Using DVD stills in TV commentary blog?
April 23, 2008 9:54 AM   Subscribe

Incorporating still frame captures in a TV commentary blog: is it possible/affordable/practical to get general permission from the studio to do this?

We're talking probably a handful of low-res stills from any given episode, captured from DVDs we've purchased. The project itself is an essentially non-commercial hobbyist venture, likely to have a positive (if any) effect on sales of the studio's own product if the nostalgia-equals-sales cycle functions like it usually does.

The stills aren't vital to the project (we could always just explain what was worth looking at), but they'd add a lot of pop and so it'd be nice to know that either

(a) it'd be possible to get an official okay from the IP folks without a huge attached pricetag, or
(b) that this sort of situation, left to coast under the radar, isn't particularly ire-raising.

Any information or experiences regarding (trying to) accomplish (a) would be great; any recent precedents or practical examples for or against (b) would be nice as well.

Are there currently any visible non-studio blog type projects using cleared or uncleared stills?
posted by cortex to Law & Government (9 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
It's not exactly the same as what you are asking, but there was a recent question about fair use issues with internet posts.
posted by burnmp3s at 10:04 AM on April 23, 2008

I think it would fall under fair use, but that doesn't mean there isn't some Sony lawyer out there on his third day on the job who will send you a cease and desist order. I would guess flying under the radar would be safe, worst that would happen would be they told you to take them down.

I had a similar experience on the blue, where I posted a link to an Atlantic article before their archives were free. Got a little grief about the subscription link, so I posted the entire text onto my site, and told folks they could read it there by way of apologizing. I knew posting whole pieces was iffy, but didn't think I was a big enough fish to worry about.

A week or two later I got an email from The Atlantic, (not a lawyer, like online director or something) that said..."It has come to our attention.....blah blah blah. They asked me to take it town and make sure all cached Google versions were erased. I emailed him back and said I could do one, but hadn't a clue about the Google end. I took it down, and never heard another word about it.

Unless you are really savaging the shows, or seem to be taking money out of their pocket, your experience should be about like mine.
posted by timsteil at 10:12 AM on April 23, 2008

Filmspotting uses stills. No idea if they are licensed or unlicensed or if they get them from press packages. The hosts are very friendly and responsive to e-mail so you might just ask them.
posted by mmascolino at 10:49 AM on April 23, 2008

I posted the entire text onto my site

Fair Use laws can be pretty vague, but one of the major things that makes a difference is how much of the original work you reproduce. The more you reproduce, the less likely it is to be allowed as fair use.

Wikipedia has a pretty strict intellectual property rules, and they use unlicensed film stills in some of their articles. Here is an example of a still from the Citizen Kane article, which includes their fair use rationale.
posted by burnmp3s at 11:07 AM on April 23, 2008

As to part B of your question, if your purpose in using the clips is noncommercial and comment/criticism, and you are using only a small amount (and stills as opposed to clips seems to make your case stronger here), then it would seem to pass the 4-part fair use test, as your project also seems unlikely to have any adverse affect on the market value.

As to part A, well if you ask them they might very well say no or ask for a lot of money, just because they think they can. But the whole point of the fair use exemption is to provide a means to use small amounts of copyrighted work *without* permission, and I think you have a good case here. I would say do it and assert your rights.

IANAL, etc., but I did just finish teaching an undergrad class on broadcast law, and I'm looking at the textbook as I type this, FWIW
posted by DiscourseMarker at 11:34 AM on April 23, 2008

Response by poster: I'll drop the Filmspotting folks a line, yeah; can't hurt to see where they're coming from. I get the impression at a glance that they're using (mostly?) production stills, which may be a more permissive working-within-the-system beast than straight caps from the DVDs, but I'm saying that like I know more than I do so I should probably hush up about it.

I'm interested in fair use in so far as it's either a deterrent against or an effectively persuasive response to some theoretical angry letter from a lawyer, but I can't see this as something I'd react to beyond that by doing other than just taking down the stills—I'm not going to court with a studio for the sake of a blog, in other words.
posted by cortex at 11:37 AM on April 23, 2008

I'm interested in fair use in so far as it's either a deterrent against or an effectively persuasive response to some theoretical angry letter from a lawyer, but I can't see this as something I'd react to beyond that by doing other than just taking down the stills—I'm not going to court with a studio for the sake of a blog, in other words.

Exactly right Cortex:

I don't have my AP libel manual here in front of me, but I think it's like Discourse described, a matter of degrees. Put up the whole show, or the whole article, that would proably constitute theft. Put up a paragraph or two, or stills, and everyone discusses it, that's fair use.

As far as a deterrent, I figure that guy who's new to legal will look really good if he sues some 8 year old for a half million for dling a Hannah Montana song or whatever and their family just goes "Oh's a check" but it is just stupid, and would get laughed out of court if it went to trial.

In your case, while it could very well be a huge pain in the ass, by the time it got to court the judge is gonna look down and see.....Hmm...buncha folks talking about their favorite TV shows in an open forum, with a link to a place you can buy them from.

Like I said, maybe an email telling you to take it down. I wouldnt worry beyond that.

Course, I could be wrong. Lemme know if you need a cake wih a file in it or anything.
posted by timsteil at 12:47 PM on April 23, 2008

Television Without Pity uses what appear to be stills from the actual shows, and while they're owned by Bravo now, I'm pretty sure they were using them even before then. You might drop them a line as well.
posted by dizziest at 1:40 PM on April 23, 2008

My experience, though anecdotal and not directly related, with communicating with studios about licensing is that is never quick, simple or affordable.

By which I mean that if you get someone by email or on the phone about this, my experience (limited as it is) tells me that you can expect your first answer to be "I'm not completely positive on the policy for this, let me get back to you after I've spoken with some people." Chances are they will never get back to you. After repeated harrassment of the people at the studio, you may eventually cause the following dialogue to happen behind your back:

Rep A: So, what's our policy on using frames from our shows on a blog.
Rep B: I don't know. Just tell him not to.
Rep A: Well, he seems to really want to. Can we charge him?
Rep B: I guess. What do we charge for production stills?
Rep A: He wants to just use stills he captures from a dvd he bought.
Rep B: I don't know, just tell him about our 2 year licensing fee and ask for an address to send him licensing paperwork to.
Rep A: How much is the 2 year again?
Rep B: $1000.

I get that figure, by the way, from licensing a band's song for a film that I made in my spare time and which only screened in 2 places for almost no money. Take that for what you will. What I do know is that I've worked in tv for years and for the most part nobody will risk their jobs telling someone "sure! use our stills! no biggie!" because if it turns into a scandal (for whatever reason) and the site owner produces an email saying it was ok to use the stills, then the person who sent that email is fucked. this is the kind of thing production people think about when asked questions like this. It's always "defer defer defer. see if we can get paid and put the lawyers on making sure it's air tight."

I know this isn't hard data I'm giving you. I hope it's helpful, anyway.
posted by shmegegge at 2:46 PM on April 24, 2008

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