I was wondering what the law was regarding copyright material on your reel. If I were to download a TV show I acted in off itunes, remove the DRM copyright and edit it onto my reel, what is the worst that could happen?
Nothing. You're not directly making money by selling your reel. So no harm done.
While I do not think there is much likelihood of legal action for that situation, whether or not there is money involved is not determinative as regards what constitutes copyright violation.
Copy Right (I say it that way to make a point) is not the right to copies. You can be sued and punished for making copies of copyrighted materials even if you do not make money and even if you do not make additional copies than one just for your self.
In the situation under discussion the worst case scenario would be a "cease and desist" letter from a lawyer. If it the actor posts the material on the Internet, that would letter certainly also would include a takedown notice, directed either to the person posting it, or to the hosting service of the web site, or both, under the DMCA (Google that).
The penalties can be serious, including criminal charges.
If you are speaking of a major content maker such as Disney, Sony, etc, they can get really nasty and vindictive. If it is a small, organization, they may not even care or may consider it in an enlightened fashion as promotion for them.
Bottom line, I am not a lawyer but have a lot of copyright experience. Please be sure of this, I am not telling you to go ahead. I am just saying that the first response is not correct. You probably would be violating the copyright. But I am aware there are situations where there are not serious consequences.
While this isn't 100% wrong, the "Damages" are an essential point of what is considered a infringiment, or whether or not it is fair use. While a cease and desist is always a possibility, for your own Demo Reel, it will not hold up in court because this is exactly the thing that Fair use is meant to protect.
Without writing a huge novel, here are the four factors of whether or not something is fair use:
the purpose and character of your use
the nature of the copyrighted work
the amount and substantiality of the portion taken, and
the effect of the use upon the potential market.
As you will see, the purpose is solely for the reel, and at no point is the actor claiming it as their own work (you should always leave the network bug if there is one for many reasons). The amount and substantiality is basically just a small clip of you, so its a small amount and insubstatial, someone isn't going to watch that and then not need to see the episode. And the effect on the potential market is nil, so there is no commercial loss here.
As you can see, we immediately satisfied three of the four fair use conditions.
Respectfully (and I mean that), courts do not make decisions based on such clear cut, mathematically weighted elements. That list you quoted(from the web site www.copyright.gov) continues on with very clear warnings that highlight the weakness of that as a defense against claims of copyright violation.
"Fair Use" is a highly subjective issue. It is not what lawyers and Courts call an "affirmative defense," such as, "I did not do it" or "I have a solid license in hand." Without an affirmative defense, a determined and well-financed claimant can make life miserable for someone offering "fair use" as a defense.
The issue posed by the original post is, given that the material in question is definitely copyrighted by someone else, what is the risk he runs of legal action for using that material without prior license?
That risk probably is low. But to proceed based on a "fair use" defense is not a good idea.
While fair use may be a highly subjective issue, these are the exact issues that it was created for.
If we ignore fair use, the next defense we come upon is that it is a derivative work. The video clips are re-edited into a new work that has a different focus than the original work. The idea of the reel is the promotion of the actor and not the initial intent of whatever the clip was from.
Since we're here, I will throw in the legal definition of a derivative work, straight from the US Copyright Act: "A “derivative work” is a work based upon one or more preexisting works, such as a translation, musical arrangement, dramatization, fictionalization, motion picture version, sound recording, art reproduction, abridgment, condensation, or any other form in which a work may be recast, transformed, or adapted. A work consisting of editorial revisions, annotations, elaborations, or other modifications which, as a whole, represent an original work of authorship, is a “derivative work”."
After that we also come upon the issue of your own rights. While this one is fairly complex with the split between the director, the actors and the cameramen, because there really isn't a single "creator" of the work, the jist is that unless you have signed away every single right there is, you still retain some sort of rights. And even there is still the right to personal use of any television clip. (Whether a reel is a personal or not is really a much larger semantic debate). Though, often in modeling contracts this right is specifically retained and it is considered "personal use" for the portfolio.
A subset of this part would come from the Right of Publicity, which basically is the right of an individual to control the commercial use of their name / image / likeness. So you can argue that since this is your career, and your reel is kind of like your business card, you should be able to control that how you like.
Now even if we forget those, this is an industry standard, and a well known one at that. So not only would that make it extremely hard for a Judge to rule against, and extremely pricey (not in legal fees, but in future productions and working with other actors), for any company to attempt, I imagine the precident setting nature of any case of this sort (of which I could not find any), would get the union and their folks involved as well.
A five paragraph post, if well thought out, is normally indicative of being well educated.
It appears that those who become upset at long messages are selective about whom they'll insult for it.
I have actually received a cease and desist order from the producers of a commercial I did. I took it down , and that was the end of it.
(Then I reposted it a couple months later on a dummy YouTube account. It's still up. But I made it unlisted, so they probably don't even know.)
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