Copyright Contracts for Filmmakers

Copyright contracts in the film industry is one of the most complex scenarios for any copyright attorney, not to say a lot more complicated for the film producer that has barely any or no experience in the subject. There are so many rights, releases and contracts involved, that for a rookie in the business, the probability of missing something is high enough.

“Borges (famous Argentinean writer) used to say that all arts aspired to be music… now today Borges would say that all arts dream to be in film” Cabral, 2012. If we would bring this same analogy to Intellectual Property, I would say that copyright, once in love with music, now it reaches its maximum potential in film.

Be careful with the Contracts

As in any part of the creative filmmaking process, every contract has to be secure, so there will be no surprises at the end. Imagine that the screenwriter writes an awful ending, that the Director of Photography uses the wrong lights for a couple of scenes, that the casting director hires based on the budget instead of the talent of the acting, or that the producer brings to the shooting just only sodas and crackers. What is the result? Most surely a partially messed up movie, and without a doubt, an unhappy crew.

Well, the same is in copyright law. Every contract, in every moment of the film production, is as important as any other. Well, certainly there are a couple of contracts that could mess up your whole movie, but in overall, every contract has the same late effect, and that is: if not done properly, most surely it will bring trouble in the future.

 Know your Contracts

If we divide the creation of a film in three stages, as any filmmaker would do, we would have three main legal scenarios: the pre-production, the production and the post-production. Any lawyer that has worked in the film business, knows that the first contract (usually the one involving the script) is as important as the last ones (eg. exhibition or distribution).

There are a bunch of copyright cases that have ended up in all sorts of legal claims, from violation of copyright in a film poster (Moscow in the Hudson), up to an actress asking to erase parts of a short movie because she claims to have a copyright interest in her performance (Garcia v.  Google, Inc.).It is imperative to always have legal contracts with the following people,  done and reviewed before the production process begins, not during or afterwards:

  • Investors
  • Producer
  • Director
  • Scriptwriter
  • Director of Photography
  • Casting Director
  • Location Manager
  • Production
  • Film Editor

Always plan ahead

Those are just the first contracts you have to deal with. Later in the process, and many times before the shooting begins, you need to settle the ones of the cast and crew, location releases, sponsors, rights of publicity, endorsement, exhibition, distribution, among others.

Remember, every stage of the production has its own contracts, but the main objective is to sort them out before you reach that moment.

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