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Contract terminated. Who owns footage?

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max orensteinContract terminated. Who owns footage?
by on Aug 28, 2011 at 8:45:56 pm


This week a client dropped me from a project stating that they weren't satisfied with the quality of the product (They saw one version).

The client now wants me to hand over all of the raw footage I shot. The client paid me one-third of the total contract upfront and agreed to cover expenses (They have not paid for expenses yet). My contract stipulates I would deliver the the final product. Nowhere does it mention anything about handing over raw footage or who owns raw footage.

I have put in my contract that if a client cannot make the required payment, I reserve the right to cease production.

I have seen forums on here, addressing who is the actual owner of the raw footage. I am curious to hear if my situation is different than if the client paid me in full and still wanted the footage.

Any advice would be appreciated.

Thank you


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Mark SuszkoRe: Contract terminated. Who owns footage?
by on Aug 28, 2011 at 10:56:07 pm

Not a lawyer, but the general consensus here seems to be that, absent a specific note in writing, you retain the right to the raw footage, not the client. The key phrase to research is "work for hire".

Note that while you probably have a legal right to the raw footage, without the client's permission, there is nothing productive or profitable you will be able to DO with it, generally. So you are at a stalemate.

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Steve WargoRe: Contract terminated. Who owns footage?
by on Sep 3, 2011 at 8:37:36 am

All correct according to several court decisions

Steve Wargo
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Jonathan ZieglerRe: Contract terminated. Who owns footage?
by on Aug 29, 2011 at 7:36:39 pm

I think whoever shot the footage has the rights to it. If you have nothing in your contract specifying who owns it, then it's yours unless the client pays for it. Work for hire doesn't apply here since you have a contract and I'm guessing you are an independent contractor. Therefore, it's your stuff until the client pays for it. You won't be able to do anything with it, though.

You should sit the (former) client down and get him to sign an agreement which dissolves the previous contract and lays out how much $ you need to recoup your expenses and get the client his footage. If they won't sign, let them know the footage will be permanently destroyed after a time and then delete and destroy the footage on that date.

Jonathan Ziegler

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Greg BallRe: Contract terminated. Who owns footage?
by on Aug 29, 2011 at 8:32:25 pm

Why was the client unhappy? Is there anything you can do to correct the problem? I would try ever angle you have to make this work with the client, if not then ask for whatever payment you feel is fair for the footage and your other expenses. Always try your best to be professional. Word of mouth goes a long way!

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max orensteinRe: Contract terminated. Who owns footage?
by on Aug 31, 2011 at 8:14:11 pm

Thanks for everyone's input. It's a sticky situation. @GregBall. I agree with you. I don't want to jeopardize this relationship and develop a bad name.

It is a tough situation because they never told me what was wrong with the video. Before anything happens there needs to be an explanation.

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John BaumchenRe: Contract terminated. Who owns footage?
by on Aug 31, 2011 at 2:50:55 pm

Interesting that on one hand they say they don't like the quality of the work and then want the raw footage.

Like others have said, if your agreement doesn't clearly specify that the project is a work for hire, then it's your footage and you can sell it for whatever and to whomever you want. You own the copyright.

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Mark SuszkoRe: Contract terminated. Who owns footage?
by on Sep 1, 2011 at 12:16:20 am

Baumchen's "Spider Sense" is tingling for a good reason. This smells like a classic "grinder" tactic to pry the footage away from you without fulfilling their financial obligations. Don't you do it. The footage is your only leverage. They get it on your terms, or not at all.

While you should engage constructively and politely to try and resolve their issues and rescue client goodwill, know in your heart that they very well could be scamming you, and prepare for that and protect yourself. That's only prudent businessman-like behavior.

In negotiations, the other guy has to be convinced you can and will walk away from a bad bargain. If you both don't believe it, you will end up doing whatever they want.

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Craig SeemanRe: Contract terminated. Who owns footage?
by on Aug 31, 2011 at 7:50:27 pm

Again as others have said, you own the footage if it wasn't specifically a work for hire.

Now the issue is how to make the best business decision given they don't want to proceed with the job.
Since they say "one version" I assume means a first cut, editing has commenced. An equitable solution may be for them to make the second 1/3 payment in return for the footage.

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grinner hesterRe: Contract terminated. Who owns footage?
by on Aug 31, 2011 at 7:51:46 pm

They didn't like to product. Don't giving folks stuff they doin't like. The footage is yours, man. Negotiate or wish em well.

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Tom SeftonRe: Contract terminated. Who owns footage?
by on Sep 1, 2011 at 8:57:10 am

Hi Max,

Reading between the lines I would say that your work is perfectly fine if they want all of your footage. I would imagine that they have either:

got an offer of editing and post production from another firm that is cheaper than your costs (because they are buying the client,

they are trying to give the work to a friend's company

or they have an intern/new member of staff/douche who has said that with a copy of fcpx they can edit the footage together so why should they pay you...

Stick to your guns and keep that footage. Ask them specifically what was wrong with your work, ask them if another firm is already involved, ask them why they want your footage if they deem it "unsatisfactory"...

Best of luck

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Greg BallRe: Contract terminated. Who owns footage?
by on Sep 1, 2011 at 9:23:19 pm

Max, you're getting some good comments here. Of course it's important to know WHAT the problem is. Have you had a conversation with the client? Is it your editing, or the footage that's the problem? If it's that they found someone cheaper, or a friend to edit the footage, give them a price that you can live with to give them the footage. Then if you wish, don't work for them again.

No matter what, always be professional. It doesn't matter that your client may not be acting in a professional manner. YOU need to be the professional in this scenario. Good Luck.

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Vince BecquiotRe: Contract terminated. Who owns footage?
by on Sep 2, 2011 at 4:12:01 am

I think Greg has the most important comment here. Your first problem is not who owns the footage, but why the client decided to walk away.

Now, they could be out there to screw you, but more often there's more to the story. You really need to have a meeting with them before any negotiation is done. If they really want the footage, I can't see them refusing that meeting, and that's where you'll get real answers. If they indeed feel like they received an inferior product, (they should be able to show you what they are comparing your work against at the same price point), you should request payment for the work performed, but I would let them have the footage.

Vince Becquiot

Kaptis Studios
San Francisco - Bay Area

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Joel ServetzRe: Contract terminated. Who owns footage?
by on Sep 4, 2011 at 1:05:02 pm

What Greg and Vince said, plus if, in good faith you attempt to negotiate and/or get at the root of their issues and you find they're stonewalling, you have your answer, it's a scam. Short story, years ago I managed a retail camera store. We would occasionally get people who would purchase an expensive camera and flash shortly before a weekend and return it for a refund shortly after the weekend. We eventually caught on to the fact that they were treating the "purchase" as a free rental for a weekend event. When we shifted to credit only instead of a refund that scam dried up fast.

Joel Servetz
RGB Media Services, LLC
Sarasota, Fl

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