School Gouge
May 15, 2010 2:32 AM   Subscribe

My child attends a local school and is in year one. Recently the kids gave their mid-year concert. All was lovely and cute, except the school’s attitude which has left me feeling like I’ve been - well gouged, and somewhat annoyed.

We attended the concert to find out that photography of any kind is banned – the school cite copyright reasons – but I seriously doubt this – but rather feel that it’s the $22 they want to charge for the DVD of the concert (on top of the $5 entry fee). The concert programme actually states “if found using a camera you will be ejected and your camera confiscated”

This has me thinking – I did sign a release (at enrolment) stating that I give the school permission to use my child’s image – but I stipulated that it was not to be used for marketing or commercial activities.

Surely selling this DVD contravenes my instructions. On top of this, I feel that the school has removed an important “rite of passage” in me being able to video my child’s first performance. I am aware that schools are now very wary of allowing children to be filmed – I would have no problem if this was the reason stated, and that the DVD was made available for free to parents -or even at a nominal cost - indeed I don't really mind if it was fund raising for a particular goal and this was stated.

The school is a public school, is in an affluent area and is well attended – this behaviour makes me feel, well icky.

Is this normal school behaviour?
posted by the noob to Society & Culture (31 answers total)
Where are you?
posted by mdonley at 2:46 AM on May 15, 2010

IANAL, but the idea that copyright infringement is in play seems implausible. It also seems ridiculous to suggest that the school has any power to confiscate your personal property.

No, not normal in my neighborhood.
posted by jon1270 at 2:51 AM on May 15, 2010 [2 favorites]

The banning of cameras is - if the papers are to be believed - not uncommon. The reasons are typically specious and a bit bemusing if the performance is going to be made available anyway. One sensible-ish reason for *asking* people not to film is so you don't have 100 amateur Martin Scorceses trying to capture little Joey's moment of stardom.

Nonetheless, $22 might be the nominal cost, once you factor in the cost of filiming and the cost of small scale distribution.

But the bit about ejecting people who use cameras reads very heavy handed and looks taken straight from a commercial theater program. I would guess at a mixture of administrative naivety and fear (not greed - the fear is that having paid for the filming of the performance and DVD production they won't make their money back).
posted by MuffinMan at 2:53 AM on May 15, 2010

noob: “This has me thinking – I did sign a release (at enrolment) stating that I give the school permission to use my child’s image – but I stipulated that it was not to be used for marketing or commercial activities.”

The undercurrent of your question seems to be a concern that perhaps these school plays have become a commercial activity. This seems highly unlikely. Schools are more commonly underfunded than not. And furthermore as someone who has some experience in education, let me say that the vast majority of teachers, principals and choir directors hate monetizing the whole thing and charging money for DVDs. It's not something they tend to enjoy doing. It's something they're usually forced to do. (Or perhaps you come from a country in which schools are well-funded, and this isn't normal. I know that, at least in the United States, where I am, the situation you describe is depressingly more normal every year.)

One good way to work to prevent this kind of thing happening in the future would be to approach the teachers and offer to help organize the next fundraiser that's needed.

What country are you in? Your question doesn't tell us that. I can understand not wanting to say exactly where, but even just a country would help us. Although of course you don't have to tell us if you don't want to - heh.
posted by koeselitz at 3:02 AM on May 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

Good quality video production can be expensive. If the intent is to make a really good video of the performance, they may indeed by charging you cost only. The results could be far far better than anything you could achieve with a cheap consumer camera shooting from a seat in the audience, where most of the audio you'll get will be your neighbours rustling. Plus, you get to spend that time actually watching your daughter and concentrating on appreciating her performance rather than staring at a tiny LCD screen.

Really it's bordering on rude to be sitting there camera in hand during a performance. It's like sitting there playing with your phone, or chatting to your neighbour.

Their policies, however, do seem ill-thought-through, especially the parts about copyright and confiscating cameras. Could you write them a letter outlining your concerns and asking them to clarify their position?
posted by emilyw at 3:09 AM on May 15, 2010

The copyright argument could be: they legally licensed the material presented, and therefore by filming it yourself, you'd be 'pirating' it. And some of the proceeds of the DVD sales go to the song writers. But I think that's really unlikely. You should ask them to clarify who they think owns the copyright.

Also, yeah it would help to know where you are more specifically. The phrase "Public School" has the opposite meaning in the U.S. and U.K.

If this were in the U.S, and they didn't license any material, then I don't think it's possible for them to own a copyright on the school play. The federal government can't own copyrights and I don't think state governments can either.
posted by delmoi at 3:11 AM on May 15, 2010

Response by poster: Where are you?

posted by the noob at 3:39 AM on May 15, 2010

Response by poster: The material that have sourced is mainly in the public domain - Waltzing Matilda, old bush songs etc. They did do a version of Click go the Shears which has been the subject of a recent copyright battle with Colin Hays and the owner of the music.

RE good quality video production - single a fixed position camera.

And yes, parents filming their children can be distracting - but this has happened in school concerts for many years.
posted by the noob at 3:45 AM on May 15, 2010

1) Paying someone to film and edit the performance can be surprisingly expensive

2) Copyright claims are total bullshit

3) They cannot confiscate your camera, they don't have the right

4) I have seen forbidding cameras and charging for dvds before. But - here in Sydney, Australia, it's still not the majority.
posted by smoke at 3:50 AM on May 15, 2010

The school may also have regulations regarding the filming of students - in other words, they can do it but for you to do it you would need a bunch of releases. I know that we have to ask families to only take photos of their children (public library). So they don't want you taking videos and putting them online and getting them into trouble that way.
posted by geek anachronism at 3:55 AM on May 15, 2010

This is normal for dance recitals and shows in my area (SF bay). Everything you mentioned was the same for us, down to the wording on the program. My kid isn't in school yet, so I'm not sure about the publc school system here.

It's disappointing and my husband also felt like a "rite of passage" was being taken away. It felt a bit scammy to me, but the director of the dance school made sure parents knew they were making no profit from the recital. She mentioned 'paparazzi parents' becoming distractions and wanting parents to be able to sit back and enjoy the show as reasons for their policy.
posted by re.becca at 3:57 AM on May 15, 2010

Not a lawyer, not an Australian, but found the Australian Copyright Council webpage and the Q and A on music in home videos (others can read it to confirm or say…no, wrong interpretation[follow link to get PDF)

In Australia, there is copyright that applies to performances, but a school is exempt

If you want to film music at a (lets say wedding), you can apply to film it and be exempt but you must file for a one time event through AMCOS Maybe you want to file?

According to the PDF Q and A – filming musicians, everyone must give their permission to be filmed. The school did do this (so even if you did film, would you get permission from other parents?)

Will follow thread because Im curious...not sure if I understaood this
posted by Wolfster at 4:07 AM on May 15, 2010

Actually lovie, the Colin Hay copyright issue was over "Kookaburra Sits in the Old Gum Tree". I've heard of people doing this dvd thing at ballet recitals in Australia.... Sydney's north shore. And charging a hefty fee for the tickets too!
posted by taff at 5:49 AM on May 15, 2010

No filming at performances was a common policy even when I was in school decades ago. To have people milling around with cameras, blocking others' view of the stage to get just the right angle of their kid's solo, etc., is disturbing to the audience as well as to the kids performing ("wave to the camera, honey!"). You might check on the production costs, but it doesn't sound like the school is profiteering with their video. I would guess they're just trying to keep the audience seated and civil during the performance, and they've decided that scary copyright legalese is a good way to get the attention of video-crazy parents.
posted by philokalia at 6:25 AM on May 15, 2010 [3 favorites]

The discussions of the school's intent, and how noble and a-commercial most school employees everywhere are, is a derail.

Profit-motive or not, the school is indeed commercializing your child's image (assuming that he or she actually appears in the DVD, of course), and therefore violating the terms of the previous contract.

Unfortunately, the night-of you are at risk of being asked to leave (but they can't force you to surrender your property), so best not to screw with that.

Personally, I'd wield the lawyer weapon via a letter, threatening to take action if the school can't prove with documentation that the videos are being sold at-cost. And remind them in that letter that stills and video clips of the performance may not appear in marketing for the school. The point would be to ensure that the school knows they can't fuck with you with impunity, as they are currently (apparently) doing.

If you wield the letter beforehand, you might be given permission to bring a camera... but it's also possible they'll just cancel the video recording and let everyone know it's your fault.
posted by IAmBroom at 6:53 AM on May 15, 2010

so, it was a good performance, you didn't say that you disliked the school otherwise, my question would be, was it worth $22 to you to be able to focus on your kid (instead on the lighting, the camera angle, the people in the way, and all the rest of the stuff that goes into filming something like this), and to NOT put your kid in the middle of a "situation"...

buy the dvd, tell them thanks for letting you sit back and enjoy the show...

I doubt they're using the money to go buy drugs....
posted by HuronBob at 7:04 AM on May 15, 2010

The non-affluent groups my kids were involved with had no problems with filming or photographing kids performances. My niece's dance school though, not allowed. You had to buy the DVD or professional shots. I'm Australian. Perhaps selling DVDs is the new rite of passage for schools.
posted by b33j at 7:09 AM on May 15, 2010

Is this normal school behaviour?

Not in East Coast America. They would have to prise cameras out of a lot of cold dead hands in our part of the world. (For my part, I've never had a problem with Proud Parents filming a performance- kind of surprised at the heat that sort of thing generates here. It's a grade school performance, fercrissake, not a Broadway production.)

Sounds like bad administration and PR, between the threats and the (to my mind valid) observations you make.

That said, is there any action you're willing to take? Is it worth your time and energy to follow up? Would any good come of it? Do other parents share your concerns (I know I would)?
posted by IndigoJones at 7:10 AM on May 15, 2010

I run school assemblies and have never heard of this. How revolting. Get over yourselves. I mean, I work very hard on the staging, the sound, the rehearsals, the songs — but then I recognize parents just want to take pictures of their kids singing and acting things out. It is, as Indigo Jones says, just a grade school performance.

If the DVD really is good quality, people will want to buy it anyway. I would politely point this out to a relevant and sympathetic figure, and I would also point out that the (how would I say this) "wording in the program seemed really aggressive. Several parents I talked to [white lie] were offended. I wonder if there isn't a better and more constructive way to reach out to parents."
posted by argybarg at 7:17 AM on May 15, 2010 [2 favorites]

I'm on the side of the school not wanting a parade of parents with cameras and videocams disrupting the performance for everyone, start to finish. Plus the kids probably have their hands full on stage trying to do their thing without being distracted by constant flash photography and entreaties to "wave to the camera, sweetie", as mentioned above.

I always hated the sideline parents when I was a kid trying to play sports or perform a show. I had a very frank talk with my mom & dad at age 8 about not yelling and waving to me while I was on field or stage. They took it well. You should too.

Enjoy the show, donate $22 to the school for their efforts, and cherish the professional-quality DVD of the evening at home later.
posted by Aquaman at 7:29 AM on May 15, 2010 [3 favorites]

I was hired once, as videographer (and eventual DVD producer) for one of these school shows because the parents had become relentless about getting right up at the front of the stage, blocking the view of others, using flash photography, stumbling over other parents, and generally ruining the experience of every other attendee who wasn't as aggressive in documenting for all eternity the performance of their kid.

So, I shot the video and the parents were told to cool it. What I did see parents do was kind of appalling. Jostling, standing right in front of the first seated row, use of the kind of flash that might be used to light up the inside of a hollow asteroid. Although their behavior was still fairly obnoxious, I was told that what I witnessed was rather tame as compared to the antics of previous years.

Granted, I didn't charge twenty-two dollars for a DVD. Even for one of those archival DVD-Rs which I also selected for maximum playback compatibility, copying them one by one and testing each, after having built nice menus and such, cute jewelcases, I didn't charge half of that.

While I think there might have been the aforementioned motive, you are definitely being gouged.
posted by adipocere at 7:29 AM on May 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

School administrators and teachers can be surprisingly tone-deaf when making pronouncements like these. For one thing, they're used to being listened to. As well, it helps if there is a strong and cohesive parents association.

No matter what the reason, the school needs to do a better job of explaining why photography is banned, and they should also avoid making threats about confiscating cameras.

Schools are communities after all.

The best thing to do would be to chat with your school's parents association to test the waters - maybe other parents feel the same way you do.

After that, talk to the principal. Outline your concerns. See if you can arrange for some way to take photos.
posted by KokuRyu at 7:44 AM on May 15, 2010

If you have any type of Parents-Teachers Association (PTA), you could attend the next meeting and raise the issue. You may learn why they have that policy, but likewise, find that there are like minded parents who might argue for a change with you.
posted by Atreides at 7:45 AM on May 15, 2010

As a parent whose oldest is just graduating HS, I can't count the number of performances I've had to watch over the years through first a b/w viewfinder, later a color viewfinder,and finally a 2.5" LCD screen. I would give anything to have been able to sit back and enjoy the show, knowing I could buy a professionally made DVD when it was over. If they're trying to make a profit that's not right, but you won't know that unless you engage the school in a friendly manner. Maybe you could even improve the process by helping them set up digital downloads via an e-commerce site.

But please, no terse emails alluding darkly to potential legal action -- never ascribe to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 8:40 AM on May 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

$22 isn't that bad. Even if they aren't selling the videos at cost, the extra money is presumably going back into the school. It's not like some fatcat principal is rolling in the profits now. I say pick your battles.
posted by ishotjr at 9:12 AM on May 15, 2010

We have this issue in my daughter's school. The reason we have not been allowed to shoot stills or video is because you know that release you signed? Well in our school some parents didn't and with good reason. Our school district has "safe houses", and the families who are sheltering there need to not be found.

If one person uploads photos of the performance to the internet and tags the students names, however well intentioned, the safety of these families is compromised. By having one source of images, these children can be edited out or made un-identifiable in some way.

The policy your school has is a much better one than not allowing photos at all.
posted by lunaazul at 1:48 PM on May 15, 2010

I would not assume the $22 all goes to the school. If they brought in professional videographers, they may be paying the school a flat fee or a percentage. In the US, schools tend to be terrible about getting what I would consider to be a reasonable amount of money for such things.
posted by yohko at 2:37 PM on May 15, 2010

I just finished making a DVD from amateur video of my niece's kindergarten play. More accurately, I just finished making a DVD that was 10% video from a lousy angle (I didn't want to get in anyone else's way or view, and had to set up in a place where my own view would be clear), 10% video of a silicon-wielding riot (nobody else cared about getting in anyone else's way, so when the kids came out all hell broke loose) and 80% video from an even lousier angle. "Any cameras in the audience will be taken away" isn't the ideal solution to this problem, but it's probably legally more sound than "any jerks in the audience will be tasered".

$22 is expensive if the school has an amateur taking video, but cheap if they have a professional videographer's fee being split between a hundred or so sales. I once bought a very nice camera with a fraction of the money I saved by going with an amateur cameraman, but I discovered that while good HD is now available under $1000, reliable competence isn't free...
posted by roystgnr at 4:42 PM on May 15, 2010

I'm not sure what kinds of parental antics led to an outright ban on photographs and video; I'll assume it was fairly disruptive. In my town on the West Coast USA I have not ever heard of parents not being allowed to film or photograph their kids during school performances. My kids go to a private school, about 600 students in lower grades. When there is a performance most parents take video and photos, but I've never really seen anyone act obnoxiously. People do sometimes try to get to the venue early so as to reserve better seats for photographs etc, but that's about the extent of anything nutty. The school has a few times in the past hired a videographer and sold the resultant dvd after the performance, but if I recall the price has always been in the $10 range.
The disclaimer your school chose to put in the program seems a bit over the top. Threatening to confiscate my camera would set me on the defensive too. However, I would take a step back before you address this with school administration. Perhaps think through what it is you hope to come away with from bringing your concerns to their attention. Do you want to be allowed to photograph your child at future events? What is the likelyhood of the school ever allowing that from the facts that you know about their policy?
Do you want them to charge less for the dvd in the future? How much less?
Do you want them to know you specifically as someone who has no qualms in telling them when you see a problem with how they administrate the school? Could that backfire on you in any way?
I have had similar situations with my kid's school in the past; Ive gone home all steamed up over things and I believe I had every right to be annoyed. But I've always asked myself questions like the one above and in every single instance Ive decided to play my cards a bit close to the chest and sit on my annoyance, eventually letting it go. For me, the possible potential outcomes (other than getting to vent my righteous indignation) have not been worth the potential branding as "one of those parents" ( the squeaky wheel types) and the potential for it to affect the administration's willingness to hear me with fresh ears and an open mind when I finally do come to them with something that I think they Really Need to Fix.
posted by Rapunzel1111 at 6:40 PM on May 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

Wife of a public US High School Theater Director here. As many have pointed out, his school prohibits photography/videography for the distraction it causes both in the audience and to the actors. One "Oops I forgot to turn off my flash" moment is VERY annoying for everyone. As are cell phones with lit screens.

He runs his co-curricular program solely on the ticket receipts. I cannot speak to the cost of the video, as he doesn't offer that option.
posted by sarajane at 2:42 PM on May 17, 2010

For my college team's ballroom dance performance we ended up having a similar provision about individual filming. One year we had an amateur film and a volunteer edit and produce the DVDs. This was a huge amount of work for the volunteer to put together.For that DVD we charged $10. The next year we decided to bring in a professional who would produce and sell the DVDs for $20 each. As a condition of them being willing to do the videography for minimal cost we had to promise not to allow other people to film on their own (and promise not to make unauthorized replicas of the DVDs).

As others have said having individuals filming and photographing is distracting to others in the audience, and often distracting to the performers. The end product will generally be much higher quality if you allow a single camera to be set up with a good view of the stage, and have the DVDs professionally produced and edited. I don't think $22 is unreasonable for the cost of producing a DVD in a relatively small batch.

You might be technically correct that, your prohibition that your child's image not be used for marketing or commercial uses might prohibit what they are doing. They probably were not thinking of it in this way. They may be making a slight profit on the DVDs sold, but I would guess more likely that is just the cost of hiring someone to create and sell the DVDs. To them this just seemed the simplest way to make sure that a good quality recording was available to everyone who is interested.

I encourage you to talk with them in a non confrontational way to see why they decided to do it this way. I think this was their attempt to provide a good quality video at a "nominal cost".
posted by vegetableagony at 1:03 PM on May 18, 2010

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