Public Display and the Bundle of Rights That Make Up Copyright 

This is the fifth part in our series on what makes a Copyright, the right to public display.  The prior four rights reviewed are linked below for you to get up to speed.  To refresh, the six parts of copyright are:

To try to get behind the curtain of copyright, we’re individually exploring each of these six rights.  An understanding of each and how they operate will allow you, the creator, to be in a better position to take advantage of your copyright.

There are a couple words of caution.  First, the practical effect of these exclusive rights will depend on the type of copyrighted work (literary works, musical works, motion pictures, sound recordings, etc.).  Second, these are exclusive rights.  The law allows only the copyright holder to exercise these rights.

V: The Right to Publicly Display the Work

Copyright owners have the exclusive right to display or permit others to display the copyrighted work publicly. The public display right is similar to the public performance right, except that it is applicable to public “display” rather than a performance.  This right applies to musical works (the lyrics, composition, and arrangement), but not to sound recordings (a particular version of a musical work).

The Right to Public Display Protects what People can See

Right to Public Display

Sheet music on public display

A public display of copyrighted means to show a visual copy of the work to others.  This covers individual images (stills) from a film, reproductions of paintings and drawings, sheet music from a musical works, or photos from other performance pieces.  Public display can occur directly or indirectly through the use of film, slides, or television.  It’s important to bear in mind what is a pubic display vs. a private display.  In general, it’s a private display if you’re showing a work to a small circle of family and friends.  It’s a public display when the showing goes beyond that small circle of family and friends.  See the prior article on the right to public performance for more detail.  A museum exhibit, a television show, or transmission vis the internet are good examples of public displays.

Limitations on the Right to Public Display

An important limitation on the right to public display covers the situation when a person buys a lawfully made copy of the copyrighted work. Under this scenario, the owner of the copy can display it directly (e.g. the buyer of a copy of a DaVinci painting can display in their office).  The owner can also display it indirectly, but only one image at a time (e.g. the buyer of a music video cannot display the entire video, only a still).

The ubiquitous Fair Use exception to copyright protection can come into play for the public display right, too.  Other limitations to the right of public display are out there, but are beyond the scope of this article.

            – Ari Good, Esq.

Ari Good, JD LLM, is an experienced Miami entertainment lawyer and aspiring musician himself who represents DJs, live musicians, fashion models, and other entertainers in copyright, licensing, and contract matters.  For a free and confidential consultation to discuss your legal rights, contact Ari of Good Attorneys at Law, P.A., in Miami-Dade County at (239) 216-4106 or toll free at (877) 771-1131 or by email to .  Visit  for more information.

Image by Josh Gross