Filmmaker Legal Q&A

So I was doing research on rights and clearances and saw this fantastic article! Enjoy!


legal faqs

Common filmmaker questions answered by Film Solicitor, Tara Pietri, the writer of our legal guide.

**”My film is loosely based upon a short story that I read. I’ve credited this in the film but I haven’t purchased any adaptation rights. Do I need to?”

Answer: This depends on several factors. The first question you should ask is: when was the story written? If the author has been dead for over 70 years, the copyright has probably expired though you will need to research which country’s laws are applicable and which laws apply. For instance, for UK works written before 1 August 1989, The Copyright Act 1956 applies and that has its own rules about period of copyright though it won’t be more than life plus 70 years. If the copyright has not expired, it is likely that the owner of the rights will try and assert their rights over your adaptation even if it is only ‘loosely based’ upon the short story.

You should find out who owns the copyright. Strictly, it may be that moral rights have not been waived and someone else owns the copyright but this is uncommon in practice. You should then take steps to purchase the adaptation rights. It may be possible to argue that infringement has not taken place, because you have not copied a ‘substantial part’ of the original work. In a court of law, this would be judged on whether you had incorporated a ‘substantial part’ of the short story author’s skill and labour when making your film. You should note that a part may be “substantial” even if only a little material is used. You should consider the similarities between the short story and your film. If you do not purchase the adaptation rights, you run the risk of being sued for infringement. You must always consider if it is worth the expense and time of defending an infringement action. You may incur legal fees, a severe financial penalty and/or criminal penalties if you lose.

**”I have fallen out with the producer of my film. I’ve had offers to show my film in a festival but I can’t get their consent. Do you have any advice?”

Answer: Under UK copyright law, the film is treated as joint authorship between you, the Director, and the Producer of the film. If you have signed an agreement with the producer, you need to check what this says about whether either of you have assigned your rights or whether there is any specification about distributing or showing the film to the public. If there is no agreement, then you might choose to show the film anyway (if you think it is unlikely the producer will take action against you) or enter into negotiations with the producer to obtain his or her consent.

**”I have used a brand logo in my film but have disguised it by calling the company a different name (a pun on their name). The design is otherwise identical though. Does this count as a breach of copyright?”

Answer: The brand’s logo is protected by copyright as a drawing. As the design is identical (except for the words) this constitutes a breach of copyright. You should always be careful when using a brand logo in a film. It may well be that powerful large companies will take action against you to show that they follow a strict policy of protecting their brand.



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A Networking Community & Organization for Women in Film & Entertainment! View all posts by REEL Ladies

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