Question about Youtube & copywrite laws

I am assisting a friend with a project, putting together a puppet show. He wants to make a video and post it on Youtube or Facebook. But for the video, he wants to use some of the music from “Cinema Paradiso” soundtrack as a opening/background music, but we’re concerned about the possible legalities.

Does anybody know the procedure for getting permission? What would happen if we simply posted the video using music w/o getting permission? ISTM that Youtube is chock full of amateur videos doing parodies of copywrited material, and I can’t believe every last person obtained clearance rights. What’s the chance of getting ‘busted’ and what would the possible penalties we’d face?

Probably nothing. Most of the copyright infringement issues have to do with the big multiglobal media giants (Sony, Viacom, etc.) throwing their weight around; the soundtrack to a little-known Italian film probably won’t gain any notice. (Nitpick: it’s spelled “copyright.”)


I’ve never heard of anyone sued over violating copyright for a posting on YouTube. Usually, the owner of the infringed material just makes YouTube take it down and that’s the end of it. Although I wouldn’t exactly call “Cinema Paradiso” a “little-known” film. It won Best Foreign Language Film at the 1990 Oscars. Just avoid mentioning the film title in your description and you should be OK. Personally, if you are worried, create a new YouTube login for that particular video to avoid the possibility of your main login being deleted. I have a dozen YouTube logins, some for single videos.

You might be better off in GQ for this one.

The short answer is that, under the Digital Millenium Copyright Act, the usual course of things is for the copyright holder who believes there has been an infringment to ask Youtube to remove the video (a takedown notice). It is probably safe to assume that you don’t qualify for a fair use exception, assuming it is a non-educational video that is not parodying or criticizing the song, so that would be the end of it.

But the short answer is slightly unsatisfying. There is still some risk of legal liability. Individual posters of Youtube videos have been sued. And you might have a significant interest in getting permission to avoid even the threat of takedown.

Unfortunately, the long answer involving permissions and liability is pretty complicated. As best I can tell, the soundtrack is distributed by US-based DRG Records. But often you need to obtain the permission of someone else, or even multiple parties, who might be in other countries in this case. The possible international element also complicates the legal analysis a bit, since international copyright is subject to various treaties depending on the country in question (probably Italy in this case), and probably effects the likelihood of suits (presumably in your favor, but I don’t know).

As a general matter, the means of obtaining permission varies depending on the who holds the copyright. Typically, getting permission is basically a matter of asking for it in writing. Bigger copyright holders will have special offices for just that. Here’s a good place to start. Some have means of instantaneous permission, even over the internet, for a small fee.

But, as mentioned, sometimes there are multiple people from which you would need to seek permission (the rights-holder of the actual sound recording, and the rights-holder of the underlying music, for example). So this can actually get pretty complicated. I would guess it is even more complicated if you have to do this all in Italian. There are businesses that go through all of that for you, but they add an extra layer of fees.

If you don’t get permission, theoretically one can still be sued even if the content is taken down. Youtube is happy to turn over any information they have about you to someone who wants to sue you for the violation. Cite. The copyright statute allows a minimum of $750 in damages regardless of de minimis nature of the violation, but it can be much more if the court considers it “just.” And if done for commercial purposes, you are also potentially criminally liable.

I think that is all basically still true as long as the copyright holder is in the US or Italy. My guess would be that the cost of filing suit (including court costs, lawyer fees, and the cost of finding violations) is probably more than $750 for the rights-holder, so that explains why it rarely if ever happens in cases of individuals posting videos. But it is not totally outside the realm of possibility.

[Note: I have no specialized knowledge in this area and I’m just offering my general observations. Don’t make any judgments about what to do based on this information.]

If they find it, they’ll take it down. I don’t think they would even punish you if it’s your first offence (I’ve had a video taken down with no penalty). Don’t tag the song title, artist, or the movie where it’s from and don’t mention any of these in the title and YouTube won’t notice until someone alerts them. They’ve recently started just muting videos and somewhere you can find a small list of approved songs if you don’t have your heart set on this particular one, but I would just put it up and hope for the best.