What are the legal issues related to lipdub videos?

This week, I twittered about a lipdub video created by students at l’Université du Québec à Montréal. It’s a great look into the school’s communication arts programs and the various talents of the students. If you missed it, here’s the video.

Here’s another one of my favorite one-take videos done by students. Watch it in HD over at Vimeo.

I’d love to do this here, in fact, we’ve been planning something similar even before the Montreal video hit it huge the last week or so.

Here’s the big question that’s been we’ve been thinking about quite a bit. What are the legal issues relating to a college or university creating its own lip-dup video and using it as a promotional tool?

I think it’s one thing if students create videos like this. What’s the worst that could happen? A take-down notice? Big deal.

If the college does it with no regard for the legalities, our videos may be taken down but we may also be targets of litigation.

So what are our options?

Don’t do a lipdub video.

License the performance rights to the song or the original recording
This is a strange and confusing legal realm. There are different sorts of rights you can purchase, including the song, a certain performance of a song, and so on.

One the agencies that sells these performance rights is BMI. They have an entire section of their site for colleges and universities (here in the US.) As I read it, and keep in mind IANAL, if we purchase an annual license from BMI, that covers things like public performances. From their website:

Q: What Types of Musical Performances Does The License Cover?

The BMI Music Performance Agreement for Colleges and Unversities covers, but is not limited to, live or recorded performances by or at the college or university’s:

* Internet or Intranet sites or services including webcasts of campus radio station broadcasts
* Regular campus radio broadcasts
* Cable TV Systems
* Sporting events
* Student unions
* Fraternities/sororities
* Musical attractions (promoted solely by the college)
* Classrooms
* Fairs
* Festivals
* Fitness centers
* Athletic facilities
* Socials
* College bands
* College theater groups
* College orchestras
* Music-on-hold
* Special events such as orientation and graduation

This license does not include:

* Performances of music via any form of televised transmission, whether over-the-air broadcast, cable, satellite or otherwise;
* Dramatic rights (as defined in paragraph 2 of the agreement);
* Performances of music by a coin-operated phonorecord player (jukebox);
* Musical attractions on campus promoted by outside promoters;
* Musical attractions occurring outside of the premises, except as part of community outreach and educations activities;
* Performances by commercial radio stations

Does that mean something like a lip-dub video hosted on a college’s website would be okay to do? Have you ever waded into this area at your college or university?

3 thoughts on “What are the legal issues related to lipdub videos?”

  1. Really interesting. When I first saw the video I was wondering what the legal ramifications were.

    When it comes to YouTube it is important to keep in mind that they have a three strike rule regarding copyright infringement. If your account is in violation three times they will shut you down. Universities have to be unbelievably careful about what they post.

    As cool as an idea like this is, I definitely prefer to air on the side of caution. It’s just not worth risking one of those three strikes.

  2. When you synchronize a song to video or film, you need a “synch” license from the publisher of the song. If you make copies of a sound recording owned by a record company, you also need permission from that company. Your BMI license does not cover synchronizing music to video or making copies of recordings. BMI’s web site has a search feature which will give you the contact information on a song’s publisher, but you must have the song title exactly right — and sometimes there are multiple compositions under the same title. You have to figure out which one is the right one. Knowing the name of the songwriter helps you to determine which song is the one you want. BMI licenses 6.5 million songs, about half the music played in the U.S.

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