Things To Think About Before Copyrighting Your Movie or Short Film
After putting countless hours into making your film project, you want to ensure that your hard work is not copied or misused by others. However, given that films comprise various materials such as images, sounds, and scripts, it can be difficult to know who owns the copyright to your film and its materials. Because of this, you may have wondered how to trade mark a film series. To help you understand the process of copyrighting a film, this article outlines:
- what copyright is;
- who owns the copyright to your film; and
- the requirements of using copyrighted material in your film.
Copyright and Film
A common type of intellectual property is copyright. Copyright prevents others from copying your original works without your permission. Therefore, copyright can protect ‘cinematographic films’, including the visual images and soundtracks that make up a film. Copyright can also protect the script and storyboard of a film. However, copyright cannot protect the idea of a film itself and only protects ideas once they take on a material form.
Under Australian copyright law, copyright protection does not require registration. Instead, copyright protection automatically applies when the original work comes into creation. For example, once filmed, a movie is protected by copyright.
Generally, the copyright owner in a film is the maker or producer of the film. However, commissioned films or films funded by other parties can change copyright ownership.
It is important to note that copyright ownership is separate from ownership of the physical item. For example, the fact that you own a digital copy of your film does not mean that you own the film’s copyright.
Knowing who owns the copyright to a film is essential to determining whether you have the exclusive rights to use and make copies of the film. The table below summarises different types of copyright ownership.
|I produced a commissioned film||The person who commissioned the film is generally the copyright owner.|
|I produced a film under the direction of the government||The government will be the copyright owner of the film.|
|I produced a film as part of my employment||The employer is the copyright owner if production takes place under your terms of employment.|
However, it is important to note that an agreement can predetermine copyright ownership. Before filming, you can make an agreement with other parties to determine who the copyright owner is. If there is no agreement or the agreement does not deal with copyright ownership, the general rules of copyright ownership in the table above apply.
Using Copyrighted Material In Your Film
Since films usually comprise different materials such as images, sounds and scripts, copyright may protect these materials individually. Before you use copyrighted work in a film, you must get permission from the copyright owner. This will ensure that:
- copyright infringement is less likely to occur; and
- your film will have a clear chain of title.
Having a clear ‘chain of title’ means that you can prove that you have received permission to use copyrighted works used in your film. This is vital, as obtaining finances and seeking to distribute a film usually requires a contractual promise on your behalf that your film has a clear chain of title.
When Do I Need To Ask For Copyright Permission?
Generally, you need permission to use the following copyrighted work in your film:
- music, even if it is incidentally captured in the soundtrack (e.g. radio playing in the background of a scene);
- artistic works, although artworks incidentally captured in a scene or sculptures in public spaces generally do not require permission;
- literary works, especially if it is a part of a character’s dialogue; and
- a clip from another film.
However, you do not need permission for materials with expired copyrights. Under Australian copyright law, copyright generally protects sound recordings and cinematograph films for 70 years from the year the materials were made public.
Copyright is a useful way of preventing your film from being copied or misused by others without your permission. In Australia, a film does not require copyright registration and is automatically protected as soon as it comes into existence. While the producer of a film is usually considered the film’s copyright owner, copyright ownership can change depending on why you created the film. If you intend to use songs or artworks in your film, copyright likely protects these materials, and you should seek permission from the respective copyright owners. If you need help understanding trade marks our experienced trade mark lawyers can assist. Call us on 1300 657 423 or complete the form on this page.
Frequently Asked Questions
Copyright cannot protect an idea for a film alone, but other legal protections are available in the form of non-disclosure agreements (NDA). In the instance where you might have shared your idea with another person or creative partner, an NDA ensures that the other party does not copy or misuse your idea for a film.
If a novel is only a source of inspiration for your feature film, then there is no need for permission from the copyright owner of the novel. However, if you want to make a film adaptation of a novel or use a substantial part of the novel, you will need permission from the novel’s copyright owner.
When entering a film into a competition or a film festival, organisers may require you to sign a condition of entry which might include transferring copyright to the organisers. You must be aware of the conditions of entry if you want to avoid losing the rights to your film.