Updated 02/19/2017

Module 67


 Module 67






Legal and

Ethical Issues

Part II

In this final section on legal and ethical issues we'll cover:

  • staging
  • copyright
  • talent and location releases


Staging applies to ENG and documentary work and involves the alteration of a news scene or the reenactment of an event without telling your audience.

The motivation for staging can range all the way from an attempt to enhance the look of a scene to a blatant attempt to alter the truth.

If staged footage is broadcast and is found to represent an effort to misrepresent the truth, it can result in fines by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), a lawsuit by an offended party, and a loss of credibility for a news organization -- not to mention severely damaging your professional status.

No matter what their personal feelings may be, professional news people need to present situations and viewpoints as honestly as possible.

Truth is easy to defend; slanting or doctoring a story isn't.

Although the latter route may be tempting, and may even be applauded by some viewers, in the long run it opens the door to  legal, ethical, and professional problems.  

Staging also involves the reenactment of events. Sometimes this is deemed acceptable, sometimes not.

For example, if you are covering "the handing over of the gavel" to gavel a newly-elected officer during a meeting, you will frequently find that the people involved often expect -- maybe even prefer -- to do the whole thing over again afterwards for the media.

This allows camera people to light the scene as they want, make sure no people are blocking camera angles, and arrange people so they can all be clearly seen. It is doubtful that the public expects authenticity in this type of situation.

But, there are other times when the public assumes they are seeing "the moment."

If you reenact a critical moment in sports history when someone breaks the world high-jump record and you don't bother to inform your audience that what they are seeing is actually a warm-up or a reenactment, it's an entirely different matter.

Question: is it unethical to simply enhance a scene by removing distractions on a desk, moving a coat rack out from behind someone's head, or setting up your own special lighting?

Although "purists" might argue that you are "tampering with the truth" if you change anything in a scene, most videographers routinely do these things when they see a need.

The dividing line is whether you are enhancing a scene for the sake of clarity and technical quality, or distorting the truth.   

Using Comparable Footage

A related issue is the use of comparable footage, video that appears to be the event being reported, but is from an earlier time or even from a different place.

For example, you might be tempted to cut in some unused scenes from yesterday's forest fire to illustrate today's story on the same fire. Some would say, "A fire's a fire, what's the difference?"

Well, there is a difference, and the FCC has taken a dim view of this kind of substitution -- unless the fact is made clear to the audience. Simply keying the phrase "file footage" or an earlier date over the footage will suffice.

Copyrighted Materials

Music, photo illustrations, drawings and published text are copyrighted and cannot be broadcast or reproduced for distribution without clearance or permission from the copyright holder.

Under 1998 U.S. copyright revisions, copyright now extends for the life of an artist or individual copyright holder, plus 70 years.

Copyrights owned by corporations are valid for 95 years. However, since copyright times not only change but vary with different countries, it's best to check.

tvp067_6.jpgUsing something that's copyrighted without permission can result in a $25,000 fine and one year in prison.

And that's only for the first offense; things get worse after that.

For example, these TV production materials are protected by US copyright law and can only be used directly from the CyberCollege or the InternetCampus web sites.

However, one non-democratic country reproduced the materials for its own purposes and in the process deleted references to freedom of the press. (One disgruntled person in that country brought this to our attention.)

Sometimes, especially in the case of noncommercial television, permission to use copyrighted materials will be granted without charge, simply for on-screen credit. More typically, a fee must be paid to the copyright holder.

But, to protect yourself and your company or institution, make sure you get the permission in writing from a person who has the power to grant it.

In the case of videos, you can feel reasonably safe using copyrighted material that will be viewed only by family members or a small group of people where no admission is charged.

But if you are producing the video for broadcast or distribution or you intend to enter the piece in a video contest that is giving away prizes, you'll need permission to use copyrighted material, plus a signed talent release from on-camera principals. More on that later.

Text, photos, film, or video produced by the U.S. federal government do not fall under copyright restrictions unless they were done by an outside agency that used copyrighted material. It's best to check.

The Fair Use Act

The fair use act allows sample parts of copyrighted material to be temporarily used in limited ways for criticism, teaching, scholarship, news, or research without the permission of the copyright holder.

For example, if you were doing an educational retrospective of Michael Jackson's life and you said that Thriller remains the best-selling album of all time, you could bring in a short segment of one of the cuts to remind people of the music. However, you couldn't use a complete cut as theme music for your production.

It also makes a difference whether your production is intended for open distribution or is limited to a closed, nonpaying audience, such as a classroom. 

Unfortunately, fair use is not well defined. We'll only get a clearer picture of what constitutes fair use after a number of court cases have addressed the issue.

Works in the Public Domain

A work is in the public domain when its copyright has expired. These works can be used without worry about copyright infringement.

However, you need to watch out for recent arrangements of public domain works that as a result come under new copyright restrictions.

Securing Rights to Music

This can be complicated.

Obtaining clearance to use a copyrighted music selection normally involves getting performance rights, mechanical rights, and synchronization rights.

  • performance rights are required to use music in a "public venue," which includes radio and TV broadcasts.

    This type of clearance is available from one of the music licensing agencies involved: ASCAP (American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers), BMI (Broadcast Music Incorporated) and SESAC (The Society of European Stage Actors and Composers).
  • mechanical rights allow you to record and play back the selection in a production as outlined in a licensing agreement.
  • synchronization rights are required to use the music as part of a sound track

Are you confused?  Then you definitely have been paying attention, because the process is confusing.

What most producers do is turn the whole thing over to an agency like the Harry Fox Agency in New York, which was founded by the National Music Publishers Association.

This agency serves as an information source and clearing house for music-licensing matters.

When you get in touch with them, make sure you have all the information at hand on the specifics of music you want to use.

It's important to note that the standard performing rights license that a broadcast station typically pays for does not normally cover the use of music in commercials, public service announcements, and productions.

You need to check your license carefully to see what it does and does not cover.

If you are producing video for a nonprofit or charitable organization, you may be able to get permission to use a music selection for free or for a token one-dollar fee. If this is how you intend to use the music, be sure to mention it when you contact one of these agencies.

Music and Sound Effect Libraries

Since music clearance is complex, cumbersome and confusing, many people opt to use audio libraries that include a wide variety of CD musical selections and sound effects.

Once the library is purchased, you can use the material over an extended length of time for most production purposes. This generally means the music comes with a master use clause that includes mechanical, synchronization, and performance rights.

Material in these libraries has been written or selected with the needs of the video and film producer in mind. With titles like "Manhattan Rush Hour," and "Serenity," you immediately know the nature of the musical selections.

One of the largest collections of sound effects, featuring some 2,500 effects on 40 CDs, is the red dot BBC Sound Effects Library.  

Under "Cars," for example, you will find sound effects such as windshield wipers, horns, various engines, a car stalling, doors slamming, windows opening, seat belts snapping, and a car skidding.

Under "Babies" you will find crying, hiccups, gurgling, laughing, bathing, babbling, coughing, first words, singing, and tantrums.  

Many postproduction houses put sound effects on their editing server. When an effect is needed, they just go into a master listing, find what they want and recall it instantly.

Thanks to digital electronics, each of these effects can be modified in endless ways to more perfectly meet needs -- speeded up, slowed down, filtered, and even reversed.

Using Original Music

To get around many of the problems in the use of recorded music many producers prefer original music. The advantages include.

  • it solves clearance problems
  • the music can be tailored to moods, pace and time requirements
  • it eliminates the "emotional baggage" (mental associations) that often accompanies well known musical selections

If the music is relatively simple (possibly a guitar, flute or organ), or it's electronically synthesized (which at least to some degree most music is today), original music can be produced rather inexpensively.

In the hands of an expert, a music synthesizer can create the sound of anything from a single instrument to what sounds like an orchestra.  

If you are at all musically inclined there are numerous computer programs that will create simple music with only minimal effort (and minimal musical talent).

Just one example is Creative's inexpensive red Prodikeys PC-Midi. The combination  computer keyboard and musical keyboard is shown above. The Internet has many programs, some of them free, that can be used for generating music and effects.

- This file summarizes some key points about intellectual property.

Talent Releases

We noted in Module 66 that using someone's "likeness" (generally, a photo or a video of them) without his or her permission can get you into legal trouble -- unless the video is shot in a public place.  (Bear in mind that places like shopping malls are not legally considered public if they are owned by companies or corporations -- which most are.)

By having clearly recognizable persons in your video sign a talent release or a model release you can be granted the permission you need. This step protects you in case the people involved later decide they don't want the footage broadcast, or suddenly want extra compensation. Here is a - sample talent release.

Location Release

It may come as a surprise that you may need a release to use some locations in a video.

For example, you could not use a well-known amusement park as a setting for your commercial video without the permission of the property owner.

Thus, we also have - location releases. Even the famous and very public Hollywood sign in California can't be legally used to promote an unrelated commercial cause.

Bear in mind that the "once over lightly" treatment of the legal issues in these two modules is only designed to alert you to possible danger areas. Law libraries have thousands of books on these areas and often there is still uncertainty about what's legal and what isn't.

About the only thing we know for sure is that lawsuits are very expensive for all parties involved, and the best defense is no offense.  

An excellent article on the use of copyrighted music can be red dot found here.

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