When Social Committee Parties and Association Movie Nights Turn Into Copyright Infringement

Law Blog » Federal & Regulatory

With the advent of projector tvs, our office has become more and more aware of association sponsored "movie nights."  For many years, a handful of associations have also brought in a DJ for their association block party or picnic.  Our office has long held the position that association maintenance assessments should not be used for social events.  Another reason to avoid this practice is copyright infringement which carries penalties up to $150,000.00 per violation.

​Any original work of authorship in a tangible format of expression automatically has a copyright that protects the work from being reproduced, copied, performed publicly, and displayed publicly.  This means that if the association hires a DJ to publicly play music, or a singer to publicly perform another artist's song, the association and that entertainer are infringing upon that song's copyright.  While association common elements are private property, for copyright infringement purposes, an individual playing copyrighted work for any group beyond their immediate circle of extended family and immediate friends is a public display. Courts around the country generally hold that performing or playing a copyrighted work in a community association clubhouse is considered to be public. This means that the association and the DJ are joint and severally liable to copyright infringement.

 The same concept also applies to "movie night" screenings in the common areas. The board should not allow movie screenings that are open to the entire association unless it first acquires the proper license to show that movie.