Is it legal to charge people to use my home theater (rent it out)?
December 2, 2011 6:47 PM   Subscribe

Is it legal to charge people to use my home theater (rent it out)? I have a home theater. It's pretty friggin' sweet if I do say so myself - gazillion inch screen, state of the art surround system, 12 theater seats, etc. I built it myself. I know that movies always have those warnings at the beginning but I am not charging people to see a specific movie, I am just charging them for use of the room for a specified period of time.
posted by locussst to Media & Arts (11 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
If they're bringing their own entertainment, this is fine. But if you're charging them to see a movie that you provide, then no. Even if you're just allowing them to select from your library, if you're charging for access to that in any way, then no.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 6:54 PM on December 2, 2011 [2 favorites]

It's legal so long as you aren't giving them access to materials - I wouldn't even have the cable box hooked up while they were over, if I were you.

I can't imagine a scenario where I'd be willing to rent a home theatre, by the way - if you're my friend it's weird to pay you to rent the place, if you're not my friend it'd be weird that this is in a private home.
posted by SMPA at 6:56 PM on December 2, 2011 [17 favorites]

The warning at the beginning of the movie isn't the only potential problem here.

Depending on where you are, there could be local zoning restrictions against this. If you'd be doing it on any regular basis, it could be an unpermitted commercial activity in a residential district. It would be like opening up a store in your home. If you only did it once or rarely, on a small scale, that would probably not be an issue. But if you did it regularly, and you spread the word around that your space was available for rent, and extra cars are parking on the street, and your sweet surround sound annoys the neighbors, you could have trouble.

Also, when you conduct a commercial activity in your home, you may be in violation of your lease, if you're renting, or your homeowner's insurance, if it's your own place. If one of your paying guests slips on your front steps and fractures his skull, guess whose insurance isn't going to cover that claim?

And the bit about "just charging them for use of the room"? No, that won't fly. You know it's B.S., and SONY and the FBI know it's B.S, too.

Enjoy your set up with your family and friends. Let them chip in for snacks. Otherwise you're gonna be scraping gum and lawsuits off the floor.
posted by Corvid at 7:34 PM on December 2, 2011 [3 favorites]

.. not to mention the pain of cleaning up after people or hoping they don't stain, break or steal your stuff, and that in the event they do, you don't put yourself in harm's way if things were to get hostile.
posted by june made him a gemini at 7:36 PM on December 2, 2011 [2 favorites]

Cool idea. I'd think it was legal for sure if the guests take care of obtaining/bringing the movies.
posted by krilli at 7:45 PM on December 2, 2011

I've known a couple of set-ups kind of like this: theatres in people's homes or garages, which have actual public showings. In each case they charged some sort of annual membership fee to belong to a "club", which then held regular free events at the home theatre. I assume that's to bypass some insurance rules or taxes or something. But in these cases, it's possible they weren't turning a profit anyway, since the membership was cheap enough that it would have paid for theatre upkeep and snacks and not much else.

In one case, the guy only showed old film clips and news reels from archives.

In another, they did actually pay license fees to get the right to show recent films, and the membership fee was correspondingly higher.
posted by lollusc at 9:57 PM on December 2, 2011

Just as a data point, here's a definition of "public performance" I tracked down for another thread. Via Google Books, Intellectual Property by Margreth Barrett (2008), p. 147:
B. When a performance is "public":
2. A place where a substantial number of persons outside of the normal circle of a family and its social acquaintances is gathered: A performance is also "public" if a substantial segment of the public that extends beyond a family and its normal circle of social acquaintances is on hand to perceive the performance, either live or via transmission. If this is the case, the size and composition of the audience at the time of the performance is what determines whether the performance is public or not. Even a performance in a private home may be "public" if such a group of people is present. Congress and the courts have not provided any precise numbers to demonstrate how many people must be present. However, the more there are, the more likely it is that the performance is "public."
posted by XMLicious at 10:17 PM on December 2, 2011

People/groups do this kind of thing all the time... I wouldn't worry too much about it. Just don't broadcast the fact that you are doing it too widely, and as people have already said, probably best that you don't supply the movies. If anyone finds out about it (which I would still think highly unlikely), just say "oops, sorry", and stop doing it. I can't imagine anyone going to the trouble of actually doing something about it, even if they did find out about it, providing you cease if directed.
posted by ryanbryan at 10:46 PM on December 2, 2011

I'd say you're more likely to have insurance, zoning and ticked-off-neighbor trouble, assuming any movies are provided by the potential room-renters. (Although I think Corvid is probably right, and you'd be legally liable whether you provided the film or not.)

*If you live in an urban area, especially an urban area with tight parking, where do you expect 8-12 cars (at a guess --- no, they WON'T all carpool!) to park? On the street, where your neighbors are also trying to park? What 'hours of operation' are you planning to be open? Hours when that parking is at a premium or late-night noise would be particularly obnoxious?
*Besides insurance liability if someone trips and gets injured, how about your howmowners insurance: will it cover any damage or loss to your theater? How about the rest of your home --- is there any access whatsoever to the rest of your residence?
*As a commercial operation (and this sure sounds like a commercial operation to me!), what about zoning: what commercial uses are permitted, what health & safety inspections and licenses are required? How about handicapped access, both to the theater and to a bathroom?
*A lot of areas hold bartenders responsible if someone leaves too drunk to drive --- asuming you are NOT providing any food/drinks/consumables whatsoever, would this also be true for your operation? And providing drinks and snacks opens up a whole OTHER can of Health Department worms.....

Not advertising will keep you off the legal radar (at least for a while), but then how would you get word to prospective renters? Irritating your neighbors with extra cars and noise etc. in the neighborhood will definately bring your operation to official notice, and once you've gotten that official notice, that FBI warning you see on films would just be one more way to shut you down.
posted by easily confused at 3:44 AM on December 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

Most BDSM home "dungeons" are brought down by zoning violations, fwiw. This is not, of course, what you are doing, but it's the same principle: lots of cars and strangers and money exchanging hands.
posted by desjardins at 6:18 AM on December 3, 2011 [2 favorites]

Be careful. The entertainment industry has become tighter with their laws and are ever too happy to put someone in jail, especially if you're profiting.
posted by InterestedInKnowing at 9:02 AM on December 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

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