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Rights, rights? Wrong!


Life was simpler then, or was it? For those of you who remember 16mm (I understand that a few centers still circulate them) and the positive impact they made on learning, will also remember the problems. There were never enough copies to meet bookings or enough money to purchase the much needed duplicate copies. This all changed with the introduction of the videocassette that was easily duplicated.

I remember an article that Bob Churchill (founder of Churchill Films) wrote, “Golden Egg Production – The Goose Cries Foul”. It predicted the inevitable possibility that if companies granted duplication rights, the flow of new productions would dwindle. He felt that companies could not continue to produce if they could not sell enough copies to turn a profit. Well, Bob was partially correct.

We have seen many changes, but there still is a continued flow of product. Since the introduction of the videocassette, we have seen projectors that could convert 16mm to video and so on to the latest in electronic distribution. Whether you are streaming, using a forward and store system, or another method of transmission, you need quality curriculum based programs. To distribute these commercially produced programs, you need to secure a license, contract, or rights. This brings us to “Rights, Rights? Wrong!”

Usually rights are purchased for a specified period of time. It could be one year, three years, five years, in perpetuity, or rights in continuity. Now, to the heart of this article.

Rights for a specific yearly period is self-explanatory. Recently a NAMTC member inquired about the rights issue. The question was referred to Arnold P. Lutzker, AIME’S attorney, for clarification. Before we continue, we must look at the definition of “in perpetuity” and a clarification of “Rights in Continuity”. Perpetuity according to Webster’s (3)”unlimited time; eternity”. The granting of rights in perpetuity has changed as answered by Mr. Lutzker:

1. In Perpetuity – Is it possible for producers and distributors to sell use rights “in perpetuity”?

Copyright law grants to the owner of a work the exclusive right to control copying, preparation of derivative works, public distribution, public display and public performance during the term of copyright. The copyright term was extended in 1998 to life of the author plus 70 years, or in the case of work for hire or work owned by a corporation, 95 years from date of creation. The notion of rights in perpetuity is usually shorthand for rights as long into the future as I think I’ll need them. Many copyright owners can and do offer those rights, although it remains a bit of a misnomer, since copyrights by definition are for a limited term, not perpetual.

2. Continuity – What does “continuity” mean?

Frankly, I’m not sure about this phrase. I suspect that its use is intended to be in distinction to “in perpetuity;” hence, it would mean for a defined period of time, not forever. Being that Mr. Lutzker answer was not very clear, I spoke with a company that uses the term “Rights In Continuity”. Their understanding was “Rights to use for as long as the company has the rights”.

The granting of rights in perpetuity has changed as defined above. What are you securing when a company grants you rights in perpetuity or in continuity? Can a company that only has distribution rights for a specific period of time grant you rights beyond that period? Many companies are doing just that, but can they legally?

I knew when I started to write this article that there would be some controversy and many questions would be raised. In talking with people on both sides of the desk, it was felt that clarification was needed as we enter further into more complex methods of electronic distribution.

It is time that NAMTC and AIME put forward an agenda to clarify and publish a position on rights. Perhaps the 2002 Leadership Summit in Atlanta would be a setting for a round table discussion or program. Many of you are members of the Association for Instructional Media and Equipment, AIME. For those of you who are not familiar with this organization, you might want to contact Betty Ehlinger, Executive Secretary, AIME, to join. AIME is open to professional and corporate memberships. It has been and still is very active in Copyright issues and other related matters that effect our field.

Rights, Rights? Wrong! As a professional, know what rights you are securing. As a company, know what rights you are actually granting. When it comes to “Rights”, don’t find out you were Wrong!

Franklin J. Visco
Lucerne Media