Copyright Protection And Ownership: A Complex Issue For Video Producers
Copyright protection and ownership is a big concern for the special interest video producer and publisher and one area where we field a lot of questions from our subscribers. Here is a recent question from one of our subscribers regarding this issue:
Q: My question is who holds the copyright on a Special Interest Video I do for a client: me or the client? Do we split/share/assume the copyright from our clients? If they are paying for a video, they should keep the copyright, correct? But at the same time, what stops them from re-burning your master; I’d like to hold the distribution rights (be the only one that can replicate) so that if the video is a huge success, I can enjoy some of the rewards; is that even possible and how would I phrase that in a contract?
Here are several things to consider regarding this complex topic:
First and foremost, the main purpose of the copyright is to tell people that this is not public domain material and that it is illegal to copy it. You don’t have to file with the Library of Congress, just putting it in print using the copyright symbol does the job. It doesn’t stop anybody who is determined to do it, but it puts people on notice. That is why we put a copyright on products.
If you do register your copyright, you may have a bit more protection in the courts if it ever came to that.
If it was a work-for-hire, i.e. if the client hired you and paid you to do this job for them, they would most likely own the copyright. It comes down to how you negotiate that, so do clear this up with the client to avoid any problems later on.
We feel that if it is a joint project and the other party did not pay you for the production, i.e., you funded it, then the actual videotapes, edited masters, the DVD authoring, graphics, packaging etc. are your intellectual property. You may pay your partners a fee up front or incrementally as the DVD sells, like a royalty, but you may own the copyright.
We often work with technical advisors or subject matter experts and this is typically how we work with them.
For example, our cactus and succulent DVDs were done entirely by us with the help of advisors. We worked out a deal with those advisors to pay them a royalty; most commonly it is 10%. The DVDs are our intellectual property and the copyright belongs to us.
In another project we copyrighted the videos but our partner is free to develop other projects using the name, in this case it is 10MinutesToPainFree.
It is very important to get this type of relationship in writing though. The expert needs to understand that they are also bound by that copyright so if they reproduce the DVDs without your knowledge or consent, they are in violation.
This issue is not black and white and so you have to take every case on its own. Again, let me emphasize that you should get the copyright issue cleared up with any partners to avoid future problems.
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