Questions we answer in this guide:
- What documents do you need to make sure you retain all the rights in the content you create?
- How can you legally incorporate another's copyright material in your own content?
- What else should you avoid including in your content to prevent breaking the law?
More and more businesses are creating video content. And, while it’s never been easier or cheaper to create and share high-quality content online, it’s also become increasingly difficult to get that content in front of your target audience, who you want to be engaging with what you’ve created.
To make an impact, your content needs a proper amount of investment. Whether that’s financial, e.g. investing in the right expensive kit or contracting in a skilled videographer, or with your time, as you work on the conception, planning and execution of your ideas.
Something that's often overlooked in all the activity is what permissions and/or licenses a commercial content creator should have in place, to avoid any disagreements over who had the right to film whom and what, and for what purposes, and to extract the maximum value from the footage they shoot.
In this guide, we outline the key things that small businesses making videos for commercial gain need to keep in mind… from the earliest stages of their preparation, right the way through to filming and finally publishing and sharing.
What permissions do you need to film in the UK?
You do need permission to film in almost all cases. For any businesses looking to get involved in video content creation, you must try and secure these 2 following documents, at least…
You need someone's consent to photograph or film them. Asking them to sign a well-drafted video and photo image rights release form should give you clear and concrete consent to use the photographs or footage you’ve created in the way you intend.
By contrast, not getting consent from the person(s) you're filming could leave you open to a successful challenge by that person. It might sound a bit far-fetched, but this kind of situation commonly arises if your project is a success and begins to make a lot of money. Your subject may demand some of the proceeds, or a greater fee for their contribution. They may even try to take legal action to prevent you from using that material.
By getting their written permission, your contributor knows what you'll be recording, how that content will be used and they are therefore fully informed. You, on the other hand, can rest easy knowing that a sudden change of heart on their part needn’t derail your final plans for the content and that there's a robust and enforceable record of what was agreed.
There might be valid reasons why a contributor may subsequently get cold feet and want to limit or revoke their permission entirely and, in such cases, you may want to hear these out and agree to amend or remove their contribution – particularly if you want to maintain a relationship with them and work with them again in the future.
And in the event you forget to get permission from any of your subjects on the day of filming, there’s no need to panic – it’s perfectly acceptable to get in touch with on-screen contributors to get a belated signature from them - just be aware that they might ask you for some kind of payment at that point.
For anyone else, for whom you may not have contact details, or who may have popped up unknowingly in the background, you should tread a little more carefully. This applies to situations where it may not have been possible to obtain consent – for filming in public, for example.
Here, it’s good practice to set up signs around the area where you're filming, to inform and warn passers-by that you’re filming in the area and, if they don’t want to be seen, they should either speak to a member of your crew or avoid the area.
Do remember that individuals have a right to respect for their private life. This means that filming in areas where passers-by would expect a reasonable degree of privacy (for example, such as a changing area or on private property) will generally be a no-go without express consent from those caught on camera.
However, for smaller-scale productions or those a bit more spontaneous and 'in the moment', that may not be practical.
In these cases, as long as the use of the individual’s image is incidental and brief enough so as not to be identifiable, you should be able to argue that your footage is acceptable.
As with video and image rights and releases, you should also have permission from the owner of any premises you want to film in. Having the owner’s unambiguous and irrevocable written consent to you being able to film prevents any subsequent challenges to your use of the footage that may derail your project.
Ideally, you’ll have agreed the details surrounding your use of the premises in advance, including how long you plan to be filming at the location and what that filming entails. Getting all of this signed off in advance is strongly recommended and can also help to prevent unhelpful interruptions from venue or building owners once filming is underway.
Some more high-profile locations and publicly owned areas will have their own forms and permits that you’ll be required to sign if you want to film there. You may be able to get them to sign a copy of your own location agreement too, but many of them will want you to sign theirs as a condition of their consent.
As with any contract, if you're signing terms that someone else has put together, you should read these thoroughly. Pay close attention to any clauses that may restrict what you can do at the location, what charges or fees may be levied for any damage caused and what level of insurance cover and/or liability is required for the producer (i.e. you) to accept.
Farillio's location rights release form is drafted to ensure that the footage you capture at this location belongs to you. This means that the location owner has no rights of their own over that footage. This is standard. Beware other forms or permits that don’t contain such a clause.
If the location owner wants to have access to your footage for their own purposes or reasons, such as putting video or stills on their website, you should draw up a separate license agreement (more on that later).
If you’re filming outdoors or indoors in a publicly owned place, you should still get permission from the authority in charge. This could be a local council or another organisation such as the local police (particularly, where filming may cause an obstruction) or the Highways Commission.
Remember, filming on public transport is effectively filming on private land – and it will be subject to rules of the relevant operators such as the London Underground or Network Rail.
If you’re creating content for your small business, with a small crew, using a small amount of equipment and not causing any kind of obstruction, then you probably won’t need to jump through quite as many hoops as a full-blown television production would.
Just be sure that you and your team identify any areas you want to film at – be they public or privately owned – as early as possible.
Then, once you have somewhere in mind, you should begin discussions with the appropriate venue owners or controllers as early as possible, so you have plenty of time to negotiate and/or find an alternative if need be.
Recruiting talent for film projects: what agreements do you need?
If you’re engaging freelancers, make sure you have the right agreements for their services in place.
From writers, videographers, editors and anyone else making a creative contribution to the project, it’s critical that your agreements with them include wording that gives you the rights to any footage that they shoot, photographs they take or any other contribution they make – no matter how small – that ends up in or supporting your footage.
Not agreeing this upfront and in writing may result in disagreements over who owns what within the finished project.
As the producer, you’ll want to retain ownership of everything that’s created by the team you've pulled together. After all, you’re likely paying any freelancers a handsome sum for their expertise, so don’t get caught out later on by not being able to make the most of those services you paid for.
NB: If on the day you need one of your crew to act as a stand-in, make sure they sign a separate image rights release form too.
And don’t forget, when you’re putting together your crew, you’ll need to abide by all existing legislation for employees, workers and/or self-employed contractors.
That legislation can include the right to earn the minimum wage, paying tax and National Insurance, checking an individual’s right to work in the UK, observing working time directives and more.
Take a more detailed look at the differences in legislation for hire types in our guide to the difference between an employee, a worker and a self-employed contractor.
Using copyrighted material in your own content
Depending on the nature of the content you’re making, you may need to use third-party material to add something you’re unable to capture yourself. Usually, this means sourcing some extra footage or backing music and splicing this into your finished project.
Fortunately, there are dozens, if not hundreds, of sites that deal in royalty-free stills, footage and music. Usually this means that, in return for a one-off fee, you’re allowed to download, keep and use (and re-use) the same piece of copyrighted material as many times as you like within a project and in as many projects as you like.
Alternately, if you’re looking for something a little more specialist, there are also plenty of larger archive houses that hold historical footage from the news, sports, films and TV. However, this sort of content will generally be more expensive and include greater restrictions on its use, particularly regarding the length and geographic area of the licence as well as the type of media it can appear in.
Whatever you need, just make sure that anything that you didn’t film or create yourself, will need to be cleared for use within your project with the copyright holders. If you’re using footage or music from a royalty-free collection, for example, be sure to keep a copy of the licence that you agreed with those rights-holders, and the receipt for any purchases, in case anyone challenges your use of the material in the future.
Copyright infringement is serious and could result in your content or account being demonetised or removed from YouTube or other video-sharing websites altogether. It may even lead to the very real threat of legal action and large payments being made to settle claims of infringement.
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