Usage rights question
I am a freelance videographer, and have been working recently with a few national agencies/production companies that send me on local shoots. The arrangement is basically: they send me a shot list, I send them the footage, they send me a check. It has been a perfectly good arrangement so far, with the exception of the fact that per our contract, I have no usage rights to the footage I shoot, and thus cannot use it in my demo reel. So every time I shoot something that I'm really happy with, I kick myself because it will never make it to my reel. Has anyone else encountered this dilemma? Are there any alternatives I'm not looking at here? My understanding is that copyright law pertains to publication, and that I can privately distribute unpublished work that I have created, even if I don't have usage rights to publish it. Is this correct? If so, does it seem worthwhile to maintain a reel solely for private distribution that will never be able to be broadly published online? I'm open to suggestions or experience. Thanks.
I'm pretty sure this is a job for Lawyer Man! It will depend entirely on the wording of your contract and how it pertains to existing copyright law. I would go to your state's bar website, find a local IP attorney (ask for rates and see if they offer any sort of free consultation or if they can do a quick phone consultation). Maybe yes maybe no. Worse case, it's worth the couple extra bucks to find out right now from an expert rather than guess wrong for free. What is your time and footage worth?
Finally, see of you can renegotiate the deal so you can use the footage for self-promotion. Also, I'm pretty sure unless explicitly stated, you have the right to display your work for self-promotion no matter what you create. Remember, as creator of a work of art, you retain the copyright unless you formally re-assign it to someone else. But, again, spend $50 and talk to a lawyer.
I run into similar issues with clients that are doing internal use only projects that want to keep the footage out of the public. Using a private YT setting to display the project by invitation only usually satisfies their desire to keep proprietary info out of the hands of the general public, while still allowing me a chance to show other potential clients these projects.
Something like this may work for you.
"If you think it's expensive to hire a professional to do the job, wait until you hire an amateur." ---Red Adair
Where were you on 6/21?
Here's a sneaky bit of a legal "cheat" that might be a workaround, depending on how they have hired you...
If they are hiring you for a certain number of hours as a videographer.... and from, say, 9-to-5 on such and such a day you are considered "on the clock" for them, then this won't work...
If you are contracting with you just for specific footage, paying you a flat rate for your services to fill their shot list, or maybe even paying you per shot, then it will...
You could simply shoot each of your various shots twice... one take for them, then one take for you. You give them only "their" shots, the ones they paid for. You keep virtually identical (though technically different) "mine" shots for yourself, to use on your reel or however you see fit.
Now, you didn't say what your footage is, so this might not work. It wouldn't, if say, the footage was a one-of-a-kind and one-time-only take... a 100-year-old celebrating her birthday by bungee jumping, or a building imploding. Nor would it work if you are shooting something that is proprietary to this particular client (something that only they can get you access too). But if they are beauty shots, scenics, or whatever (anything out in the "regular world" that anyone would be freely able to shoot)... then you could easily double shoot them. It would all depend on the wording of your contract, and whether this client has fully completely and exclusively bought all of your time and talent during the period of the shoot.
Fantastic Plastic Entertainment, Inc.
All very good advice. I didn't realize it was so affordable to have a phone consultation with an IP lawyer. I'll check that out. In the meantime, I think I will starting tagging "alternative shots" where there are no people or locations that I don't personally have a release form for (all the releases I get have the agency's name rather than mine). And if all else fails, I think I could go for an extended private demo reel that I could password protect and send directly to prospective clients. Thanks for the ideas.
Consider getting your own forms for releases, too. Put a bit in there about the individual allowing you the rights as well as agents, assigns, etc. Do an online search for the Getty talent and property releases for some great starting points - the Getty ones are also binding because they require a witness.