Legal Question in Intellectual Property in Pennsylvania

If I have a home video taken over 20 years ago of a currently famous person when they were a child, can I sell the footage to a news organization without legal ramifications?

Asked on 3/15/11, 8:48 pm

1 Answer from Attorneys

Gerry Elman Elman Technology Law, P.C.

To answer that hypothetical question, an attorney would need to consider at least the following issues:

1. Who owns the copyright for that video? The answer could depend on the date the video was generated. When the U.S. joined a treaty called the Berne Convention in 1989, the law of U.S. copyright was changed to become consistent with international practice. From then on, a copyright subsists in any work of authorship fixed in a tangible medium of expression, even without a copyright notice. Before then, however, unpublished works of authorship were entitled to a different sort of protection called "common law copyright." In those instances, somebody could own copyright even though the work isn't registered with the Copyright Office. Although you might have possession of the original or a single instance of the video, you might not be able to authorize a news organization to publish it without permission from the owner of the copyright.

2. Many states of the U.S. have various laws regarding "right of privacy" and "right of publicity." It seems that your question could implicate both. Search online for explanations of these legal terms, to get a taste of the legal thicket that surrounds this subject.

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Answered on 3/16/11, 6:41 am

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