lasses of the Irish Preschool Play Association (IPPA), may take in an occasional unlicensed public performance of a DVD now and again and the MPLC is not about to stand for any of that.

As to just how much copyright infringement is actually going on:

We would rarely show DVDs anyway because it’s frowned upon — kids get enough TV at home.  The odd time we would pretend to go to the cinema.  We give the children tickets and they watch 20 minutes of Snow White, Fireman Sam or SpongeBob.

Paula Doran, Manager, Kiddies Korner, Shankill, Dublin

Not so much it would seem.

Initially the MPLC contacted the IPPA to demand €10 per child from the 50,000 or so preschoolers in the IPPA system.  The IPPA negotiated the number down to €3 per child and allowed the MPLC to contact member schools only to find out later from a parent that the MPLC was not operating legally in Ireland.  That €3/child by 50,000 children is €150,000, over $200,000, all for a potential twenty-minute viewing by the children.

Meanwhile, the PRS is going after non-profit community centers that hold after school clubs for kids.  One such organization is the Yoker Resource Centre, which has been told to put up £3,000 per year if it wants to continue to use any TVs, radios, or CD players.

We can’t afford to pay this money.  Although we have a TV license for the centre under these rules we cannot let all the kids watch it.

Elizabeth Busby, After-School Supervisor, Yoker Resource Centre

The PRS likes to point out that under current copyright protections it is even infringement to play a radio within earshot of others in public without the proper license.  To prove the point, the PRS has gone after any organization it can find in order to collect, having targeted a car repair chain because the mechanics played radios loud enough for others to hear while they worked and even police who played music audible to other officers at the precinct.

Where this all comes from are how copyright laws have been written and how the entertainment industry chooses to lay claim to the rights granted.

Copyrighted entertainment content is typically sold under a non-negotiable license that only grants private performances rights from the copyright owner to the purchaser, think shrink-wrapped EULA.  Statutes in this country and many others make it illegal for unlicensed public performances, allowing rights holders to seek additional monetary compensation beyond the purchase price of the recorded medium.  Prior to the formation of organizations such as the MPLC, movies and other content had to be individually licensed, thus they were an attempt to simplify the system a bit.

Public performance is commonly taken by royalty collection agencies as any showing outside of a private residence, be it for profit business or a non-profit church or charity, and the rights holders don’t care if there is an admission charge or not, they want their money either way.

While it may be their legal right, heavily lobbied for of course by the entertainment industry, for these copyright groups to collect money from churches and charities, nothing requires them to enforce this right.

But read the MPLC Q&A page and this most certainly is not how they present the legal situation using scare tactics of the type that the law says there has to be a license so there better be one, the MPLC has its hands tied.  Of course, they neglect to mention the civil rather than criminal nature of this type of infringement; hence, enforcement based on civil lawsuits verses criminal prosecution for this type of infringement.

Q. We own the Video/DVD, do we still need a license to view or show it in public?

A. Yes. The location requires a license regardless of who owns the DVD. While you may own the actual DVD, you are only granted the right to view it in your home, not to perform it in public.

Q. We do not charge admission. Do we still need a license?

A. Yes. Regardless of whether an admission fee is charged, a license is required. However, the Umbrella License® covers only those situations where admission is not charged.

Note the flagrant attempt to trademark a generic term like umbrella license to maximize the groups potential for profitable litigation.

Q. We are a charity. Do we still need a license?

A. Yes. Under the law, it does not matter if you are a charity, government agency or limited company. You are required to have a public performance license to show DVDs.

Q. How much does the Umbrella License cost?

A. In most cases, the MPLC has set license fees based on the type and size of facility. However, if the facility and/or use falls outside of these categories we will determine a reasonably priced license fee within your organization’s means based on the nature and size of the audience and anticipated frequency of showings.

Q. We show DVDs on our closed-circuit system. Do we need a license?

A. Yes. The Copyright Act provides that closed-circuit transmissions are automatically deemed public performances.

Q. We are not open to the general public. Do we still need a license?

A. Yes. Any location outside of the home is considered public for copyright purposes and requires a license.

Q. We rent out our facility to other groups. Can we be liable for copyright infringement?

A. Yes. The facility owner can be held liable under the secondary infringement (Chapter 2 Section 25)


The law does not require a license, the law allows copyright holders to require a license if they so choose to enforce their rights.  This is an important distinction verses the bogus propaganda spin to deflect potential criticism of rights holders not charitable enough to allow charities to show an occasional video to disadvantaged kids or the brief time preschoolers get to play adult for 20 minutes on the rare cinema day.

Worse still is based on these overly broad governmental grant of rights listening to music in the car or taking the old radio on a picnic or to the beach requires a license; better be prepared to pay up if caught.

Does it matter how the music is performed?

No, whether the performance is played live or by such means as CD, radio, DVD, TV, karaoke etc, whether a charge is made for admission, or whether the performers are paid, a PRS Music License is still necessary.

MCPS-PRS Alliance, Your Questions Answered

The irony in all of this is that while unlicensed public performance of copyrighted works are typically illegal, the MPLC in its quest to enforce its legal rights didn’t see the need to follow the law regarding how they can go about demanding licensing fees.  Under Irish law, the 2000 Copyright Act, copyright collection organizations like the MLPC are required to register for licensure to do as such with the Irish Patents Office (IPO).  Oops.

Behavior like this should not really unexpected as the MPAA and other rights holders routinely trample the legal rights of others to enforce their own rights.

Consider the RIAA’s extortion campaign of sending file sharers a prelitigation letter that demands payment under duress of threat of litigation.  Pay up or a lawsuit gets filed.

These letters are blatant shakedown attempts through threats of legal consequences if the payment is not made.  With legal defense costs what they are and the unreliable flimsiness of the evidence the RIAA collects, there are certainly some accused who make payment out of fear even if they are in fact innocent.  The RIAA has never been particularly careful with who they send notices to with the dead, people who don’t posses computers, and even printers targeted; with accuracy such as that, its not a stretch to wonder how many people who receive these prelitigation letters actually committed any acts of file sharing.

Consider the MPAA’s Internet-based private investigators, Media Sentry (MS) and Media Defender (MD), sniffing out copyright infringers across the Internet and every state line with nary a private investigators license in any jurisdiction to show for it.  This one is bad enough that complaints against MD and MS to the Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Growth lead to a ruling against them for not having proper licensure to undertake such activity in the state.  These companies have then promptly ignored the Cease and Desist order from Michigan as well as those from other states.  These actions lead Michigan legislators to pass a law to clear up any ambiguity by explicitly require licensure for these firms.

Consider rights holders, the likes of the MPAA and the RIAA, sending dubious DMCA takedown notices for every perceived infringement on sites like You Tube.  Infringement may be illegal, but under the DMCA, so is sending bogus takedown notices and rights holders are constantly pushing up against Fair Use of content hoping to diminish legal uses that don’t provide them additional payment.  Some recent legal rulings have pushed back on that point finding that rights holders need to consider legally accepted Fair Use before sending DMCA notices.

So do these copyright royalty groups have the right to collect from preschools and charities?

Under the current laws, yes they do.

But, do they really need to?

Let’s not forget that these laws were lobbied for by copyrights holders.  But, we should also not forget that the laws do not compel the rights holders to enforce these rights, as the rights holders would like to suggest for PR damage control.  These laws provide civil remedy for perceived harm to rights holders, and apparently the entertainment industry feels threatened by young children who aren’t forking up enough money to these companies.

As far as the movie and music industry is concerned, it’s strict adherence to the law for others, but for big media, only when it’s convenient.  As far as the entertainment industry is concerned, charity is for others...

…darn infringers.


About the author:
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Professionally, David engineers building structures. He is also a musician and audio enthusiast. David gives his perspective about loudspeakers and complex audio topics from his mechanical engineering and HAA Certified Level I training.

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Recent Forum Posts:

haraldo posts on October 31, 2008 19:15
mtrycrafts, post: 475945
The public has been well brainwashed into consumerism, shop until you drop, then when the pain is gone, resume the activity

Well of course, that's what all commercials are about, if you want a good happy life you will have to buy all of these really expensive things, but you won't get more happy….

The best things I ever experienced never cost me anything……
mtrycrafts posts on October 31, 2008 15:49
jinjuku, post: 475371
We don't learn our lessons from stuff that happened a year ago. Guess what? Now that gas has been down to sub $2.50 truck and SUV sales have started inching back up.

This country is full of idiots that don't learn their lessons.

The public has been well brainwashed into consumerism, shop until you drop, then when the pain is gone, resume the activity
mudrummer99 posts on October 30, 2008 21:54
This quite possibly is the worst thing I have ever heard. Not because because they are over stepping what would be considered common courtesy, but because someone at the top thinks this is ok. This is precisely what has been happening to our economy. People without morals or scruples have been running just about every aspect of our country. People that put more value into getting their next million than they do about taking care of their customers/employees/etc. Our country was founded on the ideals that if people work hard enough they can accomplish anything. Now it seems that people have learned that if they walk on those that work hard enough, they really can accomplish anything, and that is simply wrong. This may not be a good thing that is happening, but this is not the underlying problem, it is just an ugly symptom.

We all know the figures, XX% of the wealth is owned by X% of the population. This is the way things work. The ridiculously rich stay that way and it (quite literally) takes an act of congress to change that. Since many of those people are in the X%, that really isn't going to happen. But what could happen is not making life rougher on Joe 6P just so you can buy that 4th Ferrari. I am not a very religious person, but I sincerely believe in Kharma and all of the people will answer for their wrong doings at some point, Enron being a decent example. Yes, this rant has many tangents, mainly since I believe there are simply too problems to narrow it down to just a few key issues plaguing this country. I'll end there or I'll go on all night. Thanks for reading.

haraldo posts on October 30, 2008 18:50
jinjuku, post: 475515
They won't go out of business anytime soon. They have the law and consumers right were the want them. Money well spent on our congressional leaders I would say.

No I don't think that's going to happen too, but at least it's our obligation as consumers to say that we don't accept these things… And consumers may make a difference, what happens if enough of consumers get the idea and stop buying products from a given company……
jinjuku posts on October 30, 2008 18:30
haraldo, post: 475502
When will the “licensing idiots” stop this madness

This thing, is just more horrible than horrible is, how much greed is it possible to show, Companies and organizations disclosing such attitudes and business practices must come to an end, we as consumers have the power to make that happen, if there are many enough opposing such things

They won't go out of business anytime soon. They have the law and consumers right were the want them. Money well spent on our congressional leaders I would say.

Think about this: The first few years of this decade lending requirements for home mortgages are eased up on. Hundreds of thousands of people are given home loans that shouldn't have gotten them.

Next: Change the bankruptcy laws…

Has the ring of a conspiracy theory, no?
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