By Terry Burns, Michigan Auto Dealers Assn. Executive VP
Michigan Auto Dealers Assn. (MADA Executive VP and Secretary Terry Burns in tandem with the Detroit Auto Dealers Assn. (DADA) made us aware of a potential issue regarding the Motion Picture Licensing Corp. and has given us permission to share the following article written for his membership.
The Motion Picture Licensing Corporation (MPLC) contacted many dealerships to remind dealers that content displayed on waiting room TVs, in employee break areas, or other common spaces, may be copyrighted material. Showing the content in public areas is referred to as a “public performance” (as opposed to watching a movie in the privacy of your own home), and it requires proper licensing.
Copyright law in the United States is governed by the Copyright Act of 1976, which provides very strict rules by which your store must abide or face substantial monetary damages. The “public performance” provision of the U.S. Copyright Act applies to public exhibitions of movies, TV, and other audiovisual “copyrighted” content enjoyed from sources like broadcast, cable or satellite television, DVD, Blu-ray, download, or streaming platforms.
DADA, MADA and our attorneys have spoken with MPLC representatives to discuss their various communications and licensing requirements. Here is the overview of the discussions: dealers who want to keep the TVs on should get the proper license or closely monitor TV programming to avoid showing copyrighted material.
Options to maintain a TV for customer or employee viewing:
A) Purchase an umbrella license through MPLC and show the media within the license rules, and not worry about this any further. The cost per location is $289.00 per year.
B) Carefully manage all content on your TVs to display only non-copyrighted material. If you have purchased a cable or satellite “business” account that covers some commercial licenses to air cable programming, it may be possible to play “all news programing” or some “sports programming.” According to the MPLC, these business packages do not include public performance rights for all the content in the package.
You might be able to show some sports on TV, but if the cable provider transitions into an ESPN “30 for 30” segment (for example), which is copyrighted, you will have to change the channel in your waiting area or turn the TV off. The same applies to some 24-hour news content when they play a documentary, special programing, or any other copyrighted programing. Do not allow customers access to the remote and ensure employees who monitor TV content are aware of the rules and can change the station or turn off the TV if needed.
Option C) is to continue as you currently operate and risk possible fines, extravagant royalty fees and penalties that can be imposed under applicable copyright law.
Over the past 12 months, we have learned that some people enjoy turning in businesses they think are not adhering to certain rules. Also keep in mind that MPLC may choose to make an example out of some businesses found showing the copyrighted material without paying the licensing fee. Thus, it would be prudent for you to make sure you can comply with the copyright laws.
Whatever option you choose should be reviewed with your attorney to ensure compliance. MPLC is a legitimate organization, and they do have the authority to protect the owners of copyrighted materials. The organization has made an effort to contact dealerships about this issue, so they will likely follow up with you until you have formally addressed the issue.
This advisory has been prepared in conjunction with Colombo & Colombo, P.C., and Abbott Nicholson, P.C.