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rights of video

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Margaret Brownerights of video
by on Apr 5, 2009 at 7:09:45 pm

I will be doing a video project for a non-profit. I will get paid a stipend. Who has rights to the footage? How is that set up or reflected?

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grinner hesterRe: rights of video
by on Apr 5, 2009 at 8:58:36 pm

If money were changing hands or they wrote up and agreement stating ownership, they'd own it. Without that contract, you are doing it for charity and will retain rights.

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Bill DavisRe: rights of video
by on Apr 6, 2009 at 6:54:40 am


Sorry, but no one can really accurately answer this in a casual on-line forum.

Yes, under Title 17 of the US code concerning copyright, the "author" of any creative work owns the rights to that work.

However it's seldom that simple. From what you describe, you might possibly be dealing with a "work made for hire" where the rights may transfer in part or in whole to the commissioning party. Then there's the whole issue of others rights to creative work that might be incorporated into your work. For example, if you show the logo of the charity, they might have exclusive rights to the portrayal of that logo and you therfore your rights might be subservient to theirs for those scenes. Same with stuff like background music playing during location shoots, branding elements, architecture, artwork, store signage, even the "likenesses" of the people seen in the videos.

Coopyright is nothing if not complicated.

The only way to get truly dependable advice on this topic is to consult with an attorney who does professional copyright law.

Good luck.

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Mike SmithRe: rights of video
by on Apr 6, 2009 at 9:15:10 am

"Stipend" implies that you will be an employee, albeit temporary, of the non-profit. If that is the case, all rights will rest with the organisation hiring you.

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Todd TerryRe: rights of video
by on Apr 6, 2009 at 1:28:51 pm

This doesn't have to be complicated... it's potentially super easy.

Just ask them.

Even though it's not completely a pro bono job, if this organization is getting a greatly-reduced or almost-free gig out of the goodness of your heart, they should have no problem with a stip in the contract that says you own the rights to the footage.

If they aren't willing to do that, they're probably not the kind of folks that you want to be giving work away to anyway.


Todd Terry
Creative Director
Fantastic Plastic Entertainment, Inc.

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Trey GregoryRe: rights of video
by on Apr 6, 2009 at 5:25:09 pm

I agree with Todd.

Everything needs to be established up front, before you start the project.

Just hammer out a contract with the company that allows you some rights to it. Most places are pretty flexible about this, as long as you aren't asking for the right to reproduce and sell the video, they shouldn't care if you distribute the footage to promote yourself or your company on the web, or wherever.

Just be very specific up front, try not to leave any grey areas in the contract that could come back to haunt you later.

Trey Gregory
ECG Productions - Atlanta
HD Production and Post

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Steve WargoRe: rights of video
by on Apr 7, 2009 at 4:06:52 am

Well, here is a small detail that was passed on to me by a rights attorney.

If you bill them for the TAPE, they own the tape and what's on THEIR tape.

This is, as mentioned above, way too deep for this forum but that's a start. If you're shooting to solid state memory, that's another page in the book.

We are not attorneys and nothing we say should be construed as the truth.

Steve Wargo
Tempe, Arizona
It's a dry heat!

Sony HDCAM F-900 & HDW-2000/1 deck
5 Final Cut (not quite PRO) systems
Sony HVR-M25 HDV deck
2-Sony EX-1 HD .

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Christopher WrightRe: rights of video
by on Apr 7, 2009 at 5:09:12 am

"We are not attorneys and nothing we say should be construed as the truth."

Actually doesn't this also aptly apply to lawyers!! ;>)

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Steve WargoRe: rights of video
by on Apr 7, 2009 at 10:02:46 pm

[Christopher Wright] "Actually doesn't this also aptly apply to lawyers!! ;>)"


Steve Wargo
Tempe, Arizona
It's a dry heat!

Sony HDCAM F-900 & HDW-2000/1 deck
5 Final Cut (not quite PRO) systems
Sony HVR-M25 HDV deck
2-Sony EX-1 HD .

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Chris BlairRe: rights of video
by on Apr 8, 2009 at 2:06:34 am

This issue comes up repeatedly and the same myths continue to be perpetuated.

Comments like:

"if they pay for the tape, they own what's on it"


"If money is changing hands they own it"

Are just not true. You can search for and read copyright law and its interpretations all day long and not find anything to validate these two claims.

You can be paid for work by an individual, a corporation, a non-profit etc....and if:

1. You're NOT an employee but ARE the primary creative force
2. The work isn't specified (in writing) as "work for hire"
3. And the paying entity doesn't ask for or demand ownership IN WRITING.

Then you do indeed own the copyright to the work itself.

There are dozens of threads on this issue on the Cow, and there are several very good books available that deal specifically with copyright for audio-visual productions.

But as others have pointed out, if you're doing it for a stipend, just ask for ownership as part of the compensation for doing the work.

Here's a link to some wiki info that clarifies a lot of this and an actual case where an artist was granted ownership of his statue, even though it was commissioned by another non-profit agency: (click on "copyright" then "works made for hire")

In the case above, which went all the way to the Supreme Court, this excerpt says it all:

Thus, the lesson of the CCNV case for the entertainment industry is that one should not assume a party paying a writer or other person who imparts copyrightable authorship to a motion picture in the United States is the owner of the copyright.

As Grinner points out, if there are other copyrighted works (like paintings or photographs, or musical recordings etc) in the work you're producing, it gets more complicated and you'd have to get permission to use those works in your own. We've actually done this with a non-profit, where we created a documentary of an art exhibit (with nationally known African-American artists) We got permission to use all the artists works (sculptures, paintings and poetry) and we even got permission to use Ladysmith Black Mambazo's music in the piece for $1 a cut as long as we gave them "courtesy" credits.

We owned the video, and were even able to sell it to an educational film distributor because of it's educational nature. Again, we had to get permission to do this from all parties, but everyone involved realized we'd have to sell a thousand copies to break even on the money we invested in the piece. They all felt the exposure and purpose of the video (exposing school kids to African American art, history and music), was worth it. Since it was produced in 1992, we've sold a few hundred copies so everyone benefited. We made back a little bit of the money and time we invested (it was considerable), and they got exposure of their work to school kids who likely would've NEVER seen or heard their work.

Chris Blair
Magnetic Image, Inc.
Evansville, IN

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