Copy Right and Clearance
In my previous life as an agency producer I was fairly up to speed on libel and slander issues. I also felt pretty clear on the issues surrounding privacy and publicity. Also with a national network spot budget I would get releases for everything and if needed throw money at people to get them to sign the releases. On my current project with a budget of $700 bucks, yep $700, I'm faced with some issues that I could use some input on.
I'm doing a profile on a community. The community is Kirkland Washington. What is ok and what is not ok to use. For example if I the voice over mentions the great parks may I shoot the park?
If the VO mentions great restaurants, shopping, and nightlife may I shoot wide views of restaurants, shopping areas, and general nightlife images? I would shoot from a public street and I would never imply that any of the locations and/or businesses endorse the group encouraging people to move to the area.
How about water front homes or a particular housing community? May I shoot the sign to the community if I do it from a publican street and make sure we don't imply that the community endorses the video?
How about when the VO mentions the top employers? May I shoot a shot of the Microsoft sign or a shot of the campus from the street?
What are my options? What are the issues?
Copyright law is generally meant to prevent IP theft, and to prevent one entity from stealing another's business by "tricking" consumers into thinking they are buying a different product, using trade names to imply endorsements etc..
My understanding as it applies to your situation is that public is public - that is to say that if you are shooting buildings, signs and neighborhoods that are publicly accessible and in plain view, there is no copyright impact.
The standard test is, would a reasonable person believe the product you are selling is actually the product of the entity in question? For example, if you sold an operating system and called it Window, Microsoft could sue because average consumers could be confused and believe the product is released by Microsoft, or vice versa. You are infringing on their business and copyright law kicks in. Likewise, placing the Microsoft logo on a package would confuse any reasonable consumer into believing Microsoft owns, endorses or is otherwise connected to the product in question. Clear cut copyright violation.
Another more related example - a documentary crew could shoot the headquarters of Wal-Mart to include in their scathing expose video on the practices of Wal-Mart, and Wal-Mart would have no reasonable claim against them unless the filmmakers trespassed etc.. The reason is simple - the filmmakers are not using the Wal-Mart logo in a way that might confuse consumers into thinking the product (the video in this case) was endorsed by or a wholly owned property of Wal-Mart Inc. YOUR video is actually very similar to this in that it is educational in nature, which is another major test of copyright law.
To be safe you should definitely give legal disclaimers (at the head or end of video) alerting the viewer that none of the entities shown endorse or are otherwise affiliated with the production, and that all copyrights and trademarks are managed by the respective owners etc.. Essentially, you need to legally disclaim any ownership, affiliation or claim to, any copyrighted item shown in the video.
Showing people on screen is a different and unrelated matter, dealing more with performance law. Any person shown in your project should sign a release or they can sue you, as I'm sure you're aware.
thank you for taking the time to respond. my take on it is the same as yours. I feel better knowing that some one else used the same criteria that I would use and came to the same conclusion.
I've run into a coyright protection issue involving a non-profit museum which emailed me for use in a documentary a PDF file of images from its archives. Belatedly they told me first to "avoid" using the ones owned by a Major Movie Company then finally, after I called, to definitely not use certain images because they can't give me permission to use any of them. They can't assure me which ones were stills from 1930's-era movies or images shot on set during production. They implied if there is a distinction, I can use the latter.
When I asked if the Major Film Company which owns copyright would give me permission they replied, "good luck getting it." I am told by producers this company will go after anyone, including small-time non-profit producers like myself because of strong resistance to anything it owns heading once-and-for-all into the public domain.
This calls into question whether I can use the Pathe movie footage the museum owns, or anything else without running into copyright infringement.
I'm new to this sort of documentary production and would appreciate any guidelines.