Can an actor or voice artist be liable for performing scenes or quotes from existing plays, movies and TV shows?
Hi, I'm attorney Gordon Firemark, and this is Asked and Answered, where I answer your entertainment law questions, to help you take your career and business to the next level.
So Gary wrote in with an interesting question, here's what he says:
Recently found your YouTube channel and it's such a great resource.
(Thank you very much, I'm glad it's helpful)
I'm a voiceover talent and was recently asked to record lines from a popular movie. I do not know the intended use. It's most likely YouTube or an internal corporate video but I’m not 100% certain.
In general, is it an issue to have someone that is obviously not, say Will Smith, record some phrase or quote from a film for a YouTube video… IF I was to record it and deliver it for someone else to produce, and they infringed with its use, could I get into trouble or are they solely responsible?
Thanks so much for your channel and help.
Well, Gary, you’re right to be (a little) concerned. I think it’s unlikely you would be held liable for reading something a client gives you, but if you’re doing the recording yourself, in your own studio (as I know many VO artists do), you’re technically infringing copyright.
Now, a short quote or a single line is probably not a problem… but if you were to do entire scenes, long monologues, or even more… that could be an issue. We're talking here, really, about whether this is a fair-use… And you can find my explainer video on that topic at https://firemark.com/fairuseinbrief
But really, the best scenario is that you use a written contract with the client specifying that the client has all necessary rights to the material, and indemnifies you against any claims or damages resulting from their failure to have all those necessary rights.
Now that will help, but an indemnification clause is really only as strong as the financial position of the person behind it.
Indemnify means, basically, that that the person, the indemnitor, will hold you, the indemnitee, harmless against any claims and liabilities. That they'll essentially pay you back, “make you whole” for any losses you suffer. But if they're broke, how are they going to do that.
So, bottom line. Make sure you ask whether they've got the rights Make sure they promise to indemnify you. And, make sure you can trust that they'll actually be able to do so, if push comes to shove.
Otherwise, think really hard about whether the job is worth the risk. And turn it down, if it's not.
So, I hope this helps. If *you* have a question you'd like to see here on Asked and Answered, just visit firemark.com/questions and let me know.
See you next time!
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