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Is the NFL Lying to Churches About Superbowl Parties?

John on February 3, 2007 at 3:03 pm

It certainly looks that way to me. An article in the Indy Star has gotten a lot of churches convinced that holding a Superbowl party is actually against the law:

The thousands of churches across the country that want to host Super Bowl parties Sunday night had better not pull out big-screen TVs, or they could face the wrath of NFL attorneys.

The NFL is telling Fall Creek Baptist Church in Indianapolis that the church’s plans to use a wall projector to show the game at a party for church members and guests would violate copyright laws.

NFL officials spotted a promotion of Fall Creek’s “Super Bowl Bash” on the church Web site last week and sent pastor John D. Newland a letter — via FedEx overnight — demanding the party be canceled.

The article had a sidebar which listed the rules NFL claims applies to all superbowl parties, including those at churches:

For groups that want to host Super Bowl parties — other than sports bars and businesses that normally show televised sports — here are rules the NFL says must be followed:

  • No admission fees (even to pay for snacks).
  • Only one television (55 inches or smaller).
  • No use of the words “Super Bowl” in promotional materials.
  • No exhibition of the game in connection with events “that promote a message.

As it happens, my church was planning a superbowl party. When we learned of this story, our first thought was that we needed to cancel it in order to comply with the law. We take that seriously and always make every effort to comply with copyright and other applicable laws.

Since we had no intention of collecting fees (even for snacks) and we weren’t using the term “Super Bowl” in our advertising, nor were we planning an aftergame message, there was only one rule causing us a problem. We intended to project the game on an 8 foot screen, considerably larger than the 55″ limit NFL says is the law.

Fortunately, before we cancelled the party a member of our church actually looked into the copyright law on which the NFL is basing its screen size recommendations. The law in question is US Code: Title 17, Section 110 (5)(B). Section 110 deals with exemptions of certain performances and displays. Section 5 deals with the rules concerning presentation at venues (including sports bars). Under section 5, part B is the piece from which the NFL gets the 55″ size limit. Here’s how it reads in full:

  • (B) communication by an establishment of a transmission or retransmission embodying a performance or display of a nondramatic musical work intended to be received by the general public, originated by a radio or television broadcast station licensed as such by the Federal Communications Commission, or, if an audiovisual transmission, by a cable system or satellite carrier, if—
    • (i) in the case of an establishment other than a food service or drinking establishment, either the establishment in which the communication occurs has less than 2,000 gross square feet of space (excluding space used for customer parking and for no other purpose), or the establishment in which the communication occurs has 2,000 or more gross square feet of space (excluding space used for customer parking and for no other purpose) and—
      • (I) 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
      • (II) 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;
    • (ii) in the case of a food service or drinking establishment, either the establishment in which the communication occurs has less than 3,750 gross square feet of space (excluding space used for customer parking and for no other purpose), or 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—
      • (I) 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
      • (II) 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;
    • (iii) no direct charge is made to see or hear the transmission or retransmission;
    • (iv) the transmission or retransmission is not further transmitted beyond the establishment where it is received; and
    • (v) the transmission or retransmission is licensed by the copyright owner of the work so publicly performed or displayed;

In other words, if your space (where you’re showing the game) is greater than 2,000 square feet, then you can’t have more than four rooms and no more than 1 screen per room and each screen has to be 55 inches or less. However, if your space is smaller than 2,000 square feet (not including parking) then the screen size limitations DO NOT APPLY. Note that this is the only time in all of US Code Title 17 (not just section 110 but the whole thing) that a 55 inch size limitation is mentioned. So the NFL pretty much has to be deriving that rule from this spot.

Funny how the NFL forgot to mention that little detail when they sent their spokesman Greg Aiello out to scare people. Plenty of churches have superbowl parties that take place in spaces smaller than 2,000 square feet (which is a decent sized house here in Southern California). If you’re one of them, fire up the screen and make ready the dip! In our case, the party is being held in a 1500 square foot room which is not connected to any other building. So it certainly appears as if we are well within the law.

I have e-mailed the NFL using the contact form on their website. I noted Title 17, Section 110 (5)(B) and asked why the NFL has not clarified that the screen size limits only apply to venues larger than 2000 SF. We’ll see if they respond.

[Note: I am not an attorney. This is my best understanding of what the law actually says.]

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