Sunday, February 1, 2009

Note to University of Tampa: copyright law does not require you to saw your students in fifths

A bizarre story from the University of Tampa is making the rounds; apparently some RAs are telling their students that they may only have "3.4" people in a room watching the Super Bowl, lest they run afoul of the Copyright Act's prohibition on unlicensed public performances:

During recent floor meetings, some RAs have been telling their residents that they will not allow more than 3.4 people in a room watching the Super Bowl.

Krystal Schofield, Director of Residence Life, says the topic of copyright law first came up in RA training. RAs were being further educated on copyright laws and how it applied to their jobs, not specifically for the Super Bowl.

"Some RAs were looking for hard facts on how many people could view an event in a room and it still be considered a private showing," she said.

The concern with the NFL's copyright cops descending on a dorm room where 4 people are watching the Super Bowl is absurd on multiple levels. First, as attorney Marc John Randazza of the Legal Satyricon correctly points out, copyright law does not prohibit private performances, and there is no magic number that transforms a private performance into a public one.

In addition, even if some University of Tampa Super Bowl party were to be deemed "public," something called the "homestyle exemption," found at 17 U.S.C. § 110(5)(A), provides additional protection from a copyright suit. The homestyle exemption basically says that it's not copyright infringement for a business to stick a normal TV (the kind you might put in your own home) on the wall, as long as the business doesn't charge a specific fee to watch. Slate had a pretty good "Explainer" on this last Super Bowl; here's another example of the homestyle exemption in practice (actually, an example where a court found that the exemption did not apply).

So, University of Tampa students, put away those chainsaws; no need to cut out .6 of your fourth roommate.


  1. We shouldn't be too hard on them. They were just trying to be conscientious, unlike most members of their generation when it comes to this issue. Then again, maybe the type of students who become RA's are priggish busybodies who relish the chance to be petty dorm room dictators.

  2. You are right, and I hope my post didn't come off as too harsh. I just find the "3.4 people" thing pretty hilarious.


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