Legal thoughts for use of clips in a homeschool movie
July 4, 2012 7:50 AM   Subscribe

My 7 year old son and I have been working to make a movie out of a story that he wrote this summer for a homeschool project. In making the movie, since we do not have an effects department, we found a few short clips (a few seconds or so) from movies - which we own copies of if that makes a difference - that we would like to use. Since this is a project for school, we want to make sure that we follow all rules and complexity of doing something like this and wanted to try to get permission to use the clips.

Currently the plan is to just show the movie to his friends who helped act in it but, as he has been working on it, he has become very interested in a charity to provide mosquito netting to kids in Mali and is trying to figure out how to show it to a broader audience to raise awareness. We are still working on the details of that part though.

So, my question is twofold:
One – do we need permission for a project like this? I assume yes but am really not sure. Everything that I found in researching this related to music, not movies.
Two – if we do, how do we go about contacting the movie companies to do this?

(I know that you are not my lawyer and any advice is just one person to another)
posted by GrumpyMonkey to Education (14 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Nope, you do not need permission since it's not for commercial use.
posted by steinsaltz at 8:00 AM on July 4, 2012

If it´s for a school project, it´s likely to fall under fair use, so you don´t need permission. You do need to credit all your sources, though.
posted by empath at 8:14 AM on July 4, 2012 [4 favorites]

My guess is that as a school project, it's more than likely fine --- otherwise, including using it to raise funds, it very much will NOT be okay, and will constitute copyright violation. (Your owning or not owning copies of the movies you've sampled makes no difference either way: all that ownership of a copy of a movie entitles you to is "non-commercial use" --- i.e., free shows to your family in your living room. Not sampling, and not fund-raising.)

If you wish to go through with this, I would suggest going through a lawyer, who can then clear the copyrights with the film distribution companies. But please note that the distribution companies are not in any way required to give you clearance to use their films, and if they do they may require payment.
posted by easily confused at 8:50 AM on July 4, 2012

Response by poster: Wolfster - absolutely. I will put it out there and put a link here as well. It is probably a month from completion (we are taking advantage of a trip to get some additional footage).

And thank you, steinaltz and empath
posted by GrumpyMonkey at 8:51 AM on July 4, 2012

Response by poster: Easily confused, that makes sense, we will not be raising funds, just awareness and even then, it will be among a bunch of 7 year olds and their parents and friends. Thanks
posted by GrumpyMonkey at 8:54 AM on July 4, 2012


"Not commercial use" (as well as "less than 10 seconds" and other advice you may get from the Internet) is not an accurate answer to the question "am I infringing someone's copyright?"

Rights clearing is a fairly involved process, and while you should do it, it's unlikely that the rights holders will be interested in spending their time on helping you get legal. Consider from their perspective: they can spend lawyer-time to determine what you want to do, how it will reflect on their movie, what the benefit to them is, and then follow up to see that you didn't do any more than they agreed to permit. Or they can say "no."

It's easier, cheaper, and rarely the wrong answer, for them to say "no." Sorry.

(Which is not to say you should give up; just that the chance of being able to clear the rights properly is very slim. So you have to consider instead: what is the risk of an infringement suit (or other unfavorable outcome) versus the reward of completing the project as planned? A lawyer can help put the risk in context for you, and some may even discuss it with you as part of a gratis initial consultation.)
posted by spacewrench at 9:06 AM on July 4, 2012 [4 favorites]

Would an alternate solution be to buy clips on or another stock video site?
posted by radioamy at 9:50 AM on July 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

You have two choices here.

You can use the clips from other movies and show it amongst friends and family, in the spirit of the No Commercial Use idea.

You can not use the clips, and use the movie to raise awareness for this charity by showing it to the public at large.

You can't really do both.

Also, my two cents is that it's way more fun to make your own movie when you figure out how to accomplish the special effects yourself. There are so many creative ideas out there, many of which would be extremely fun to do if you were seven years old and had grownup supervision. Just googling "diy movie special effects" would probably get you tons of ideas.
posted by Sara C. at 9:52 AM on July 4, 2012 [2 favorites]

Ditto to Sara C. I work with design students, and our approach is the following (this is for static images):

1. Students can borrow whatever they like, but they must cite their sources within the work.
2. This is based on the understanding that their work is purely contained within the educational environment, it will not be publicly distributed in any way (friends and family would certainly be okay), nothing for profit.
posted by nanook at 10:26 AM on July 4, 2012

Fair Use might cover your project, but then again, it might not. Personally, I think it's a bad idea to let your son think that the creative work of others is just there as fodder for your own efforts. Non Commercial work doesn't mean squat. "Raising awareness" sounds very worthy, but rights holders don't always care that you have good intentions.

If you're commenting on or criticizing the movie scenes, you might be protected under Fair Use. But if you just want to use the pretty clips because you don't have any b-roll, why not either buy some at istockphoto or see if there's anything at that will work?

I do this sort of work for a living.
posted by Ideefixe at 10:35 AM on July 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

Nope, you do not need permission since it's not for commercial use.

This is absolutely not true. You might need permission, you might not, but whether or not your intended use is commercial don't enter into it.

The confusion seems to be with the nature of the suggested use. You aren't showing the movie, you're using parts of the movie to make another movie. When you buy a movie, you are essentially getting a license for the non-commercial showing of the movie. But the studio doesn't give you any license to use parts of the movie to make something else.

So this is ultimately a question of "fair use," i.e., a mandatory license Congress has imposed upon copyright owners for certain kinds of use. Whether or not a particular use is "fair use" involves a four-factor balancing test, so it's far from an obvious proposition in many cases.

But I guarantee you, if you ask for permission to use any of this stuff, they're just gonna tell you no. They might not actually care one way or the other--for school projects, most rights holders don't--but they're not going to tell you that, and coming up with a license agreement for each and every person who wanted to use their stuff for free would involve hiring enough lawyers to run a small law firm just to do that. More trouble than it's worth.

Here's an idea though: you're a homeschooling family, right? Sounds like you just invented a special effects unit! Skip the CGI bit, go old school. Miniatures, corn syrup, makeup, art supplies, you name it. Massively enjoyable and educational. You might even be able to figure out how to do a digital matte shot.
posted by valkyryn at 10:55 AM on July 4, 2012 [5 favorites]

Stupid-bad homemade special effects are PURE GOLD. Everyone's probably seen those clips you like anyway. Please don't throw this opportunity away.
posted by jsturgill at 11:02 AM on July 4, 2012 [7 favorites]

You can try writing an email or letter to the various permission departments of the studios (MeMail me for more info) but even if the studio thinks your son's request is cute and gives you the clip for free, you would still be required to get permission from any featured actor in the clip--SAG principal players have clip approval, and it can take a long time to get their permission.
posted by Ideefixe at 11:41 AM on July 4, 2012

The rule of thumb among my teacher friends is do whatever you want as along as it stays in the classroom. If your intent is to post anywhere on the web it must be your own material.
posted by snsranch at 4:51 PM on July 4, 2012

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