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
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
Director of Photography
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
The content of this article is intended to provide a general
guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought
about your specific circumstances.
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Luis Schmidt, Olivares, investigates the evolution of communication to the public in copyright law and how ‘making available' has assisted in resolving some difficulties of copyright law, including infringement on the internet.
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