Video, Work for Hire and Copyright

Many still photographers who are new to video, ask me; “A client is asking me to sign a “work for hire” contract – What do I do?” By law, a creator holds copyright to their work. imagesHowever, when signing a work for hire contract, a creator relinquishes ownership to their work, transferring it to the client who commissioned the work.

Professional still photographers are accustomed to maintaining ownership and copyright to their work and use a business model based on licensing their images and charging for usage. Video production is a collaborative effort and contracts are generated by whoever is commissioning the work and paying the bill. Most contracts are work for hire agreements between the client (executive producer) and all the players on the team, from the director of photography to the sound engineer to the gaffer (lighting). However, when I have worked direct to client and assumed the role of producer, I have been successful in amending contracts so that I maintain the rights to any unused b-roll – that is if the subject matter isn’t proprietary.

If you are working on self-initiated projects like a narrative film, a documentary or just shooting independent motion clips for stock, as the creator of the work you hold the copyright. It’s important that you register the copyright of your work. If you are registering independent video clips, you register them just as you would your still images, using the VA form. I license my motion clips, just as I do my still images.

If you are registering a movie/film, you are registering the “whole” and you have the rights to use the content that is contained within the film in the context of that “whole”. When registering a movie use the PA form.

One thing to remember; if you are a still photographer getting into video production, please respect others’ intellectual property rights. I see too many photographers using mainstream music in their videos and I know they didn’t license the rights to that music because it would have been cost prohibitive. If I can’t afford to license mainstream music for my compilations, I either use royalty free music or I commission someone to create the score.

Here’s more information about copyright for motion and video as well as information about fair use:

Copyright Registration for Motion Pictures Including Video Recordings

Gail is President of the National Board of ASMP (American Society of Media Photographers)

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