Legal information for filmmakers
Whether you are making a low-budget short film, a documentary, or a Hollywood blockbuster, you need to know about some important legal issues that can affect you.
This chapter focuses on copyright, copyright clearance and moral rights for people working in film and video, including directors, producers, actors, lighting and sound operators, composers, editors and post-production staff.
On this page:
- Copyright for film and videomakers
- Copyright clearance
- Moral rights for film and videomakers
- Getting permission to film people and places
- Important things to remember
- Legal tips
Copyright is important because it protects your work against use by others without your permission and allows you to get money for your work. Copyright in your film gives only you the right to:
- make a copy of it;
- cause the film to be seen and heard in public; and
- communicate the film to the public, such as on TV or the internet.
Other people need your permission or licence to do these things.
The person who makes the arrangements for the film to be made, usually the producer and director, owns copyright in a film.
At some stage, you may want to use copyright material owned by others in a film or video of your own. Before using other people’s work, you will need their permission. That is, they must say “yes” first.
When you seek the permission of a copyright owner, this is called copyright clearance. Copyright clearances are needed for:
- written works that are read out loud, or seen;
- music that is used on a soundtrack;
- artistic works that are seen in a film;
- footage from another film or video, including news footage; and/or
- parts of other films you might include in your film.
With a screenplay or music for example, you need the permission from the copyright owner to use that material.
Clearances are important for two main reasons:
- They make sure that you do not infringe the rights of others
- Many film festivals, funding bodies and distributors will need to see your clearances before they agree to work with you.
Moral rights are personal rights that connect creators of a work to their work. As a filmmaker you have the moral right to:
- be acknowledged – that is, have your name listed in the credits;
- stop anyone else from being named as the producer, director or screenwriter of the film; and
- protect yourself by taking legal action if your film is treated in any way that hurts your reputation.
If you have included the work of other people in your film you must respect their moral rights by listing them in the credits.
Before filming, you must also get permission from the performers who appear in your production. Using a consent form is the best way to do this. A consent form should explain:
- what the project is;
- what you are filming;
- what you expect of them; and
- how they will be seen or heard in the finished edit.
You will also need to get permission to film on private property and sometimes on some public land.
- Make sure you get permission from any copyright owner whose work appears in your production. You need to get copyright clearance if you want to use:
- a book, short story or play as the basis for your production; or
- footage or music.
- Performers, or anyone who appears as a cast member in a shot, must agree to being filmed.
- You must obtain permission to film on private property.
- Make sure that you have all contracts written down and signed before you begin working on a film.
- Credit any contributor to your production with:
- their correct name; and
- their role in the production.
- You might need copyright clearance even if you use a very small part of someone else’s copyright protected work
- Assigning copyright means selling your copyright. In the film industry it is normal for a screenwriter to assign the rights of their film script to a film company. Do not sign or agree to anything you do not understand.
- Get legal advice on any contract.