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On The Legality of Public Viewing? 74

Posted by Cliff
from the customer-satisfaction-vs.-media-mogul-legalities dept.
bobej1977 asks: "I'm looking into opening a technology-centric cafe/bar, and am wondering about the legality of showing different types of media in the cafe. Specifically, I'm interested in using a PVR to build a library of popular television shows (Futurama, Simpsons, Enterprise, etc) and making it available to patrons of the cafe. Many establishments show live sports events or even popular shows but where exactly is the legal-line that a business shouldn't cross? While I'm at it, what about showing DVDs in the cafe? While I'm sure that doing so is prohibited, would it be tolerated since I wouldn't be charging to watch them? The precedent I'm thinking of is that some electronics or video rental stores that show movies, in the store. If not, what kind of arrangements could be made to get permission, if I'd like to have a LOTR-a-thon?"
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On The Legality of Public Viewing?

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  • They're pretty much all the same, legally. It basically means you can't sell tickets specifically for watching LotR or whatever show/movie it is you may have playing. Selling drinks and such, however, for people to enjoy along with the video, or net access (if it's a cybercafe, as you said) is fine. You just can't charge them for viewing the content you're displaying. Basically means you have to let people come in and watch for free if they wish, so long as they don't break any of the rules (no disrupting t
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 10, 2003 @03:58PM (#6164170)
    SLASHDOT IS NOT A SUBSTITUTE FOR LEGAL ADVICE.

    Get a lawyer. It's cheaper to do it right the first time than get your pants sued off and lose your business.
    • by Anonymous Coward
      There are reasons to ask Slashdot *and* a lawyer:

      1) Some lawyers are better than others. Yours might suck.

      2) To find one fully versed in technology law is difficult or expensive. You might be 'po

      3) lawyers are human (or humanoid at least), and they can use input into the creative process of saving you from the evil megacorp or slimeball patenter. Some of the comments might have novel suggestions.

      It's one thing to say that they should ALSO have a lawyer and take the comments with a grain of salt. I
      • while televisions are technology... i think this question comes up frequently enough that he wouldn't need to go to a tech lawyer.

        all he really needs to do is call whoever makes the media he wants to display, and have them send him one of their contracts and a bill... but if he can't figure that out by himself, he should probably go to a laywer so he can find out what other shit he's doing wrong

    • I'd say it's cheaper and more profitable to set up your businness in countries that have sane laws.
      I'm positively shocked that you have to pay outrageous sums just for having a TV in your bar.
      Every café and restaurant here in Portugal has one or more TVs and there's no one asking the owners for money.
      I don't care if it's legal or not, everyone does it, everyone's done it for DECADES, and much like in the American P2P users article, even if it IS technically illegal there is no room to put 43 mill
  • Seinfeld Theme (Score:3, Interesting)

    by nycroft (653728) on Tuesday June 10, 2003 @03:59PM (#6164173) Homepage
    In Santa Barbara, CA, there are 3 delis that operate under the name Bitterman's Deli. They have a whole Seinfeld theme. They play recorded episodes of the show on a continuous loop using a VCR. I don't know if having video tape (analog) vs. PVR (digital) is distinguished under any laws, but maybe you can call Bitterman's and ask them.
  • I was recently to a bed and breakfast with a DVD library. If the PVR idea turns into a big can of worms then you could just install a high-end DVD player with a disc changer.
  • Bars (Score:5, Interesting)

    by bofkentucky (555107) <bofkentucky@NOspAM.gmail.com> on Tuesday June 10, 2003 @04:09PM (#6164291) Homepage Journal
    have to order their cable/DBS as an "entertainment" establishment that gives them the right to "rebroadcast" to their patrons at the location. Their prining is much higher than your monthly cable bill call up you cable co or a Sat TV provider to find out pricings, its probably based on seats/TV's/Patrons in the building. Pay-Per-View wrestling and boxing matches are outrageous (One bar I know was charged $2000 to show a Tyson fight), but there were we'll over 600 people that night, so they made that back on the cover.
  • You're screwed (Score:5, Insightful)

    by twoflower (24166) on Tuesday June 10, 2003 @04:14PM (#6164349)
    Legally, you need to license the public performance rights for any program you want to show. This is really, really simple -- talk to a lawyer.
    • You're wrong (Score:3, Informative)

      Â 110. Limitations on exclusive rights: Exemption of certain performances and displays

      Notwithstanding the provisions of section 106, the following are not infringements of copyright:

      (5)(A) except as provided in subparagraph (B), communication of a transmission embodying a performance or display of a work by the public reception of the transmission on a single receiving apparatus of a kind commonly used in private homes, unless -

      (i) a direct charge is made to see or hear the transmission; or

      • in the case of a food service or drinking establishment, either the establishment in which the communication occurs has less than 3,750 gross square feet of space (excluding space used for customer parking and for no other purpose), or the establishment in which the communication occurs has 3,750 gross square feet of space or more (excluding space used for customer parking and for no other purpose)

        I don't get it. I'm parsing that as "either under 3750 sq. ft. or 3750 sq. ft. and up"..which, uh, would mean

        • You missed part of it. It's ok if the establishment is 3750 sqft, or if it is greater than that, you must also meet subsections I/II (as appropriate).
      • (v) the transmission or retransmission is licensed by the copyright owner of the work so publicly performed or displayed;


        Here's the catch. The work must be licensed by the copyright owner. This seems to be a contradiction. Who has to have the license, and what kind of license must it be?

        • Here's the catch. The work must be licensed by the copyright owner. This seems to be a contradiction. Who has to have the license, and what kind of license must it be?

          I believe that means that the work must be licensed by the transmitter. In other words, if it's a bootleg transmission that you're rebroadcasting, that's not legitimate.

          Of course, this isn't legal advice, because I'm not a lawyer, and the whole section is kind of confusing to me.

  • For displaying movies, you need a license unless you're showing it to your friends in your home or as part of a face to face classroom activity. See http://www.mplc.com/index2.htm For displaying tv, there should be an agreement equivalent to the ASCAP fee for radio. (In fact, you might need an ASCAP fee as well as a fee for the video.) Contact a local TV station and ask how to get permission to display their station in your establishment.
  • I wouldn't exactly call it's declining viewer numbers, "popular."
  • Several things. (Score:5, Informative)

    by Bootsy Collins (549938) on Tuesday June 10, 2003 @04:17PM (#6164397)

    1. You're asking a legal question. You want legal advice. Ask Slashdot is a lousy place to get your legal advice. I wouldn't trust anything anyone here (including what I write below) says about this as a reliable indicator that you wouldn't get sued.

    2. You would be charging for the content, even if you weren't doing so explicitly. That charge is folded into the cost of the drinks/coffee/muffins/whatever that you'd be serving. After all, you're not showing the content out of the kindness of your heart; you're showing it in hopes that it'll draw people into your shop.

    You might think that if you're not kicking people out for not buying stuff, you're not charging; but in at least one circumstance, the U.S. courts have disagreed. In the U.S., business establishments that play background music (e.g. those Linkin Park/Lynyrd Skynyrd/Leonard Cohen songs you hear in the background when you go to your favorite club/bar/coffeehouse) are required to pay money [ascap.com] for doing so to ASCAP [ascap.com]. Most people don't realize this, but it's true. This is not incredibly aggressively enforced, but it is enforced. My favorite undergrad bar was shut down permanently because it wasn't making regular payments to ASCAP for the taped music it played before bands and in-between sets, and couldn't afford the fines and lump-sum payment once the court found against them.

    Now, the music biz has all kinds of weird licensing restrictions and legislation, and I have no idea whether or not playing video content in your shop would be similar to playing music in your shop, in terms of your licensing obligations (once again, you need to talk to a real lawyer). But the fact that it is this way for music should make you look into this in more detail.

  • by CaptainStormfield (444795) on Tuesday June 10, 2003 @04:18PM (#6164407)
    You wouldn't trust your lawyer to write some software for you; why would you trust a bunch of programmers/geeks to give you good legal advice? Remember, you are betting your financial well-being on the answer.
    • by nathanh (1214) on Tuesday June 10, 2003 @11:08PM (#6167722) Homepage
      You wouldn't trust your lawyer to write some software for you; why would you trust a bunch of programmers/geeks to give you good legal advice?

      For many reasons:

      • Slashdot isn't entirely populated by geeks and programmers; there are real lawyers (or so they claim) who read and post on Slashdot.
      • Other geeks might have done this before so he's intelligently asking for some pointers on where to start. Lawyers aren't the sole source for that sort of information.
      • The answer might be really simple, eg FILL OUT FORM 1209127 AT RIAA DEPT 2387. You don't need paid legal advice to tell you that.

      Time for the rant... I'm getting really sick of people like you who leap at EVERY opportunity to say IANAL or HINAL or SINAL. No fucking shit. Do you think people are so retarded that they're not going to know this already? The fact is, if people like you had their way then Ask Slashdot would be nothing but questions about computers. Some of us have hobbies outside of a computer screen. Some of us do know other stuff. Slashdot is News for Nerds, not News for Computer Nerds. I'm fricking sick of you nitwits assuming that everybody else is as dull as you are. If you don't have any valuable input then SHUT THE FUCK UP.

      • I shouldn't feed the troll, but . . .

        IAAL, which is why I posted what I did. This is a complex question, and if the submitter guesses wrong about the answer he faces the possibility of serious civil and possibly criminal liablity. If a friend called me with this question, I'd give him the same suggestion as I gave the person asking Slashdot: go see someone who knows about this stuff (and who, frankly, has malpractice insurance if he gives you bad advise).
        • IAAL, which is why I posted what I did.

          If you AAL then perhaps you should give advice next time, instead of saying that Slashdot has no legal experts who can give legal advice.

          and who, frankly, has malpractice insurance if he gives you bad advise

          Seeing as you AAL you would already know that you can't be sued for malpractice over free advice posted on a bulletin board under a pseudonym.

          On another rant, I think it's pretty fucked up that a professional won't even talk within his field of exper

          • Lawyer != copyright lawyer. Lawyers these days are specialists -- this is NOT my field of expertise.

            The point about liability insurance was not that I'm worried about getting sued. Its precisely the opposite. If the submitter asked an attorney his question, he would have recourse against the attorney for bad advice. Not so for bad advice from random Slashdot people.
            • Lawyer != copyright lawyer. Lawyers these days are specialists -- this is NOT my field of expertise.

              So if this was not your field of expertise, why did you feel the need to say "IAAL"? Perhaps trying to browbeat me down with credentials? Shame on you.

              The point about liability insurance was not that I'm worried about getting sued. Its precisely the opposite. If the submitter asked an attorney his question, he would have recourse against the attorney for bad advice. Not so for bad advice from random

              • So if this was not your field of expertise, why did you feel the need to say "IAAL"? Perhaps trying to browbeat me down with credentials? Shame on you.

                Because I do know enough about this to realize that its a difficult legal question, not appropriate for ask slashdot.

                Over and out.
                • Because I do know enough about this to realize that its a difficult legal question, not appropriate for ask slashdot.

                  Perhaps you should say that it's more difficult than YOU can answer, but possibly appropriate for somebody else on Slashdot. There are half a million people here, but you can arrogantly dismiss all half a million people as being less informed than you.

                  Your arrogance was also shown by your dismissive "over and out". I bet you say "plonk" or "killfiled" as well.

  • My Twisted View (Score:3, Interesting)

    by 4of12 (97621) on Tuesday June 10, 2003 @04:18PM (#6164410) Homepage Journal

    when I saw the headline I was thinking of Public Viewing not as showing DVD's in public venues, but "viewing the public"

    Imagine piping in live feeds with the ultimate in reality TV - highly zoomable video cameras (including shotgun mikes) aimed at beaches, at rough streets at night, the Capitol steps in DC, downtown Tikrit, the West Bank, G.W. Bush's nieces antics, Hillary and Bill's arguments, etc.

    Now that would be interesting.

    The day will come when highly detailed video and audio monitoring becomes sufficiently inexpensive that the issue of what constitutes a reasonable expection of privacy in public will come more to the fore than it is today.

  • by Anonymous Coward
    IANAL, but I think you're going to have to pay the Man for everything you show. I'll give you an example: my father owns a restaurant. He has 5 cds in a CD changer that he plays at this restaurant. Originally, there was no problem, as the music wasn't part of the theme of the restaurant and was considered merely "incidental." But the minute he started having live entertainment at the restaurant, bam, BMI or RIAA or somebody showed up looking for his money - because he has entertainment there, the CDs are
  • This appears to be the exact thing prohibited as "public performance" in the FBI warning and elsewhere.

    This prohibition does not seem that outrageous: it looks like you plan on using this media content to make money, why shouldn't they be concerned?

    Now, I wonder what would be involved with getting permission from the movie/TV companies to do this the "legit" way.
    • This appears to be the exact thing prohibited as "public performance" in the FBI warning and elsewhere.

      Hopefully that elsewhere includes some sort of law, since FBI warnings are not legally binding.

  • ...to keep in library for your own personal enjoyment. If you can't do that, then there is no way that you are going to be able to do what you want for free.

    Talk to people in the industry. Talk to a lawyers.
    • eugene is wong wrote:

      You're not even allowed to record tv commercials to keep in library for your own personal enjoyment. If you can't do that, then there is no way that you are going to be able to do what you want for free.

      I was going to correct you, but then I reviewed Sony v Universal [virtualrecordings.com] and found that it looks like you are right. In that decision, the Supreme Court specifically looks at the distinction between "Time-Shifting" (recording to watch once and then reusing the tape) and "Librarying" (record
  • Either way I think you're going to have to talk to the content producers to get a definite answer.

    One idea though, might be to consider making it a not-for-profit or all-profits-go-to-charity venture. The producers in those cases might be willing to negotiate for you to show the content for free, or very cheaply, due to the good public relations they would get out of it. You could still pay a salary to yourself and your workers and be doing something good for the community.

    Just an idea, of course.
  • They show movies and whatever else projected on the wall. They'll have special advertised "dinner and a movie" nights so you'll know what they'll be playing. I don't know the name of the place but they're right next door to the Stinking Rose.

    I'm hearing a lot of disagreement on slashdot (no, I am not suprised). Unfortunately, I'm not a lawyer type and the ones I know are currently 800 miles away at an unspecified location. I think that it is doable but that you're best covering your butt.

    And about som
  • by Fished (574624) * <amphigory@gmaCOMMAil.com minus punct> on Tuesday June 10, 2003 @05:10PM (#6164974)
    Ignore all the jerks telling you they are not lawyers - you don't need one. You just need a license that will be a form that must be accompanied with a largish check. In exchange, they will give you a little sticker that goes on your window saying you are licensed. (We do this at my church, it's not hideously expensive for churches anyway.)

    You need to talk to MPLC:

    Happy karma.
    • This is perfectly legal, but you have to get permission.

      I know this from my own experience with radio in fast food joints. You'll notice that most of them pipe in their own music. This is because either A) the local radio stations charge large sums for advertising or B) they don't want ads in their radio feed. It's actually against the law for you to go out and make your own mix tape and play it your store, because you are using their product to increase your sales. But it's not difficult (nor really that
  • From www.mplc.com... (Score:4, Informative)

    by Sevn (12012) on Tuesday June 10, 2003 @07:05PM (#6166007) Homepage Journal
    The Motion Picture Licensing Corporation.
    The guys you go to if you want to purchase a one
    year "subscription" umbrella license to show
    just about anything you'd ever want to play in a public place:

    MPLC members have maximum flexibility in programming home videocassettes and videodiscs by being able to obtain them from any source and show them legally.

    Any Source?

    BITCHIN. You could keep kazaa open in the back
    room and download crap all day for public viewing!
  • Um... well... (Score:2, Informative)

    by Drakin (415182)
    Normally Video/Electronics places show the latest releases only because it's part of the promotional package (or, they get paid and/or certain other benifits to show the movie for x amount of time after the release). So they're granted permission to do it.
  • seems to me that as long as you aren't charging the customer to come and view the tv show or dvd it would be ok. Customers are coming to eat, drink, play games, etc. I think it would be like seeing a PPV at a bar...except the bar pays for the PPV...likewise you should have to pay for the materials you are showing.
  • I think that your idea for this type of cafe is defintely cool, I would hang out there. For the tv shows you should get the ones with no commercials like they show in airplanes. Considering the legalities I do not know much about that.

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