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Maria Prada, a student in Jon Pfeiffer's Fall 2014 Media Law class at Pepperdine University, wrote the following essay in response to the prompt: "Watch Parties. Angela is known for hosting the best parties. Angela was planning for her annual Super Bowl Bash when she came up with an idea to help finance her party: she decided to charge people $10 to attend, which included food, drinks and a seat. Angela invites you to the party, but when she mentions the $10 admission price, you remember the copyright discussions from your Communications Law class. By charging to attend her Super Bowl Party, is Angela infringing on the NFL's copyright? Knowing that she needs money to host the party, what advice would you give Angela?"
Before giving Angela any advice, I would first want to know what type of copyright infringement lawsuit her party would face. The most important question to ask first when it comes to these issues is whether the event was public or private - there are very different limitations and legal conditions for each, so before diving into consequences, you have to know what type of situation you are looking into.
From what we know, it appears as though Angela's party is private - she is planning it on her own and personally inviting her guests. We know straight out that she is not catering to a public audience and that her party is not for commercial use, but merely for entertainment. In other words, her event will be a private display of the game and she will host it in her private property, not in an establishment or public gathering location.
So far, Angela can legally host her party - she won't even have to worry about the 55-inch TV screen size limit set by the NFL some years ago, because this only applies to public showings.
Because we know she will be hosting the party in her own private property, we can also assume that - unless she owns a Kardashian super-mansion or plans to invite a bunch of strangers and their mothers - the amount of people invited will still be within the private gathering legal definition, that extends to the person's family circle and her social acquaintances.
As for the $10 admission she will be charging her guests, you can determine its legality based on what she is charging them for. In this case, the host is charging for food, drink and a seat - its extremely important that we know that she only needs this money to help cover the costs in order to have her party and not because she wants to make money from this event. There is no separate admission charge for the guests to view the game either, which could have potentially sparked legal doubts or questions if this case ended up in court.
Because I know that Angela will be providing food and drinks, my advice to her would be to be careful and attentive with what and how much she is serving to her guests because, although she might not be running the risk of violating copyright law, as a host she will definitely run the risk of going to court for social host liabilities.
Any guest can sue her over food poisoning from a meal she served at the party, even if she didn't cook it and purchased it from a third party. Most importantly, she needs to be extremely cautious if she plans on serving alcohol and providing it to her guests. Aside from the obvious rule not to serve alcohol to minors, I would remind her that she could be sued if one of her guests gets in an accident because they drank too much at her party. Whether it be food poisoning or alcohol poisoning, Angela would be legally responsible for the consequences should the guests choose to file suit. Ina case like this one, drunk drivers and undercooked ribs can be the party-poopers, but not the NFL..
Maria Prada is a senior at Pepperdine University majoring in Journalism.
Jon Pfeiffer is an experienced entertainment and copyright trial attorney practicing in Santa Monica. Jon is also an adjunct professor at Pepperdine University in Malibu, California where he teaches Media Law. COM 570 covers First Amendment issues as well as copyright, defamation and privacy.
Contact Jon and his team today.