Films are expensive to make and involve contributions from many specialties, so there can be much at stake in copyright infringement cases. In addition, the copyrights to films can be owned by a variety of different entities as the author or creator of the firm: corporations, independent production studios, or even individuals.
If you’re a filmmaker who needs help navigating the complexities of copyright law, contact the team at Duncan Firm with your questions.
For copyright purposes, a film is considered to be complete when it has reached its final form: when the final edit has been made. However, the question of who owns the copyright may be complicated. Often, the terms of copyright ownership are spelled out in the contracts signed by the creators.
But in order to file a lawsuit for copyright infringement of a film, a copy of the film, filing fees and application for registration must be submitted to the US Copyright Office and a registration issued. A necessary business practice should be for the film be registered within three months of first publication, which preserves your right to statutory damages and attorneys fees.
It is also important to note that some elements of the film may be copyrighted separately. A film script is considered a literary work and a film score is considered a musical work. Since both can exist independently from the film, they are also eligible for copyright protection that may or may not be enforced, so the ownership situation for films can get complex.
If you intend to use a clip from a copyrighted film in your own work, always inquire about the status of the copyright. In most circumstances, the copyright owner must consent to the film’s use in the form of a license. There are some limited exceptions under the concept of “fair use;” film clips may be used for the purposes of criticism, review, and instruction without the consent of the copyright owner. These exceptions are generally worked out on a case-by-case basis often requiring legal advice.
A limited number of films have entered the public domain, meaning that their original copyrights have expired and they are free to use by anyone. A work whose copyright owner is unknown or cannot be located is called an “orphan work,” and special rules apply to its use.
Duncan Firm is here to help filmmakers who have questions about copyright law. Contact us with your issue and we’ll do our best to provide accurate information and work to resolve the matter.