In the latest in my series on video production and copyright, we will focus on protecting yourself in agreements made in the video creation process. Understanding copyright law is an important part of any video production business – it can help you earn more revenue, negotiate more effectively, and avoid conflicts with clients.

Steve Hill, an intellectual property, trademark, and copyright attorney has some excellent advice for video production freelancers. He confirms that one of the most frequently asked questions he receives from many freelancers is:

When is what I’m doing mine, and when is what I’m doing for the guy that contracted me to do this work?

The answer to that question is really that if you create the work, you own it, unless you sign a work for hire. If you create the agreement, Hill advises addressing licensing rights specifically and clearly in writing.

Be Very Clear About the Future Use of Any Video Content

While speaking on copyright and web video to the Atlanta Internet Video Marketing Association, Hill cited an example of a copyright conflict that makes this issue clear.

Hill said he represented a freelance photographer who was hired by a magazine to take photos for the magazine. The photographer noticed the magazine was using thousands of his photos on its website and not just in its magazine. At first he tried to negotiate with the magazine. Hill says,“ the magazine of course had the rights to use the photographs in the bricks and motor magazine but it (the agreement) was silent as to what, if any, rights they had to use the pictures on their website.”

After failed attempts to negotiate, the photographer sued the publisher. “Under the works for hire statute which is a subset of the copyright law the work he was doing as a freelance photographer was presumptively his to own. The copyright in all those pictures he took were his to own. As a result, he had the contractual right to control what the commissioning party, in this case the magazine, was able to do with those works. If it didn’t specifically say the magazine had the rights to use that content on their website, then they were out of bounds. They were working outside the scope of their licensing agreement,” Hill said.

Basically, since the contract didn’t mention any other use for the photographs, the photographer won the case. Keep in mind, the photographer did have to register each photograph with the copyright office before going to court.

Video Production Professionals: Know Your Rights

Hill says the moral to the story really is “know your rights”. He says by the same logic, video production companies who hire freelancers should be specific about licensing rights and ownership or perhaps have the videographer sign a “work for hire”. “If you are contracting with another video producer know where you are silent in the agreement about ownership they may claim they are the owner of the copyright,” Hill said. He says they could limit your use of the video they shot to that one specific project and keep you from using the video in any other manner.

He also advised that if your client wants you to sign a “work for hire” that you should push back “as much as you can to work for hire provisions,” or he says you might negotiate limited rights to use the video.

At any rate, if your agreements outline the specific use of your work, you might be able to avoid any legal conflicts. By knowing your rights, you’ll also be able to do a better job of negotiating if your clients want you to sign their agreement or work for hire. Want to hear more from Steve Hill’s presentation, click the link below to see a short clip from his presentation at the ATIVMA meeting.

Are you a video professional with experience with copyright violations? How did you resolve the matter? Please let us know in the comments below.