Is there a way to clear rights for clips from old films easily and cost-effectively?
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.
Lee Wrote in with this question:
I have a film copyright enquiry. I'm based in the UK & planing to shoot a none profit making short film in homage to Laurel & Hardy, & have contacted their estate regarding copyright for some film clips to be used in a scene. Due to the films being owned by a number of different companies it is proving a nightmare to gain permission to show the finished film at festivals. There are two films that are now in public domain and I was wondering if you could tell me if it is legal for me to use clips of those films, as I have read conflicting information regarding this. My other question is, if I was to get actors to recite the audio to the scenes & play it in the film as though it is the audio from the film, would I be breaking copyright law?
Well, Lee… I feel your pain. I really do. Here's the straight poop.
If a film is really in the public domain, then it is free to use. You needn’t seek or obtain permission from anybody.
But if a film is still subject to copyright protection, even having actors recite the lines in place of the original performers will amount to copying (the script, by performing it), and is thus copyright infringement. Don't do that…
Tracking down ownership for clip-licensing is tedious, but it’s not usually difficult. Unfortunately, there’s no substitute for doing that work. Fortunately, there are people (like me) who are experienced and can deal with the issues on your behalf.
This whole process is called “clip clearance”, and there are businesses devoted entirely to doing this kind of work. And that should tell you that it's not only necessary, it's good business.
So, get in touch with your production attorney, and get a clear picture of what's going to be involved. Its better to do this Before you invest too much in your project.
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See you next time!
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