Technology has transformed many aspects of our lives, and we’ve come to take for granted that we can implement it. However, technology doesn’t exist in a vacuum; there are use repercussions. The common practice of screening movies in waiting rooms is one widely misunderstood example.
Purchase of a DVD bestows ownership rights that allow it to be played in small groups in private so long as no fees are collected. Netflix has similar usage rights.. These rights specifically prohibit any display in a commercial or public setting.
According to the Motion Picture Association of America, minimum fines begin at $750 per the number of offenses. And the MPAA has an investigative staff of 10,000 field representatives looking to stop infringement, so the exposure is real. Medical and dental practices, for instance, are subject to fines of up to $150,000 as a result of entertainment in their lobby, exam, operatory or recovery areas from the MPAA.
The risk is not only with violating the terms and conditions of the DVD or Netflix account, but also with the MPAA and the federal government. And the risk remains if the business provides a DVD player for the customer to use even with his or her own DVD, as it is thereby in the position of contributory infringer by providing the means for the customers to watch the videos in a public place. Using a cable/satellite TV provider and playing premium non-advertiser supported programming also carries risk, as terms and conditions specifically prohibit public exhibition of this content — and being a private practice does not preclude specific areas from legally being considered “public.”
Businesses can overcome this technology conundrum by working with a company that provides licensed content and entertainment, by contracting with their cable or satellite provider for channels they are free to publicly display in their business, or by purchasing licensing from the various organizations who handle the copyrights.
Jennifer J. Walsh is the owner of Screen Content Management
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