Special Occasion Videos

Use of film clips in special occasion videos

Motion pictures are protected by copyright and making unauthorized copies is a violation of the law. This protection is not just for the complete 'movie' but also applies to clips or excerpts taken from a motion picture.

To help understand the legalities, check the following questions and answers:

Q. I operate a full-service video productions business specializing in weddings, graduations, bar mitzvahs and other special occasions. For special effects, I often use short excerpts from Disney Classic films such as "Beauty and the Beast", "Cinderella", "Aladdin" and "Fantasia" which I add into the special occasion video by copying a small portion. Is this legal?

A. No. Under the Canadian Copyright Act films are protected as copyrighted works and only the copyright owner can permit or grant a licence to any person to duplicate or reproduce the film or any substantial part thereof. Such reproductions constitute copyright infringement pursuant to Section 27(1) of the Copyright Act. Moreover, the use of such clips for a commercial purpose is also prohibited pursuant to Section 42 (1) of the Copyright Act, the summary criminal provisions of the Act.

Q. By including a short (one or two minute) excerpt from a copyrighted film into a wedding video, I do not feel that I have done anything illegal as the Copyright Act defines "copyright" as the sole right to produce or reproduce the work or "any substantial part thereof". Is one or two minutes of a copyrighted film a "substantial part thereof"?

A. Yes. The Copyright Act does not define "a substantial part thereof" The case law which has interpreted this phrase is, however clear. The test of when a clip constitutes a substantial part of a film is both qualitative and quantitative. If the scenes in the clips are recognizable as originating from the copyrighted work, such clips will constitute a "substantial part thereof". 

In a famous case involving infringement of a musical work, three bars of the song were found to be sufficient to constitute a substantial portion of the entire song since the three bars were the integral portion of the song. Similarly, clips from a film which are recognizable will be sufficient to violate these provisions of the Copyright Act.

Q. A prospective customer wishes to provide me with a copyrighted film such as a videocassette of Disney's "Sleeping Beauty", a portion of which the customer insists be included in the finished wedding video. The customer informs me that he or she owns the Disney videocassette and will personally be responsible for any repercussions should they arise. Please explain the legalities.

A. The customer is not in a position to request that you include the clip from "Sleeping Beauty" in the wedding video. When a person buys a copy of a film, he or she merely owns the physical copy of that film. Ownership of that copy does not entitle a person to reproduce, or have others reproduce the film or portions thereof. By analogy, a person that buys a book is not entitled to make copies of that book. 

Moreover, the customer is also not in a position to indemnify you from the consequences of infringement. You personally would still be subject to civil proceedings. Should the copyright owner proceed under the criminal provisions of the Copyright Act, no indemnity would apply.

Penalties for infringement

The Copyright Act provides for effective damages and other remedies to a copyright owner whose film is infringed. The court may award general damages to the copyright holder. Punitive damages may also be awarded in situations where the copyright owner can show that the infringement was committed with intent. Finally, all infringing copies of any video which contain portions of a copyrighted film are subject to forfeiture to the copyright owner as he or she is deemed to be the owner of all infringing works made from a copyrighted film. The order of forfeiture or surrender to the copyright owner would also include all legitimate videocassettes or DVDs and all equipment used to make the infringing copies.

Criminal sanctions

Section 42 (1) of the Copyright Act provides that a person found guilty of copyright infringement by way of summary conviction is subject to a maximum fine of $25,000.00 per offence, or six (6) months in jail, or both. Copyright infringement is a serious offence for which the courts have imposed significant fines.

For questions or complaints call the Piracy Hotline 1-800-363-9166 or the CMPDA's Anti-Piracy Operations. All calls are confidential.

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© Canadian Motion Picture Distributors Association (CMPDA), 2006. All rights reserved.