Legal concerns in making a video

Ah, the fine things. Fine, as in small. They may seem nit-picky, but these points can cause you big headaches if you don’t address them properly. Even if everything goes smoothly from concept development to delivery, if your video production company ignores these details you may end up with an unusable video, at least in the short term. And you could end up paying more than you bargained for to clear away the snags. While the production company should cover all of these areas, you should take some responsibility too so you can ensure you’re covered. Take a quick read through these to make sure the process is a smooth as silk.

Who Owns It?

1) Copyright

Before pen is set to paper, make sure you secure all the copyrights to your final project

Before pen is set to paper, make sure you secure all the copyrights to your final project

Before pen is set to paper, make sure you secure all the copyrights to your final project. Who owns the right to the video? And, who owns the right to the script? Get it in writing. You may think your video will be exclusive to your website, but if you don’t get a signed agreement that you own sole usage and distribution rights, you could find your video popping up where you least expect—or want—to see it. Quite often this will be on the production company’s own website, since many companies like to keep a current demo reel on their landing page or another easily-accessed page. You can’t blame them for wanting to showcase their work. And literally, you may have a hard time blaming them for doing it without your permission unless you have a firm agreement that you, and you alone, own the final product. You should also have an agreement that anything written and designed for the project, such as the script or graphics, also belongs to you. In general, copyright law says that the creator of a means of expression, such as a graphic or script, is the copyright owner unless there is a signed agreement transferring the copyright to you, the customer. Payment alone doesn’t ensure copyright control, since the creator can claim it was just a temporary licensing fee (though that claim may not hold up if you have to take the fight to court, but why risk the extra cost and headaches?). Bottom line: get a firm written agreement assuring you have copyright and distribution control over the video and any elements created specifically for the project.

2) Music rights

If you’re having music composed specifically for your project, this also falls under copyright agreements. However, there are many services around that offer royalty free music for your videos. As we noted in a previous blog about choosing music for your project, royalty free does not mean totally free. It means you pay a one-time fee, which can be somewhat modest or rather pricey depending on the complexity of the piece. Agreements may vary as to whether you can use it in several projects or are limited to using it for just one, but generally it is a one-project-only stipulation. However, that’s the only time you pay for the music in that project. No matter how many views it gets, no matter how many outlets it’s posted on, you don’t have to keep paying to use the music in that project. Ask to see proof that the video company has legitimately bought and licensed the music for a project. While some music vendors might put an audio watermark on the their music (so potential buyers can preview it without stealing it), not every company does so. Just hearing a clean version of the music on your video is not a perfect guarantee that the licensing is in order.

3) Talent releases

That up-and-coming model is coming on a bit strong, and he’s decided that he wants a lot more money before letting you use the video featuring him. It’s rare, but it happens. It can’t happen, though, if you’ve gotten everyone who appears on camera to sign a talent release. These are fairly standard forms, which can range in complexity. Generally you want to make sure you not only have a stipulation covering everyone’s appearance in the main project, but also any related projects, like promotional spots that may be cut (for example, if you’re doing a documentary, realty show, or film) or even non-video formats, such as print ads or internet ads. The release form states that the talent is waiving any claim to further compensation for use of their images related to the project. If you think someone’s image might appear in another project, such as a demo reel that you or the production company will put out, make sure to add a waiver for that as well. Technically it might be considered a separate project and open you up to further claims for compensation. Whether those claims would be upheld in court is debatable, but again, why go through the headache and expense of a legal donnybrook?

Can I Shoot My Video Here?

4) Permits

This is one we frequently mention in our blogs. You may need permits to shoot in certain locations. If you don’t need a government permit, you could very likely need written permission from the property owner and/or management. There’s good reason for this. If you’re shooting in an office building and someone slips and injures an arm or leg (not necessarily their own) then the injured person could conceivably sue the property owner. So the property owner, as part of the permission form, will almost assuredly include a clause stating that anyone involved in the production waives any claim against the owner in the event of injury. The owner and/or management company could also want restrict your filming to certain areas. This is can happen if several businesses with prominent signs are in the area. Some of them may not want to be associated with the project, especially if they have easily recognizable logos from large franchises. Again, even though it is the production company’s job to get this type of clearance, ask to see it just for your peace of mind and, if the company says written permission or permits are not needed, then ask the production company itself to give you something in writing that confirms it.

How Risky Is This Project?

5) Health and safety and risk assessment forms

These are more policy than legal agreements, but your video company should be willing to let you see them as part of the pre-production process. The company should also agree, in writing, to apprise you of any changes they make. The risk assessment form is just that: The company’s assessment of how dangerous the shoot could be. Obviously a testimonial video featuring satisfied customers just sitting in the chair will be less risky than a commercial involving a drone filming a car racing along a curvy road at breakneck speed.

The health and safety form will tell you how the company plans to safeguard the health and safety of everyone on the set. Will they have an ambulance or paramedics standing by? Do they have a specific procedure or procedures for dealing with any issue that comes up? Are crew members who handle heavy equipment, including cameras, lights, jibs and dollies, given regular breaks to ensure they don’t succumb to fatigue and make a potentially dangerous mistake? Many of these areas are already regulated when the project involves unionized workers, but you should still know exactly what is involved. You may want to have a lawyer look at this, just to ensure that you, the customer, are not held liable for any problems. And it goes without saying, you should also ask for proof that the production company has insurance that not only covers losses or damage to its equipment, but also medical costs for anyone involved as part of the production. This is true of the crew as well as any on-camera talent. You, as the customer, may want to consider having a separate waiver drawn up releasing you from any liability for property damage or injury, just to cover your bases.

 6) Non-disclosure forms

“Risk” is in the eye of the beholder. Even if you’re not going to have anything physically dangerous going on during the shoot, make sure that the video production company signs non-disclosure agreements so that you retain full control over how and when any info about, or material from, the shoot is released. If in doubt, consult with a lawyer about who should sign the agreement. Generally it should be everyone who has any chance of gaining proprietary knowledge or obtaining previews of the project (in video or still picture form). It might be a stretch to ask the delivery man from the deli providing craft services to sign one though. But someone on the production team may want to capture a photo or two to post on their Facebook page, which could pose a problem for you. So, don’t skimp on this part.

No one really likes to go through all of these legal details. Even lawyers, who go to school for years and rack up a lot of student debt to do so, will tell you their passion for the law cools considerably when it comes to paper work. Keeping a checklist list the one above handy will ensure you don’t miss anything important for your next video shoot.