04/07/2014

Dentists must obtain license to show movies in waiting room


Inquiries have increased to CDA Practice Support recently on the subject of movie licensing.

Dental practices are being contacted by mail or in person by individuals seeking to collect licensing fees. Many dentists assume it is OK to play movies they have purchased in their waiting rooms, but that is not always the case.

The following information is from Chapter 2 of the Legal Guide for California Dentists, available on cda.org/practicesupport.

I purchased DVDs of children's films to show in my waiting room. I own the DVDs — why can't I play them in my waiting room?

When you purchase or rent a DVD, you are licensed to view the movie at home with family or a small circle of friends, as long as you do not conduct any commercial activity in your home or seek reimbursement for rental fees or refreshments, etc. This permitted use does not include showing or displaying the movie in the waiting room of your dental office.

In order to show or display the movie at your office (a public place of business), you need to obtain a public performance license. Fees for these licenses are generally very small. The primary entities that handle such licenses include:

It is important to comply with the copyright law because infringement carries significant penalties. For example, if an infringement is considered "willful," you could be subject to statutory damages as high as $150,000 for each infringed work. Moreover, even if the infringement is considered inadvertent, you could be subject to statutory damages ranging from $750 to $30,000 for each infringed work. You may also be subject to other costs, including reasonable attorneys' fees to the prevailing party. 

Do I need a license to play movie DVDs in the waiting area?

When you purchase or rent a DVD, you are licensed to view the movie at home with family or a small circle of friends, as long as you do not conduct any commercial activity in your home or seek reimbursement for rental fees or refreshments, etc. This permitted use does not include showing or displaying the movie in a commercial establishment such as a dental office.

Does it matter if my patients bring in their own DVDs to play in the waiting room?

Yes. This would still require a public performance license unless they bring their own personal players. If you provide the means for the infringement (i.e., by providing the DVD player, video screen, etc., in the waiting room) and allow your patients to play their own DVDs, you may be liable for contributory infringement because you had the right and ability to monitor the infringing activity. If your patients wish to bring their portable DVD players or laptop computers for their own use, you are not contributing to infringement.

My patients watch DVDs while undergoing treatment — is this considered a "public performance"?

Yes. Because the dental operatory is part of a business, showing or displaying the movie would be considered a public performance for which there is no nonprofit exemption. Thus, for the reasons discussed above, you would be required to obtain a separate public performance license.

For more information, review the Legal Reference Guide for California Dentists at cda.org/member-resources/practice-support/legal-guide.