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Unlicensed Viewings Make MIT Pay $14K, Seek Blanket License

By Marissa Vogt


MIT recently paid $14,000 to a copyright licensing company that found evidence that several student groups held publicized, unlicensed showings of copyrighted movies.

As a result, MIT is exploring the option of purchasing a blanket copyright license that would allow student groups to legally show movies, said Thomas E. Robinson, program coordinator for student life programs. Without such a license, both student groups and dormitories are not allowed to publicly show films.

Web sites indict student groups

MIT was notified that three or four student groups had advertised showings of copyrighted movies on their Web sites.

“An outside company went on student group Web sites and actually took screenshots of those Web sites and mailed them to MIT,” Robinson said.

He said he did not know the name of the company that took the screenshots, and would not say which student groups had advertised the films without a license.

The $14,000 that MIT paid was not so much a fine for not having a copyright license, but more of a back payment for showing the movies in the first place, Robinson said. He said that MIT has an established working relationship with the company, and the payment served to “both to enforce copyright[s] and give us a warning.”

He said that the Student Activities Office has worked with both the Association of Student Activities and the Intellectual Property Office, which dealt directly with the copyright licensing company to resolve the issue.

MIT Senior Counsel for Intellectual Property Ann M. Hammersla did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

ASA warns groups about policy

Jason B. Alonso ’04, treasurer of the ASA, said that the ASA is working with the Student Activities Office to make sure that student groups do not infringe on the movie copyright rules in the future.

The ASA sent an e-mail that they wrote with the SAO and Technology Licensing Office to the officers of student activity groups in a March 1 e-mail. Excerpts from the e-mail follow:

“At the advice of MIT’s Senior Counsel for Intellectual Property, we are writing to inform all student groups that they must remove all copyright protected material from their web sites (this includes pictures as well as text) ... Also, student groups must refrain from holding public showings of movies (free or otherwise) without the proper permission from the copyright holder.”

“This whole affair has given the ASA fairly deep concerns,” Alonso said. “If anything were to go wrong, it would be more money than the ASA or even the Student Activities Office could even begin to deal with. The SAO, ASA, and other groups are, for the most part, scared.”

The ASA e-mail also said that “groups that fail to follow these policies will be responsible for paying any fees that may arise.”

Robinson said that the student groups that had originally shown the copyrighted movies will not be fined.

Blanket license being considered

Alonso said that ASA officers attended a copyright presentation with the SAO in March to discuss future directions.

Robinson said that MIT is currently looking into purchasing a broad license so that student groups and dormitories will be able to show movies in the future without punishment.

“What we’re hoping to do is, rather than [have] each student group paying individually each time they want to show a movie, obtain a broad license,” Robinson said.

Until MIT has such a license, both student groups and dormitories will not be allowed to have movie nights, though Robinson said that small, spontaneous viewings are allowed.

“If someone wants to show a film or movie, we’re working with them on that until we get that broad license,” Robinson said. “It’s really in everyone’s best interest to keep having this available to MIT.”

Robinson said that he estimates the cost of the license to be “several thousand [dollars] at least.” He said that the SAO is working with several groups and individuals, including the ASA, Undergraduate Association, Graduate Student Council, and Dean for Student Life Larry G. Benedict, to determine where the money will come from.

“We very much want student groups to be able to show movies,” Alonso said.

The SAO has posted a frequently asked questions page regarding copyright policies for student groups and dormitories at