Fundamental advices to the rights of your film productions

Eine junge Frau erklärt stehend etwas. Im Hintergrund sind weitere Menschen gleichen Alters erkennbar.

If you want to know which rights you own and which rights remain with the pro­ducer, you should check the Terms and Con­di­tions of the pro­ducer, as well as your con­tracts. In gen­eral: Rights which weren´t trans­ferred stay with the author.

The fol­low­ing points are inter­est­ing:

Which restric­tions apply for the spa­tial and the tem­po­ral use of the your film regard­ing

a) the gen­eral usage rights

Drei Erwachsene sitzen nebeinander und hören einem nicht-sichtbaren Redner über das Thema Nutzungsrechte zu.The Ger­man Copy­right Act guar­an­tees the cre­ator the rights to his work. The right to one’s work is not trans­fer­able, only hered­i­tary. The cre­ator can award the rights of use. They can involve dis­tri­b­u­tion rights, the rights for per­form­ing etc.

As film pro­duc­tion is nor­mally the result of a team work, it is impor­tant to know who has the copy­right and whether you have actu­ally bought the usage right. Usu­ally the direc­tor has the copy­rights. Make sure that the per­son who owns the copy­right has awarded the rights of use to the pro­duc­tion com­pany of your film.

b) the music

In high qual­ity pro­duc­tions the score is com­posed for the film. In this case the pro­ducer buys the rights directly from the com­poser whom were trans­ferred the rights of the inter­preters (for exam­ple the stu­dio musi­cians or singers). You have to notice, that in Ger­many, you have to pay fees to the Soci­ety for musi­cal per­form­ing and mechan­i­cal repro­duc­tion rights (GEMA), if the com­poser is mem­ber of the GEMA. If the com­poser claims not to be a mem­ber of the GEMA you should get a writ­ten con­fir­ma­tion.

There are pub­lisher which offer GEMA-free Ein Junge spielt Chello. Um ihn erkennt man weitere You get the rights through one time pay­ments. Also be sure to get a con­fir­ma­tion, because you have to prove your rights to the GEMA. Impor­tant: The fact, that there is no GEMA sign printed on the CD does not mean that the music has no restric­tions. A lot of pub­lisher are spe­cialised on the sell­ing of music scores. You buy usage rights from the pub­lisher and you can use the music to the deter­mined agree­ment. Fur­ther­more you have to pay for the author’s rights to the GEMA.

Ein E-Bass, der gerade gespielt von unten. Im Hintergrund ist ein Gitarrist erkennbar.

It becomes more dif­fi­cult if you want to use an already released piece of music,  which is not offered by a spe­cial­ized pub­lisher. For exam­ple a song you´ve heard on the radio. You can buy the rights for per­form­ing and dis­tri­b­u­tion from the GEMA. The pub­lisher has the adop­tion rights and can deter­mine the costs and the field of use as he likes. So it´s pos­si­ble that it´s not allowed to use the song in an indus­try film. Even if it´s allowed the price can amount to any pos­si­ble level.

In for­eign coun­tries there are dif­fer­ent rul­ings. In the USA it is pos­si­ble to buy all rights directly from the com­poser. But if you want to use the music in your film in Ger­many, you have to prove that to the GEMA.

c) speak­ers and actors

Zwei junge Erwachsene unterhalten sich. Im Hintergrund ein scharfes Büro mit mehreren Arbeitsplätzen.

A pro­fes­sional speaker or actor receives a fee for his engage­ment. How­ever, in many cases this fee does not allow for unre­stricted use of the footage. Depend­ing on the field of appli­ca­tion (spa­tial, tem­po­ral) you have acquire the rights through a buy­out. Make sure that the agreed rights cover the great­est pos­si­ble use. If you want to use the film for a longer time or in a wider area than orig­i­nally planned, you have to be aware of high addi­tional costs. Ide­ally you acquire usage rights with­out any spa­tial or tem­po­ral restric­tions.

d) rights to stock footage used in pro­duc­tions 

Ein Weizenfeld im Sonnenschein. Im Hintergrund sind einige Häuser sichtbar.

Films reg­u­larly con­tain exter­nal footage for logis­ti­cal or finan­cial rea­sons. Exam­ples are shots from dis­tant coun­tries or his­toric events. Providers of “stock-mate­rial” are medi­a­tors between the pro­ducer who owns the rights and the buyer of the pic­tures. The buyer is nor­mally not the end-cus­tomer, but the pro­duc­tion com­pany act­ing on behalf of its client. Fees and the rights of use are nego­ti­ated between these two par­ties.

Ein Strand in den ein Mann seine nackten Füße ausstreckt. Davor stehen seine Schuhe.

In prin­ci­ple it is pos­si­ble to get tem­po­rally and spa­tially unre­stricted usage right. But nor­mally, film rights are trans­ferred for spec­i­fied appli­ca­tions and well defined lim­its regard­ing scope and dis­tri­b­u­tion. In this case it is essen­tial for a cus­tomer to tell the pro­ducer to what pur­pose the film is needed. If you want to expand the use after­wards you have to buy fur­ther rights, which can become a costly under­tak­ing. If the exact scope of appli­ca­tion for the film is yet uncer­tain you should always try to acquire the unre­stricted rights to the mate­rial. How­ever, this will not be pos­si­ble for all footage. Most high qual­ity and his­toric footage is avail­able with restricted usage rights only.

You should observe the restric­tions in any case to avoid poten­tially high addi­tional costs for the pic­ture and sound rights. By the way, with ref­erenz film you get unre­stricted usage rights, unless oth­er­wise agreed. In addi­tion, you should clar­ify who owns the rights for repro­duc­tion. Many pro­duc­ers reserve this right and the addi­tional costs for thou­sands of copies may be enor­mous.

Nor­mally you only get the usage rights for the end pro­duct, the film. If you want to use footage in other pro­duc­tions, you should agree on that in advance. In most cases, pro­duc­ers will request an addi­tional Buy­Out.


(This ref­er­ence is given with­out any lia­bil­ity! For reli­able infor­ma­tion ask your legal advi­sor.)