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Saturday, September 23 2017 @ 02:23 AM CDT

Copyright and Patent Considerations

Previous: Video Production - Next: Summing it Up

In most countries, creation of a video is covered under the local copyright law, and the ownership of the copyright will potentially depend upon several things, not all of which are obvious and some of which vary from country to country.

In addition, the technology used in the creation of digital media is many times covered by one or more patents, and using the video for more than typical consumer practices may run afoul of the license restrictions placed under these patents.

I am not a lawyer, and you should probably consult one if you feel you might need to go beyond simple live streaming to the general public where your video is viewed for free. For the most part, simply hooking a camera to your computer and sending the resulting video of wildlife to a distribution company where it is available to view by anyone on the internet will not get you in any trouble, nor will it cause you headaches from having to read the fine print on myriad products and services.

That being said, you should at least read the following so you know what lines might be crossed in the future.


Copyright law is different in each country, and it is changing. Canada is about to get another copyright bill introduced in parliament as I write this, and there are secret (well at least they were until recently) negotiations on a treaty called ACTA (Anti-counterfeiting Trade Agreement) that contain sections on copyright currently going on between a number of countries. The following is very general because of this.

In general, copyright in video/audio arises at the point where it is first “fixed” on some recording medium. It also arises when a work is “broadcast” the first time. The gray area is in the definition of “broadcast” and whether sending it via the internet counts. This is yet another reason for creating an archive in real time, at or near the camera site; at least until this gray area is resolved.

You, as the owner of a camera and of the creation facilities (and archive facilities) hold copyright in the results. Nobody may do anything with them except view them in real time legally unless you specifically allow them to (or unless some exception in the copyright law under Fair Dealing in Canada or Fair Use in the U.S. or other country permits).


In order to modify basic copyright, you either need to deal with each individual who wishes to use your material outside of the basic terms (i.e. just watching it in real time), or you need to publish a blanket license that sets out what you will allow the general public to do with your content, and if they wish more than that then the means to get in touch with you.

As an example, Hancock Wildlife Foundation presents all of its video under a standard license called “Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.5 Canada License.” This is one of a series of licenses that have been defined by www.CreativeCommons.ORG specifically to help people such as you decide just what can and can’t be done on the internet with content.

Each license sets out the things a viewer can do and the conditions they can do it under. They range from very restrictive to very open in well defined steps, and have been adapted to the laws of many different countries’ specific copyright legislation. I strongly suggest you select one of these licenses and display it as the default on your web site and/or mention it on your stream site.


What the heck does a patent have to do with my video?

The answer is, maybe a lot.

Most of this book deals with your creation of Flash video, and in particular, Flash video with the H.264 video codec. H.264 is patent encumbered (i.e. there is patented intellectual property in its underlying software) and is licensed by an organization called MPEG LA. The standard license most software and hardware manufacturers (such as Adobe or your camera manufacturer) have with MPEG LA does not allow the resulting works to be used commercially without additional licensing fees being paid to MPEG LA. You, as the distributor of these videos, may be on the hook for these extra fees.

What this actually means to you at this time may be nothing. It also may mean that you could at some point get a bill from MPEG LA if they determine that the video you created with their codec is used “commercially” although that bill in fact may end up resting with somebody else if they license your work and re-distribute it.

It is “free” to use internet distribution of your H.264 encoded video “free” to internet viewers. There was a “sundown” date of December 31, 2015, after which MPEG LA was to charge for this “free” distribution, but they’ve recently rescinded this and made the license “forever” (or really, until the patents expire after which they will be in the public domain.)

Outside of the free distribution via internet, if you create a product for sale that includes H.264 video (thumb drive or other digital video item) or charge (pay for view) to view the video you must get a license and may end up owing them.

All of the above currently is fairly moot though. At this point MPEG LA has not gone after any individuals or even small businesses for licenses for use of their codec in distributing video. Mostly they deal with commercial broadcasters, movie producers, and hardware vendors.

That’s the bad news. Now the Good News...

The good news is that as I write this, Google has announced they have open-sourced a recently purchased competitor to H.264 called VP8, and helped create a new video/audio package format called WebM. Adobe has announced support for VP8 in Flash (they also support another codec of their own currently too) and there are many others climbing on the band-wagon to get out from under the potential problems of H.264 use.

The “forever” license change seems to be to counter the potential of a move away from H.264 by camera and encoder manufacturers. So far it seems to be working but time will tell.

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