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Footage usage rights

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Stuart Cummings
Footage usage rights
on May 7, 2009 at 3:37:05 pm

We have a client -- a tourism board -- who is requesting unlimited, permanent usage rights to all of the footage we're shooting for the video we're producing. This is a destination-wide video so we will be shooting for 10-12 days with 3 cameras and acquiring hours and hours of footage. We have produced over 30 travel and tourism videos and always limited the usage rights to the footage contained in the final video and only in the context of the video itself. In other words, they were paying for the production of the video presentation, not for all the content.

This is a government project so we are competing against at least two other production companies and price is critical to them. One of the ways we keep our price competitive is by being able to sell the stock footage ourselves over time. Once we release it the client, we have no control over what happens to it so it who has access to it.

Has anyone run into this before? Is there an industry standard for this? Any suggestions on how to handle this so we don't put ourselves out of the running for this project over this issue? Any input would be appreciated.


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walter biscardi
Re: Footage usage rights
on May 7, 2009 at 4:02:07 pm

If they are paying for your time to shoot and they are paying for the raw tape stock, it's theirs.

You can do a search on this forum for copyright and who owns what. I'm in the minority on this, but my policy has always been, if they pay for the work, they own everything.

If there's available time for you to go off a shoot material on your own with your own tape stock, and it doesn't interfere with the work you're hired to do, then that is yours. I know photographers who do that too.

Walter Biscardi, Jr.
Biscardi Creative Media
HD and SD Production for Broadcast and Independent Productions.

Read my Blog!


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Mark Suszko
Re: Footage usage rights
on May 7, 2009 at 4:46:19 pm

I suppose you can show two totals on the bottom line of the proposal: one amount that is less because you retain some rights to the raw, and another where they retain all rights, for a higher one-time charge. If it were me, I'd go ahead and just quote the higher rate and note that there is a discount if they don't in fact require permanent ownership, negotiable separately.

Either way, insist on a clause stating that you at least retain the right to show representative samples of the job in your demo reel/online portfolio, even if they cannot be re-sold to anyone.

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Craig Seeman
Re: Footage usage rights
on May 7, 2009 at 5:08:15 pm

There's a bunch of ways to handle this (as Walter and Mark both allude to). Key is to be clear up front and be open to negotiating it.

You can give them unlimited "non-exclusive" rights to all the footage too. They can use it for whatever they want (and so can you). You can license footage and retain the copyright yourself.

You can also make unlimited non exclusive license "non transferable" or define the limits of transfer so they don't start handing out the footage you shot to others for use.

In other words you can give them unlimited use of all the footage for their company use only as long as the company exists and still retain the copyright yourself.

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Chris Blair
Re: Footage usage rights
on May 8, 2009 at 1:18:20 am

walter biscardi If they are paying for your time to shoot and they are paying for the raw tape stock, it's theirs.

I agree with Walter 95% of the time, but this is his policy, not the generally accepted industry standard. It's also a policy that a lot of production companies adhere to and there's not a thing wrong with it. But there's also nothing wrong with claiming ownership when clients don't specify otherwise.

So you were also right in your previous travel and tourism jobs to retain ownership since those clients obviously didn't ask for it. In this new case however, the client is also well-within their rights to ask for ownership. Once they do that, from a legal point of view, you don't have a lot of options. They're basically asking you to do the job under a "work-for-hire" agreement. Copyright law is pretty clear on this, and under these circumstances, they retain ownership.

Naturally, I'm not an attorney, but we've had two instances of clients claiming they own the footage and have had intellectual property attorneys explain it the exact same way each time. On both of those the client didn't ask for ownwership up front, so we retained it...and needed it as leverage to collect money we were owed.

This issue has also been dissected and discussed often on here and there are a ton of myths and misconceptions about it. Not to mention that it can get complex depending on a number of factors, like the amount of creative input a client has. Do a search for "copyright" or "ownership rights" on the forum and you'll probably find a lot of threads that can help.

As another person pointed out, you could ask for joint ownership, that way they get the footage and you still get to sell it.

Chris Blair
Magnetic Image, Inc.
Evansville, IN

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