Updated: 04/24/2012

Film, Radio and TV - 37





Legal and

Ethical Issues

Part II

>>In this section on legal and ethical issues we'll cover:

  • staging
  • copyright
  • talent and location releases


>>Staging applies to TV news and documentary work and involves the alteration of objects or conditions within a scene, or broadcasting a "reenactment" of certain news events, without telling your audience.

The motivation for staging can range all the way from an attempt to enhance the look of a news photo or videotaped scene to a blatant effort to alter the truth.

If staged footage is broadcast and is found to represent an effort to misrepresent the truth of a situation, it can result in fines by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), a lawsuit by an offended party, and a loss of credibility for a news organization - not to mention severely damaging your professional status.

There are individuals and organized groups constantly monitoring news for signs of bias or misrepresentation. The bottom line: no matter what your personal feelings are, present situations and viewpoints as honestly as possible.

"Truth" is easy to defend; slanting a story is not. Although the latter route may be tempting, in the long run it opens the door to all kinds of legal, ethical and professional problems.  

>>Staging also involves the reenactment of events. Sometimes this is deemed acceptable, sometimes not.

For example, if you are covering "the handing over of the gavel" to a newly-elected officer during a meeting, you will frequently find that the people involved often expect - maybe even prefer - to do the whole thing over again for the media afterwards.

This allows camera people to light the scene as they want, make sure no people are blocking camera angles, and arrange people so they can all be clearly seen. It is doubtful that the public expects authenticity in this type of situation.

But, there are other times when the public assumes they are seeing "the moment." If you reenact a critical moment in sports history when someone breaks the world hi-jump record, and you don't bother to inform your audience that what they are seeing is actually a warm-up, it's a different matter.

>>Question: is it unethical to simply enhance a news photo by removing distractions on a desk, moving a coat rack from behind someone's head, or setting up your own special lighting?

Although "purists" might argue that you are "tampering with the truth" if you change anything in a scene, most newspaper photographers and videographers (TV camerapersons) routinely do this when they see a need.

The dividing line is whether they are enhancing a scene for the sake of clarity and technical quality, or if they are distorting the truth.


Using Comparable Footage Or Pictures

>>A related issue is the use of comparable footage, videotape that appears to be the event being reported, but is from an earlier time.

You might be tempted to cut in some unused scenes from yesterday's forest fire to illustrate today's story on the same fire, or use a news photo of a forest fire from last year.

Some people might say, "A fire's a fire, what's the difference?" Well, there is a difference and regulatory agencies have taken a dim view of this kind of thing unless the fact is made clear to the viewing audience.

Simply keying the phrase "file footage," over TV news footage, or in the case of a newspaper photo, a clarifying caption such as "John Jones during Senate hearings in 2007," should head off any misunderstanding.


Copyrighted Materials

>>Music, photo illustrations, drawings and published text are copyrighted and cannot be broadcast or reproduced for distribution without clearance or permission from the copyright holder.

Under 1998 copyright revisions, copyright now extends for the life of an artist plus 70 years, and copyrights owned by corporations run for 95 years. However, recently these time periods came under review and could conceivably be changed.

tvp067_6.jpgUsing something that's copyrighted without permission can result in a $25,000 fine and one year in prison. (And that's only for the first offense; things get worse after that.)

For example, these cybertext materials are protected by international copyright law and can only be used directly from the Internet from either CyberCollege.com or InternetCampus.com.

What's here can't be downloaded and used on institutional computers or servers, distributed in printed form, or used for commercial purposes without violating copyright law.

One non-democratic country reproduced the materials for its own purposes and, in the process, all references to freedom of the press mysteriously disappeared. (One disgruntled person in that country brought this to our attention.)

>>Sometimes, especially in the case of noncommercial television, permission to use copyrighted materials will be granted without charge or for on-screen credit. More typically, a fee must be paid to the copyright holder. But, to protect yourself and your company or institution, make sure you get the permission in writing. In either case a written release must be kept on file in case it's legally challenged.

In the case of videos, you can feel reasonably safe using copyrighted material that will be viewed only by family members or a small group of people where no admission is charged. In the case of printed materials, copies can generally be made for personal use. But once these copies are distributed to a group, you violate copyright law unless the material comes under the "fair use act" as explained below.

Text, photos, film, or video produced by the U.S. federal government do not fall under copyright restrictions unless they were done by an outside agency that used copyrighted material. It's best to check.


The Fair Use Act

>>The fair use act allows for limited portions of copyrighted material to be used for criticism, teaching, scholarship, news, or research without the permission of the copyright holder.

Frankly, the fair use act is not well defined; and, unfortunately, we'll only get a clearer picture of what constitutes fair use after a number of court cases have addressed the issue.

The fair use act excludes use of copyrighted materials for other than immediate criticism, teaching, scholarship, news, or research; and, of course, it excludes the reproduction of materials in their entirety.


Works in the Public Domain

>>A work is in the public domain when its copyright has expired.

Although many old music selections are in the public domain, you need to watch out for recent arrangements of older works that have come under new copyright restrictions.


Permission to Use Music

Getting permission to use music can be a complex process, but  there are organizations such as ASCAP (American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers) and BMI (Broadcast Music Incorporated) that specialize in licenses for music used in productions and on-air broadcasts.

But even if your broadcast station or production agency subscribes to one of these services, it's important to note that the standard performing rights license that you typically pay for does not cover the use of music in commercials, public service announcements and productions. You need to check your license carefully to see what it does and does not cover. 


Music and Sound Effect Libraries

>>Since music clearance is complex and cumbersome, many people opt for audio libraries that can be purchased on CDs that consist of a wide variety of musical selections and sound effects. Once the library is purchased, you can use the material over an extended time for most production purposes.

Material in these libraries has been written or selected with the needs of the video and film producer in mind. With titles like "Manhattan Rush Hour," and "Serenity," you immediately know the nature of the musical selections.

One of the largest collections of sound effects, featuring some 2,500 effects on 60 CDs, is the BBC Sound Effects Library.  

Under "Cars," for example, you will find sound effects such as windshield wipers, horns, various engines, a car stalling, doors slamming, windows opening, seat belts snapping, a car passing, and a car skidding.  Under "Babies" you will find crying, hiccups, gurgling, laughing, bathing, babbling, coughing, first words, singing, and tantrums.


Using Original Music

>>To get around many of the problems in the use of music, many producers prefer to use original music. There are three main advantages.

  • it solves clearance problems
  • the music can be tailored to moods, pace and time requirements
  • it eliminates the "emotional baggage" (mental associations) that can accompany well known musical selections

If the music is relatively simple (possibly a guitar, flute or organ), or it is electronically synthesized (which most music is today), original music can be done rather inexpensively. In the hands of an expert, a music synthesizer (see photo above) can create the sound of anything from a single instrument to a full orchestra.

Many students have found that it's fun and relatively simple to create their own music for videos with their computers and one of the many available music software programs.


Talent Releases

>>Using someone's "likeness" (a photo or a video of them) without their permission can get you into legal trouble - especially if you use that "likeness" for commercial purposes.

By having the person sign a talent release or a model release you can be granted the permission you need. This protects a photographer in case someone later decides they don't want the footage broadcast or printed, or they demand extra compensation. Here is a – sample talent release for television.


Location Release

>>It may come as a surprise that you may need a release to film on some property. For example, you could not use a well-known amusement part as a setting for your commercial video without the permission of the property owner.

Many commercial establishments, such as supermarkets, malls, casinos, restaurants, etc., routinely forbid photography  - especially if you appear to be making pictures for professional purposes.

>>Bear in mind that the "once over lightly" treatment of complex legal issues in these modules is only designed to alert you to possible danger areas. Law libraries have thousands of books on these areas - and there is still great uncertainty about what's legal and what isn't.

About the only thing we know for sure is that lawsuits are very expensive for all parties involved, and the best defense is no offense. 

This file contains summary of information on these legal topics.

>>Next, we'll pull all of the broadcasting modules together into a succinct timeline.

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