We are in the process of transferring old VHS tapes to DVD and then to a secure internet cloud.
The tapes are ours ranging from 1988- 2001, we taped specific classes with numerous instructors who were aware of the taping process. Since the tapes belong to us are there any copyright issues in reproducing and offering access to for a fee through our Lakeside Learning Center, or reproducing as a DVD and selling?
We also have very old cassette tapes of a similar nature. We possess them and instructors being taped were fully aware.
We would like to offer these as an MP3 for paid access.
Putting the tapes on the cloud: it is great that educational institutions are saving and promoting their accumulated knowledge this way. But aside from the copyright issues the member asks about (which we’ll get to at the bottom of this reply), the transfer and publication of legacy instructional material can bring some additional legal considerations.
Here are some “red flags” for converting video of your past lectures for digital re-sale.
In New York, the commercial use (including sales of instructional DVDs, as mentioned in the question) of a person’s image, likeness, and name must be with written permission. Of course, for employees whose routine duties include being recorded (like newscasters), that consent is addressed at the start of the job. But for instructors who may have been aware they were being taped in 1988, but weren’t aware that the tape could be acquired by paid viewers later via the Internet, there could be some risk that a past instructor might object to being included.
Further, in the event the instructor was an employee covered by a collective bargaining agreement or other employment contract at the time of filming, they could have some rights you need to consider. A quick check with a Human Resources department should be able to confirm if any past or current agreement poses any complications.
And finally, in the event the instructor who was filmed was not an employee, but under a speaker agreement--perhaps speaking for a small fee—an institution must exercise caution, since awareness of being filmed does not constitute permission to mass-produce the product and sell it in the marketplace. If possible, sending a note to the former speaker, thanking them for their past participation and offering a small fee in exchange for their signature on written permission for the new use, is best.
The bottom line: there are a lot of possible permutations to the “image use” issue. To avoid them, whenever possible, verify that your institution has written, signed permission to use a person’s image before selling any newly converted recordings.
Accuracy and Reliability Disclaimer
In the event any of the instructional materials relate to a trade, profession, or other topic governed by prevailing standards, law, or regulations, a disclaimer that carefully clarifies that the content was generated in 1988 (or whatever year applies), might be wise.
Of course, if the content is opinion-based, that is not an issue. But if the person is relating an objective best practice, regulation, or law, making sure a viewer is warned that the information could be out of date is critical.
It’s a long shot for the scenario posed by the member, but in the event there is any trademarked material (for instance, a set of instructional booklets with a prominent logo) be wary before digitizing and charging for access. The incidental use of another entity’s trademark could create an alleged infringement. Fortunately, as can be seen in a lot of reality TV, this can be avoided by simply blurring the mark!
The member is correct; if the institution (through its employees) is the entity that created the recording, and there is no written agreement to the contrary, the institution owns the copyright, and can duplicate, sell, and create derivative works based on the content.
However, care should be taken to verify that no independently owned content is contained within the video (a person reading a poem, for instance). While under many circumstances such inclusion can qualify as a “Fair Use,” that is not always the case (for more on this caveat, see the “Recently Asked Question” posted on Saturday, January 27, 2018).
 Please note: this issue is different from digitization projects by libraries who own, but did not produce, the content!