What can I use to accompany a movie review?
November 29, 2012 12:21 PM   Subscribe

I am writing a book of movie reviews. Hoping to sell to publishers but may self-publish. My question is about image use for the movies.

My goal is to, for each movie review, to include an image from the film (a single image, not montage or movie poster).

My understanding is that under "fair use" having a small portion of a copyrighted work used for illustration is allowable. But I want to make sure my Is are dotted and Ts crossed, so is it advisable to contact movie studios and copyright holders to request permission for each? Other steps I should take?
posted by arniec to Media & Arts (5 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Consult with an intellectual property attorney. It's not an inexpensive undertaking. Contacting movie studios is not going to get you anywhere.
posted by dfriedman at 12:25 PM on November 29, 2012

A consultation with an intellectual property lawyer would probably cost a couple hundred dollars, and the lawyer could advise you on the specifics of your situation and answer all your questions.
posted by insectosaurus at 12:26 PM on November 29, 2012

Title 17, United States Code. Section 107:

"Notwithstanding the provisions of sections 106 and 106A, the fair use of a copyrighted work, including such use by reproduction in copies or phonorecords or by any other means specified by that section, for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research, is not an infringement of copyright. In determining whether the use made of a work in any particular case is a fair use the factors to be considered shall include:

1) the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;

2) the nature of the copyrighted work;

3) the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and

4) the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work. The fact that a work is unpublished shall not itself bar a finding of fair use if such finding is made upon consideration of all the above factors."

The interpretation of fair use is not black and white... it can be tricky at times to determine when it applies. In your case, the fact that you are creating a book that falls under two of the categories listed in the examples (criticism, comment) greatly helps.

Condideration of the listed factors is mixed: 1) you plan to make money from this, so it is clearly commercial... the reviews are the primary element of your book, so the images are secondary (if you were putting together a book containing only movie stills, that would most likely not be fair use); 2) the movies you review are mostly commercial works themselves, and they are commonly reviewed in various media; 3) using one frame of a film is a tiny portion of the work; 4) reviews make it more likely that a reader will choose to view the movies in your book (negative reviews are not considered differently from positive reviews under the law).

I am not an authority, but I would guess that your intended purpose falls safely under fair use. My opinion is worth the paper it is written on, however.

Badmovies.org has a good guide to fair use, including links to resources. You might also find it worthwhile to contact others who write movie reviews to find out what steps they have taken. Consulting with an intellectual property lawyer is a good thing, but doing some research beforehand will help you to ask the right questions and to better understand the answers.
posted by 1367 at 1:47 PM on November 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

Some studios have special websites set up for the media that include screen shots they are voluntarily distributing. My last newspaper employer had password-protected free accounts at a couple of these and used images thus distributed on our pages.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 2:27 PM on November 29, 2012

Photofest may be able to give you some advice about this, and they are also an excellent source of publication-quality film images.
posted by bubukaba at 5:20 PM on November 29, 2012

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