Is including a movie poster image in a blog legal?
August 20, 2009 6:30 AM   Subscribe

Question about copyright of DVD/CD cover images, and movie images/posters, and posting them on a blog.

I have a blog, where I discuss movies I see (not necessarily "reviews", but just discussing what was interesting, and linking it back to real life experiences/thoughts).

I'd like to include an image with my posts, such as the DVD cover, or movie poster. However, I would first like to know what the copyright situation of this is, and whether posting these images is legal.

Additionally, what about screencaps from a movie?
posted by t-rex to Computers & Internet (8 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
This is a cagey situation. All that work is copyrighted, but if you're commenting on it (be it a review or a commentary, etc) then minor usage would fall under "fair use". But you must use a small portion of it, so perhaps one poster, and/or one or two screencaps.

The more you use, the more in the crosshairs you could become.
posted by arniec at 7:00 AM on August 20, 2009

Best answer: I'm not an attorney, but I do have both a personal and professional interest in copyright law. First, the DVD cover, movie poster, screencaps, etc., are all copyrighted. With a few exceptions: anything from before 1923 is in the public domain in the US, so if you're working with those you're OK. (That's for the thing itself you're looking at: a new DVD cover created in 2000 for a movie which was originally released in 1920 is still copyrighted.) At some times copyright renewal was required, so for some older works if the copyright wasn't renewed it might have fallen into the public domain, but that's hard to determine. But for any relatively recent movies, yes, they're copyrighted.

That said, you might be able to use covers/posters/screencaps under fair use. However, fair use is a very grey area of the law, and there's no way to know for sure whether use of copyrighted material falls under fair use or not, short of an actual lawsuit where the judge makes the ultimate determination of whether a use falls under fair use or not. There are guidelines for fair use, namely the four factors judges are expected to consider in determining whether a use is fair use or not, but it's not as simple as adding up how many factors fall in your favor and how many fall against you. Anyone who tells you they have a black-and-white test for determining whether a given use qualifies as fair use or not, short of actually bringing the matter before a judge in a lawsuit, does not know what they are talking about. However, in your case many elements would be in your favor: you're using the material for criticism; I assume you're not profiting yourself from your posts (if you are, that's less good for you); your use is unlikely to harm sales of the work; and for the screencaps at least, you're reproducing only a very small portion of the movie.

Now, as a practical matter, it seems that studios don't care too much about enforcing copyright against people using covers, posters, or a small number of screencaps as illustrations in works about a movie. And even if they do, as long as it's just a smallish blog and not a money-making venture, at worst you're likely to get a cease and desist (C&D) notice from the studio ("this infringes our copyright, please remove it"), in which case you remove it, and everyone's happy. Assuming you promptly remove anything for which you do receive a C&D notice, you're highly unlikely to face a lawsuit.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 7:01 AM on August 20, 2009 [2 favorites]

I am so much not a lawyer - and now our feature presentation:

Some would argue that you're in violation of copyright if you call a local radio station and say, "could you play that one song, you know, the one that goes "Duh DUH duh duh! Do do DUH da!" (unauthorized derivative work) Someone owns the rights to everything you just describe, and what is allowed under fair use is highly debatable. It's not a matter of being illegal though. Copyright is civil law. The owner can ignore you, tell you to take it down, or get more legalistic about it if they want. Don't make them want.

Personally, I wouldn't worry to much about it, other than to put some sort of disclaimer on my page that said that the movies, characters and such were the properties of their respective studios and that I was making no particular claims about them.

Linking the the IMDB, Netflix and/or Amazon is going to make it real hard for some weasel-like lawyer who's trying to make his annual goal of suing a zillion fans to claim that you post a tiny image of a movie poster is damaging the studio's bottom line, but more ludicrous things have happened.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 7:04 AM on August 20, 2009

But you must use a small portion of it, so perhaps one poster,

Really? One poster is a small portion of a movie? Or is it an artwork unto itself?
posted by Jaltcoh at 7:06 AM on August 20, 2009

One way to get around it would be to sign up to Amazon's referrer scheme, which actively suggests that you put DVD covers and the like on your site for promotion purposes...
posted by almostwitty at 9:19 AM on August 20, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Devils Advocate's answer is an accurate general assessment of copyright. However, for the purposes you describe, a DVD cover on a film review site absolutely would qualify for Fair Use. This is the context in which Wikipedia is using assorted film posters and cover art.
posted by DarlingBri at 1:13 PM on August 20, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks guys! Helpful.

@DarlingBri: I forgot to mention in my post, but Wikipedia was actually something I'd been wondering about, as I'd seen it mention Fair Use.
posted by t-rex at 3:55 PM on August 20, 2009

I post video game covers on my website using Amazon's Affiliate links and have never had a problem.
posted by IndigoRain at 4:31 PM on August 20, 2009

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