Q: Our social committee wants to start a “movie night” that is open to all of our residents. Would this violate copyright laws? (C.S., via e-mail)
A: First, I would be very skeptical of adding new social activities of this nature until the COVID-19 pandemic is under better control.
The Federal Copyright Act (“FCA”), governs the rights associated with intellectual property, such as movies. FCA grants “exclusive rights” to the owner of a copyright. FCA provides that an owner of a copyright has the exclusive right to show the movie at “public performances.” Anyone who wishes to use the movie for a public performance must obtain permission or a license from the copyright owner.
When an individual or family rents or streams a movie, or purchases a physical movie, the purchase is deemed to include what is known as a “home viewing license.” This license grants permission to show the movie inside a home to a “normal circle of a family and its social acquaintances.”
FCA defines a public performance as a performance done in public or “at any place where a substantial number of people outside of a normal circle of a family and its social acquaintances is gathered.” Public places include “semi-public” areas which are defined as areas that, although not open to the public at large, are accessible to a significant number of people. Performances of copyrighted material in “semi-public” areas also constitute “public performances.”
In a 1985 case involving a Florida condominium, a federal trial court considered whether a dance held by the association constituted a “public performance,” thus protecting copyrights on the music played. The association argued that the clubhouse was an “extension of the residences living room” and, therefore, fell within the normal circle of “family and social acquaintances.” The court did not buy this argument because the association charged a three dollars admission fee (though termed a “voluntary suggested donation”). Further, members of the general public were permitted to attend (or at least not precluded from attending) the dances.
Since “inadvertent” violations of copyrights can carry significant monetary penalties, the details of a proposed “movie night” should be discussed with the association’s counsel. Among other approaches, licenses can be purchased through central clearinghouses for certain types of intellectual property.
Q: Are surveillance cameras at our main entry gate permitted to take pictures of our license plates when entering the community? (S.D., via e-mail)
A: Yes. As with scanning, photographing, or photocopying the front of a driver’s license, automatic license plate recognition at an entry gate is permissible. A license plate contains no confidential information and there is no reasonable expectation that the license plate is private as it is lawfully required to be on the exterior of the motor vehicle and is considered property of the State.
Section 322.143(2) of the Florida Statutes prohibits a private entity from “swiping” driver’s licenses which could capture personal information from the magnetic strip or bar code. “Swiping” is defined as the act of passing a driver license through a device that is capable of deciphering, in an electronically readable format, the information electronically encoded in a magnetic strip or bar code.
Q: Our condominium association gave a holiday bonus to our employees even though there was nothing in the budget for this. Is this legal? (M.W., via e-mail)
A: In my experience, holiday bonuses are not uncommon. Since bonuses often depend on the financial performance of the association and the relative contributions of a particular employee, it is not unusual for there to be a specific line item in the budget. While I think the best practice is to have some generally accepted range for typical bonuses accrued in the budgeting detail, I do not think that the failure to do so is a violation of law.