Live Streaming and the Law: An Overview

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Cover All Your Bases!

At our DC studios we see our fair share of live streamers. This means that we know how to navigate the different laws around live streaming and copyrighted content, and we work with this knowledge almost every day.

Most laws and policies about streaming video content online are aimed at preventing copyright infringement. By this we mean that the laws are centered around making sure that movies, songs, etc, aren’t accessed without the proper parties being paid.

Broadcasting in Public

It has been clearly and decisively established that if you are in a public place you have no reasonable expectation to privacy. Therefore, if you are doing a live stream in public, all of the people milling about in the background are not potential liabilities for you, don’t worry.

It is, of course, more complicated than that.

Exception: Commercial Use

If you are in public and interviewing people, however, you are going to want to get a signed release from them that allows you to use their image.

This is because there are protections in place to ensure that you don’t profit from someone’s image without their consent. Even if you aren’t technically making money with your live stream, if you see any revenue from your online presence (like selling merchandise on a website that your live stream is linked to) you are opening yourself up to a lawsuit.

You can find example release forms here.

Exception: Criminal Peeping

This one is obvious, but we would be remiss to neglect mention of it when discussing streaming and legality, so here goes: no trying to look under anyone’s clothes and no filming of anyone’s private property.

An example would be standing on a sidewalk, which is technically public space, but zooming in on someone’s window and looking into their living room. This is a big no-no and puts you in a very bad situation. Don’t do it!

Broadcasting Copyrighted Material

Either don’t use copyrighted content OR be willing to pay for it.

The current precedent in the US establishes that streaming websites, like YouTube, are not responsible for the copyrighted content uploaded by individual creators, but they will take it down if they find it and think it egregious enough.

It might not stay this way forever though. This year in Europe we have already seen a swing against companies like Google who host some copyrighted content, with laws establishing that they will be held responsible and must put measures in place to make sure nothing copyrighted is uploaded on their platform.

The lobby responsible for that is also trying to make the same thing happen in the US, which means that if you use a bit of a copyrighted song or something similar your content may not be uploaded at all. For now, though, you are safe.

Fair Use Law means that if sued by whoever holds the rights to the copyrighted content you can defend yourself by saying you only used a short snippet of it, or that people aren’t less likely to buy a movie or song because you showed a small clip.

How to Use Copyrighted Content Legally

It isn’t easy.

To use a commercial song or video you need to obtain two different licenses: the synchronization license (to use the song) and the master license to use the recording of that song. This means coordinating with the label or entity that owns the song, which can be a slightly arduous process.

For a more in-depth discussion of what to do and how to avoid getting flagged, try here and here.

We suggest that you just use content that is available under the Creative Commons license. This is a popular choice among many live streamers who want to avoid getting flagged by the platforms they upload on!

If you have any questions about how our studio approaches live streaming best practice feel free to reach out to us today!

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