Welcome to Show Business: Are You Sure Your Webcast Plays By the Rules?

Welcome to Show Business: Are You Sure Your Webcast Plays By the Rules?

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Producing webcasts or online video series for marketing purposes can be a dream come true for creative types who love working with like-minded people. If you want to use professional talent or popular music within these webcasts, however, it can quickly turn into a nightmare if you don’t take into consideration the “show business” unions and other entities that manage performer and author royalties. With the loose, informal way that webcasting began, it’s easy to forget that you are creating intellectual property (IP) and potentially (mis)using others’ IP.

So, before you get started, here are five things to be aware of if you are producing webcasts with professional actors, authors and popular music:

1) Hiring Professional Actors for Your Webcast

If you hire professional actors to be in your webcast, you will need to pay them according to their union rules.  Typically, you will be dealing with the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) or American Federation of Radio and Television Artists (AFTRA) pay scale for an “industrial” production.  The SAG and AFTRA contracts, recently extended through April 30, 2014, cover performers rendering on-camera and voiceover services in sales programs, educational and training videos, informational and promotional messages seen in stores and video included in certain consumer products, and other projects that are exhibited outside of the traditional broadcast arena.

Certainly, actors and voiceover artists who are members of these unions will want to be paid according to the union scale. In addition, when a union actor works for you, you have to make contributions to their union health and retirement accounts. The easiest way to handle payments to union actors is to work with a specialized payroll firm.  They will charge you a fee for the service, but it is well worth it.

2) Choosing Music for Your Webcast

Music is a big deal in the film and TV business. You may not realize it, but every time you hear a note of music or the words to a song on TV, someone is getting a royalty on the material. (Collecting royalties was one way Michael Jackson made as much money as he did – he owned the “publishing rights” to all of the Beatles’ songs.)  Be extremely careful about music that you use in a webcast. Even if you have bought “royalty free” music, make sure that you are entitled to use it for a specific purpose.  Major entities that manage music royalties include the American Society of Composers Authors and Performers (ASCAP), BMI and SESAC.

3) Working with Professional Screenwriters

Most webcasts are under the radar screen of the professional screen-writing and television writing communities. However, as the format evolves and becomes more prominent, it will invariably attract members of the Writers Guild of America (WGA) as contributors.  Like actors in SAG, WGA members are covered when services are to be performed in non-broadcast films and videos used in business and government for training, education, promotion, public relations and other similar purposes, WGA also has very specific pay rules, pension and health, and so forth, with revised contracts sent to members for voting on March 25.

4) Choosing Images and Clips for Your Webcast

If you have photos, logos, or clips from TV or movies in your webcast, you must be sure to clear them for use, as photographers and TV and movie production companies may require licensing fees.  Depending on how you are using them, you may get free “Fair Use,” but don’t count on it without getting an informed opinion.  For an example of a clip clearance form, see form.

5) Reuse & Distributing your Webcast

Now, this is where things can get out of control.   Once you produce a webcast, you need to be careful about how it is distributed after it has been recorded.  Remember, many of the unions and contracts regarding use of IP are governed by the number of times and size of audience that a piece of material is performed. If your recorded webcast, for example, finds its way onto the Web and gets replayed a bazillion times, you might find yourself facing some big-time inquiries from talent and IP holders.

For example, several years back, a quickie jingle Yahoo created for a small Web banner ad got reused on radio and TV, including commercials broadcast from the Academy Awards and the Super Bowl.  The original singer of the jingle sued Yahoo for $5 million for copyright infringement and the two parties settled for an undisclosed amount.  While Yahoo was able to continue to use the jingle, it suffered an embarrassing hit on its reputation, not to mention its pocketbook.

While producing webcasts and other online videos for your client or company can – and should – be a fun and creative process, overlooking any of the requirements from the professional organizations can quickly take the fun right out of it.  For additional clarification and questions, check out the professional organizations and read their guidelines and regulations.  Miss anything, and you could be liable for a lot of money and embarrassment!


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