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Don't get caught with your screen down: hosting resident movie nights without the proper license could result in copyright infringement penalties.

From VHS tapes to DVDs and Blu-ray discs, one thing has remained the same: That blue and gold FBI anti-piracy warning. It appears on screen after the previews and before the start of the movie, and states in no uncertain terms that the unauthorized reproduction or distribution of the copyrighted work is illegal--and punishable by both fines and jail time.


And yet, much like the emergency exit spiel given before a plane takes off, most people don't give it a second thought--if they are even paying attention.

However, the warning isn't there for formality's sake. According to Sal Laudicina, President of the Licensing Division for the Motion Picture Licensing Corporation (MPLC)--an independent copyright licensing agency--copyright infringement is a serious offense and one that apartment management companies, among others, must be wary of committing.

According to Laudicina, The U.S. Copyright Act--Title 17 of the United States Code--grants copyright owners control over the use of their works, including the right to "perform" the work publicly. Copyrighted motion pictures and other programs that are available for rental or purchase in any legal format are intended for personal, private, home use only.

Screenings outside of an individual apartment unit, Laudicina explains, are not considered "home use." Therefore, if an apartment management company hosts a movie night for its residents, rents or owns an inflatable outdoor screen for a "dive-in" poolside movie event, or simply has a theater where residents can informally gather to watch a film, a public performance license is required.

In an effort to remain fully compliant, many apartment management companies have entered into an agreement with the MPLC, which is authorized by motion picture studios and producers to grant the MPLC Umbrella License for the public performance of copyrighted and audiovisual works.

Laudicina says the annual license allows apartment communities to show motion pictures and other programs intended for personal, private home use in any common areas of the property. Once licensed, movies may be obtained from any legitimate source, whether purchased, borrowed, rented, downloaded or streamed. The license does not apply to music that is played in the leasing office or at a community event.

The license fee is calculated on a cumulative basis, per community. It starts at $6 per unit annually--half the cost of going to the movies in many areas of the country--and is as low as $1 per unit, depending on other discounts. Laudicina says the MPLC works with many associations to provide a 10 percent discount to their membership. Additionally, economies-of-scale discounts are given to multiple apartment owners and operators.

It's a small price to pay, Laudicina adds, compared to the potential civil penalties one could face for unauthorized movie exhibitions, which start at $750 for each inadvertent infringement and increase to as much as $150,000 for each "egregious violation."

Chris Van Ens, Vice President Investor Relations, UDR, says his company first entered into the Umbrella License agreement with MPLC in November 2010. UDR initiated a new contract in November 2011 to cover additional communities that have theater rooms.

"The license provides consistency and standard terms for all of our communities," Van Ens says. "Additionally, we were able to have one contract at MPLC and they have one contact in our legal department, which really makes the process easier."

According to Laudicina, several thousand residential communities are currently licensed through MPLC's program, which provides programming from more than 425 sources, ranging from Disney and Warner Bros. to independent producers. He says the purpose of the Umbrella License is to simplify compliance.

"We understand that this may be a new issue for owners and managers, and we want to explain the law and provide a simple, low-cost copyright-compliance solution," Laudicina says. "MPLC's licensing staff is here to serve as educators of the law."

According to the U.S. Copyright Act, a license is required to publicly screen any movie, regardless of whether an admission fee is charged or if the movie has been purchased. Additionally, communities that allow residents or guests to program movies without the appropriate license can be held "vicariously or contributorily liable and subject the entire community to substantial fines," Laudicina says.

Although the ins and outs of copyright infringement may seem daunting, Laudicina says it is not difficult to comply with the law.

"In many apartment communities, movie showings are an affordable amenity that residents have come to expect," Laudicina says. "Exhibitions in a theater or lounge foster a sense of community and are a great way for residents to come together. The proper license will cover all of these events."

Lauren Boston is NAA's Staff Writer. She can be reached at or 703/797-0678.

FYI: For more information about the Umbrella License, contact the MPLC at 800/462-8855 or online at
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Author:Boston, Lauren
Date:Dec 1, 2012
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