Copyright infringement is a real risk for every film that is produced, and infringement lawsuits can hit your film—whether it’s big or small.
Recent news shows that even media heavyweights can face a legal battle over infringement accusations.
As Current reports, Pacific Coast Video has engaged in legal combat with PBS, accusing the public broadcast giant of copyright infringement. According to Pacific Coast Video, when PBS aired their documentary Navy SEALs: Their Untold Story in 2014, it included footage shot—and owned—by Pacific Coast Video.
For filmmakers, PBS’s lawsuit holds valuable lessons for copyright infringement, lessons this article will analyze. In the spirit of Sesame Street, this review is being brought to you by the letter “C.”
“C” Is for Courts
As Current explains, PBS and the film’s producer, fleisherfilm, now find themselves in court facing a copyright infringement lawsuit.
According to the complaint, filed in November of 2016, the PBS program used footage that was owned by Pacific Coast Video, and the footage in question is included in several films produced by the organization, all concerning the Navy SEALs.
As the complaint states, the PBS documentary directly competes with Pacific Coast Video’s films, both through the former’s broadcast across the nation on PBS affiliate stations and through secondary distribution channels, such as Amazon and iTunes. Pacific Coast Video is asking the court to award both damages, from lost revenue and loss of reputation, and punitive damages under California law.
“C” Is for Copyright Infringement
Another lesson drawn from this case is how easily copyright infringement can accidentally occur.
Assume for the moment that Pacific Coast Video’s copyrighted video is included in the PBS film without permission (which still must be proven in court). And assume that PBS and fleisherfilm did not intend to infringe on anyone’s copyright.
There are still several ways the copyrighted video could have ended up in Navy Seals: Their Untold Story:
- A third party may have provided the video for the producer. For example, it may have been part of promotional material the Navy uses (with permission). Even if the Navy agreed to let the PBS film use their promotional material, they wouldn’t have the legal right to assign the copyrighted material over to the producer.
- The producer may have mistakenly believed the material was governed by the “fair use” doctrine.
- The producer may have attempted to license the footage from a company who did not have the authority to license it.
Whatever the cause, PBS and fleisherfilm may now be on the monetary hook for a mistake.
“C” Is for Costly
In the complaint, Pacific Coast Video claims they spent years of effort in acquiring permission from the Navy, shooting large amounts of raw footage, and editing to produce their films. Any revenue generated from that video rightly belongs to them.
At a minimum, PBS and fleisherfilm have unplanned expenses associated with their documentary in the form of legal fees as they prepare to mount their defense.
They may come to an agreement with Pacific Coast Video to settle out of court, which will almost certainly cost much more than if PBS and fleisherfilm had licensed the material.
In a worst-case scenario, they could be liable for all revenue collected as part of the documentary’s distribution—plus potentially be responsible for Pacific Coast Video’s legal fees. On top of all that, the court could levy punitive damages if they find that either PBS or fleisherfilm acted maliciously or negligently.
“C” Is for Clearance
Whatever led to Pacific Coast Video’s copyright infringement lawsuit, there’s no mistaking that a legal review of clearance procedures could have helped identify this issue before Navy SEALs: Their Untold Story was released.
A Legal Review of Clearance Procedures from The Clearance Lab provides you with legal insight and analysis of any potential copyright issue in your film, like the one plaguing PBS.
Order your Legal Review of Clearance Procedures today before your film exposes you to costly and time-consuming legal battles.