Most lodging establishments engage in entertainment and communication-related activities that may involve copyrighted materials such as music, video streaming, and the internet. These activities raise essential questions about copyright laws and the responsibilities of lodging establishments. Violating copyright laws can lead to significant liability ranging from $750 to $150,000 for each unlicensed exhibition of a copyrighted work. Therefore, it’s crucial to have a basic understanding of copyright laws to ensure compliance.
Understanding Copyright Law Basics
In determining whether a hotel is violating copyright laws, the key factor is whether the way that a hotel makes copyrighted works available to guests and others constitutes a “public performance.” The hotel must obtain permission to use the copyrighted work if it does.
The definition of a public performance is broad. It can include live performances, broadcasting tv shows in common areas, playing music at events, playing music or TV in public spaces, webcasting, elevator music, and more. Hotels should carefully analyze all public performances involving copyrighted works regardless of whether hotel guests, staff, or others initiate them.
Owners often rely on performing rights societies such as Broadcast Music Inc. (BMI); the American Society for Composers, Authors, and Publishers (ASCAP); and the Motion Picture Licensing Corporation (MPLC) to protect their copyrighted work. These organizations inspect and audit hotels to identify unlawful public performances and ensure proper licensing.
Fair Use Doctrine
Hotel owners may question whether the Fair Use Doctrine allows them to use copyrighted works without facing liability. Under the Copyright Act, the Fair Use Doctrine allows limited use of copyrighted works for purposes of criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, and research. But determining fair use depends on the purpose and character of the use, the nature of the work, and the portion used. Hotels should be cautious when assuming fair use and not solely rely on attributing work or linking to the owner’s website as a defense.
Digital Millennium Copyright Act
Hotels that provide internet services can also face liability under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DCMA). If guests use the hotel’s internet to download copyrighted music and videos, both the guest and hotel may be liable for copyright infringement. Hotels should carefully review their internet service terms to protect themselves from liability.
For more information on copyright laws, visit the CHLA website.