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A look at secondary transmissions and the risk of infringement

We've all seen them: those reruns of "I Love Lucy" or a rebroadcast of an insightful documentary. But have you ever thought about what is necessary in order to make these reruns happen? Have you ever considered whether broadcasting companies have to follow certain laws in order to avoid civil litigation down the road?

If you're like most people across the nation, you probably don't think about the behind the scenes work that must occur in order to make rebroadcasts happen. But if you work in the entertainment industry and have concerns about copyright infringement, then you probably do think about this behind the scenes work and also have question about how to stay in compliance with the law as well.

Let's first look at how the United States addresses rebroadcasting.

According to the United States Copyright Office, a cable system may rebroadcast a copyrighted work provided certain criteria are met. The two main criteria that must be met in all cases are that the secondary transmitter does not alter the original copyrighted work and the appropriate royalties are awarded to copyright holders. Failing to abide by these and many other criteria established by Section 111 of the Copyright Act of 1976 can lead to litigation as the law does provide an avenue for redress if damages are suffered because of copyright infringement.

To illustrate this fact, our California readers need only turn to a copyright infringement case currently before a federal court. The plaintiff, who holds a series of copyrights for images taken of the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001, claims that his images have been rebroadcasted on several television networks without his permission. He claims this is because CBS, who allegedly signed a "one-time use" licensing agreement with the plaintiff, "began an extensive program of sublicensing" that not only infringed on the plaintiff's copyrights but left him without payment for his work. He is now seeking damages from the named defendants.

Just like this case and others we have presented in past posts, people do have the right to seek compensation in the event that they believe their copyright has been infringed upon. Because of the complexity of the law though, it's best to do so with a good lawyer at your side.

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