Students decry film licensing fees
A new push by Washington University to enforce its policy of requiring student groups to pay licensing fees for copyrighted films shown on campus is causing headaches and grumblings among many smaller student groups.
The licensing fees, which currently range from around $300 to as high as $1,000, apply to any film shown in University facilities other than private dorm rooms. The renewed enforcement of the policy has already resulted in at least one student group, the Disney Movie Appreciation Club (DMAC), suspending its activities indefinitely.
At least one student on campus finds the administration’s decision antagonizing.
“I don’t see anything positive coming out of this decision,” said sophomore Kyle Kamerbeek, DMAC president. “Even if we did show Disney movies at Ursa’s, what are the odds that Bob Iger [CEO of Disney] walks in and tells me to stop? Even if somehow, somebody reports me showing the movie, I can argue that I was watching it with a few friends and others walked in, which is pretty much true for most DMACs.”
DMAC was recently barred from screening a Disney film at Ursa’s. As a non-Student Union group, DMAC was not notified of the enforcement until the group attempted to screen a film.
Kamerbeek protested the fact that the administration failed to inform him of the policy ahead of time.
“I respect the school’s decision, but I find it ridiculous that they did not notify me, the student body or even the workers at Ursa’s, who know that I show a movie every Monday,” he said. “The complete lack of notification is what gets me. I had been doing DMAC for the previous two weeks, and then out of nowhere they tell me I can’t.”
Representatives from campus and student groups met over the summer to reword the administration’s policy on film screenings and consider enforcement options. Attendants at these meetings included senior Chase Sackett, speaker of the SU Senate; senior Anna Studstill, chair of the student group Filmboard; and Mary Zabriskie from Campus Life.
“Ultimately, I’m happy with the change,” Studstill said. ”It’s easier for us to do it, because we had warning, and we budgeted for the copyright. But ultimately, it’s a good change. We’re protecting ourselves so that nobody gets in trouble.”
“Yes, it can get a little expensive but that’s what we’re trying to show movies for—for a greater population,” she added.
Supporters of the enforcement efforts said they are merely clarifying a policy that was already in place and alerting student groups to the consequences of their actions.
“It’s not a new policy. It is the same policy that has always been in place,” said Leslie Heusted, assistant director of programming and marketing for the Danforth University Center. “Copyright is a law. What we did was re-examine the wording and the consequences around what happens if people don’t follow the law, and we wanted to make that more present in people’s considerations.”
Heusted noted that the policy update is mainly centered around raising awareness about the University’s adherence to copyright code.
“We didn’t really change the policy,” Heusted said. “We were just more mindful of the fact that we needed to make sure that people are aware of the copyright law. It’s always been the law. We just wanted to make sure that our student organizations and our departments are aware of that.”
The policy, available at http://getinvolved.wustl.edu, notes that “federal law is clear that any copyrighted film (VHS, DVD, etc) in any university facilities, other than a private residence hall room, cannot be shown unless a license to show the film is obtained or special permission from the owner of the copyright is received.”
While enforcement of the policy is hardest for non-SU-recognized groups like DMAC, it is also affecting Category II groups, which can receive a maximum of $500 from SU every semester—the equivalent of two films or less.
“We thought about budgeting in for a movie, but is it really worth only having one event?” said senior Christy Nigh, president of the Christian student group One Voice. “I think they gave themselves a bit of a headache, especially in not announcing it last year, especially for the Category I groups whose budgets have already been finalized.”
Nigh called for a more specific redefinition of what constitutes a film-watching event.
“Is it okay for a group of people to get into a common room and watch it and not have it be an event? I don’t know,” she said.
While students like Kamerbeek and Nigh understand the reason behind the copyright policy, they still stress that the policy’s enforcement is more damaging to smaller student groups on campus.
“It probably will affect a lot of people. I understand why the University is changing its policy to conform with the laws,” Nigh said. “It’s just a little bit frustrating, because our group is very small and watching a movie with our group is very similar to watching with a group of friends.”