Everything You Need Yo Know For Film And Television

OK, I will be the first to admit that I have some pretty strange reading habits, and Clearance & Copyright might not appeal to a wide swath of the reading public, it covers the often confusing world of copyright issues. Although the book is primarily aimed at the Film and Television world it does also have much that is applicable to the print industry, music, and also creators of Internet content, which I do have a very keen interest in.

Clearance & Copyright should be a must read for anyone in the entertainment world. Michael Donaldson has also taken great care to try and explain everything in Laymans terms, not just the legal aspects, but some of the terms used industry wide. Over the past few years I have interviewed various film makers and screenwriters, and inevitably the interviews are peppered with industry terms that I really did not understand, but as an interviewer you can hardly stop the interview and ask them to explain the term. A great example of this are the terms Treatment and Bible, I knew that they had something to do with the formative stage of a script but no clue what. So as a layman I found this book interesting for that aspect alone, and the inclusion of a glossary is very helpful.

On the legal side I also learned a great deal, there are two terms that crop up in articles about copyright all the time, Fair Use, and Sampling. In my simplistic mind there were essentially interchangeable and loosely defined as borrowing a small piece of another artists work, maybe a 20 second clip of a movie or a song. I discovered I was wrong on both counts! It is not so much the length of the borrowed material, rather the intent behind the use of it.

There is one particular News Agency who have recently mounted legal attacks on anyone using their material in any fashion, quotes, linking to articles on their web site, etc. I won’t name them, but I have informed all of my writers to avoid them like the plague. Based on what I read in this book, I now seriously wonder if their public huffing and puffing will actually stand up in court.

For the would be independent film maker I would say that Clearance and Copyright should be the very first purchase you make, and read it cover to cover before you even take the lens cap off. While to the legal experts I am sure that everything in this book reads like Lawyering 101, for us mere mortals it is a valuable resource that covers many different scenarios.

Here is an interesting example, have you noticed that some movies happily use well known products as props, the leading man drinking a can of Coke for example. This usage is fine and legal, the product is being used in the manner it was designed for. Even so, most large studios would go the extra mile and obtain a clearance from the manufacturer. The otherside of the coin is when a product is misused.

A few weeks ago I was watching a re-run of the hit series Mythbusters, for those of you not familiar with the show the two leading men, ex stunt coordinators try to recreate an urban myth to discover how likely it is to be truthful. This particular segment was discussing the well known backyard science experiment of dropping Mentos mints into a bottle of Diet Coke and a fountain of fizz being produced. At the time I watched the show I paid scant attention, yet thinking back I now realize that they took great pains to avoid mentioning either actual brand name, and all product labels were digitally obscured. The reason? The product was not being used in a manner that it was originally designed for. This misuse could have resulted in legal action.

What I really enjoyed about Clearance & Copyright was that each section contains some real life court cases, often two cases that at first glance seem to be essentially identical yet resulted in very different verdicts. The analysis offered shows that minor nuances often in the area of intent make a huge amount of difference.

A couple of years ago I had a personal exploration into the world of Copyright. I was sent a DVD for review, it was from a reputable US based company. I dutifully reviewed it. You can imagine my surprise when I received an Email from the artists manager (and wife) asking me to take down the review as the DVD was a bootleg. The vintage footage had been stolen and that the Artist involved was receiving no royalties from the DVD. I took the review down and talked to the company involved, indeed they did not have a clear chain of ownership. In this case, I came out smelling of roses, the artist involved was one of my wife’s favorite, we received backstage passes to a show he was appearing in, and an opportunity to ‘hang out’ with him, his wife, and a plethora of well known other musicians.

Also included in the book are many template letters and forms that can be used to obtain the information and clearances together with a comprehensive list of resources, addresses, web sites, email addresses of organizations that can be tapped for information.

A couple of years ago I interviewed an Author about his first Novel, it transpired that his day job was that of ‘Entertainment Lawyer’, I assumed that meant he hung around with the rich and famous, maybe did the odd house purchase, and not much else! I was envious. I now realize what the poor man has to do on a day to day basis.

An interesting book, and one that is worth reading even if you are not the next budding Spielberg. You can pick up your copy at Amazon. Michael also has a website with additional information and you can download the forms and letters that are mentioned in the book.

Simon Barrett


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