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Brandon M.
Brandon M., Counselor at Law
Category: Legal
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Experience:  Attorney experienced in numerous areas of law.
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A video production company in South Africa has done a documentary

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A video production company in South Africa has done a documentary for us, a Midwestern foundation. We want to contract with them for the rights so we can protect the film from misuse, and give them whatever rights they need to promote themselves by adding the film to their portfolio and promote it as an example of their work. We have paid them in full for their work, and both sides are essentially satisfied, but no contract exists.

►What issues should we watch out for? ►Suggest a source for a sample contract that we could modify to make an agreement with the production company?

Brandon M. :

Hello there.

Brandon M. :

Thank you for your question. Film productions have a myriad of legal issues that should be considered. There are few areas of law that compare in complexity. The most common sources of dispute are licensing and distribution rights.

Brandon M. :

The following website does a decent job as listing the various legal documents that may be desired for any particular film:

Brandon M. :

I would direct your attention especially to the last document on that webpage, titled "legal agreements". This the link:

Brandon M. :

Even when someone pays for the production of a film, that does not necessarily resolve the issue of distribution rights to that film. In addition to the previously provided links, the following is a sample of a distribution agreement:

Brandon M. :

Naturally, these agreements are generally unnecessary unless a dispute arises. Because the nuances of every case are different, this information should not be construed as complete or advice without consulting with counsel in person, but this will hopefully provide an overview of the issues most likely to arise for any given video production and some sample contracts to deal with those issues.

Brandon M. :

Let me know if you need further clarification, and please feel free to leave a positive rating once you are finished; it does not cost anything extra to do so, and it is the only way I may be compensated. Thanks.

Customer: replied 3 years ago.

Thanks! The movie is mainly for fundraising purposes, to the help the children who's story it tells. The production company feel uncomfortable doing anything too complicated legally.


We mostly want to make sure we can pursue rights abusers (we don't want pictures of these homeless children used inappropriately, for example) and have the rights assigned to our foundation to do so.


Any suggestion on the simplest approach to assigning sufficient rights to our foundation to go after rights abusers?



I hope that it is ok for me to be straightforward and I hope that my tone is properly interpreted as I write this. I'm not sure that I know what you have in mind when you talk about going after rights abusers. Please allow me to explain. If someone uses your image or property without legal authority, you can generally sue them to cease usage and for any damages. If someone uses your image or property in a way that is criminally illegal, law enforcement may prosecute them on your behalf. But if there is a dispute, the ease of resolution will depend on the certainty of the abuse, the evidence available, and the totality of the circumstances (for example, it would be always easier to enforce against someone in the United States than someone in Russia, for logistical as well as legal reasons). The best that anyone can do is to resolve the property issues with the people involved, so as to clarify expectations with regard to the rights of one another. From there, it's just a matter of addressing whatever craziness as it comes, and there's no way to predict or control crazy :-)
Customer: replied 3 years ago.

Thanks, XXXXX XXXXX guess I meant I want to make sure we are the rights holder so that they are "our image or property." Does that simply mean having ownership then (via the contract I am asking about) and then filing copyright?

For a film, any potential ownership dispute usually arises due to lack of clarity of ownership between the client and the producer. For example, if I started selling images from your film, I would clearly have no right to do so, but to sue me successfully, you would need to demonstrate that I violated your right to the film. Sometimes, no contract is needed to prove standing, but sometimes it is. However, it is also entirely possible that the producers themselves or even the film actors may want to exert partial or total control over the rights to the film. So normally, the best way to ensure the complete ownership and control over a film is to have a contract/release with everyone involved in the creation of the film, including its actors. For a movie studio production, you would expect at a minimum that there would be a written agreement with the production company and each of the film's actors (and oftentimes others--for example, if you we're filming on someone else's property, you would normally seek a location agreement with the property owner.)

So "yes", ownership can usually be established by contracting with the relevant parties.

You mentioned filing for copyrights. To be frank, it almost never hurts to file for copyright protection, but it's usually not legally necessary to do so until a situation arises that necessitates legal action. In most countries, including the USA, almost all original work created after 04/01/1989 is copyrighted and protected regardless of whether the creator has formally filed. So for all the paperwork that is typically needed to ensure that rights to a film are protected, the silver lining is that a copyright notice is usually not among it.
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Customer: replied 3 years ago.

Awesome, thanks!

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