Fundamental advices to the rights of your film productions
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
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 music. 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.
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
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
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.
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.)