A familiar question dependably re-emerges at about this time each year.

It essentially asks “can I get in copyright trouble for having a Super Bowl party with a big screen TV?”

This post gives you some ground rules in order to spare everyone from the possibility of being arrested by the copyright police .  (Disclaimer: there is no copyright police, but some copyright enforcers are just as aggressive as the pretend police would be if they really existed.)

The short answer is “yes you can host a Super Bowl party”  but there are a few rules.

The answer to this question lies in Section 110 of the Copyright law – entitled “Limitations on exclusive rights: exemption of certain performances and displays.” Within that section, there are a number of copyright restrictions related to big screen televisions and projector screens. There are also several exemptions to those restrictions.  So essentially, as long as you are watching the game in your private home and are not charging admission, you can have a giant one-bazillion inch television or projector and cram your house full of people like a clown car and not worry about it. Just be sure not to use the outside of your house as the projector screen or otherwise make it visible outside of your home so it does not become a public viewing.

First, as long as you do not charge your guests, viewing the Super Bowl in a private residence is legal, and in fact you are in the clear to request friends bring food and drink in exchange for hosting. Meaning yes, you can charge your buddies beer in order to watch at your house.

In other cases, the law states that TV and digital broadcasts can be displayed in certain cases as long as there is no separate admission charge to view the game, and so long as the  TVs device displaying the broadcast does not have “a diagonal screen size greater than 55 inches, and any audio portion of the performance or display is communicated by means of a total of not more than 6 loudspeakers.”

The NFL gained infamy in 2007 when news emerged that it had pressured an Indiana church into scrapping its “Super Bowl bash” (why the NFL has picked on Indianapolis Colts fans in both of our recent articles is unknown but giggled at here in Baltimore). According to an MSNBC article, the league has a long-standing policy to ban “mass out-of-home viewing of the Super Bowl except at sports bars and other businesses that televise sports as part of their everyday operations.” If a group does not fit that description, they must request permission from the NFL.

The NFL stated that the reason is to honor the NFL’s contract with the networks that provide free broadcasts of the game and to protect the Super Bowl trademark.  Essentially, they want to make sure that the networks that make bazillions of dollars on Super Bowl Sunday aren’t deprived a few extra ratings from a few extra TV sets in America being left off.

Here is the full breakdown of the particular conditions under which commercial establishments can display the game:

For establishments that are not a food service or drinking establishments, you are ok if you:

(A) have less than 2,000 gross square feet of space (excluding space used for customer parking and for no other purpose), or

(B) if you have 2,000 or more gross square feet of space (excluding space used for customer parking and for no other purpose) and—

– if the performance is by audio means only, the performance is communicated by means of a total of not more than 6 loudspeakers, of which not more than 4 loudspeakers are located in any 1 room or adjoining outdoor space; or

– if the performance or display is by audiovisual means, any visual portion of the performance or display is communicated by means of a total of not more than 4 audiovisual devices, of which not more than 1 audiovisual device is located in any 1 room, and no such audiovisual device has a diagonal screen size greater than 55 inches, and any audio portion of the performance or display is communicated by means of a total of not more than 6 loudspeakers, of which not more than 4 loudspeakers are located in any 1 room or adjoining outdoor space.

If you are a food service or drinking establishment, you are ok if :

(A) you have less than 3,750 gross square feet of space (excluding space used for customer parking and for no other purpose), or

(B) the establishment in which the communication occurs has 3,750 gross square feet of space or more (excluding space used for customer parking and for no other purpose) and—

– if the performance is by audio means only, the performance is communicated by means of a total of not more than 6 loudspeakers, of which not more than 4 loudspeakers are located in any 1 room or adjoining outdoor space; or

–  if the performance or display is by audiovisual means, any visual portion of the performance or display is communicated by means of a total of not more than 4 audiovisual devices, of which not more than one audiovisual device is located in any 1 room, and no such audiovisual device has a diagonal screen size greater than 55 inches, and any audio portion of the performance or display is communicated by means of a total of not more than 6 loudspeakers, of which not more than 4 loudspeakers are located in any 1 room or adjoining outdoor space;

For more information, contact Mike Oliver or Kimberly Grimsley.