Know your rights…

Churchill County CourthouseBad experiences teach valuable lessons.

And one of these stems from the question of who owns your video. If you don’t keep track of who hired you and who you sold it to and the terms of agreement you may be SOL (somewhat to extremely out of luck). The following is over-generalized and meant only to serve as a warning for VJs to stay on top of their property and their rights. Obviously you should consult with a lawyer to get airtight advice.

First – if you work for an employer (TV station or some other company) whatever you shoot belongs to them unless you’ve made some kind of personal arrangement. You’re hiring your brains and body out for a steady paycheck and benefits and turning all rights over to your boss as part of the agreement. Same may be said for for “work for hire” when a client hires you to shoot…but even then it is murky.

If you work independently as a freelancer, the rules change. As the artist/the shooter/the cameraman any video you shoot on your own belongs to you. You saw and created it. That includes raw clips and finished products. (Remember, this is when you are working on your own.)

The tricky part comes into play when someone else enters the scene…be it a client, a distributor, or anyone who wants what you got.

On the most basic level, let’s say you shoot an accident. You give a shout-out to the local stations and they bite. Each station wants a copy and you oblige and ftp them or drop them off. BEFORE you do that, you need to get straight in your head what you are selling. Don’t assume anything. Station A may have an unstated or stated agreement with freelancers that they are buying rights in perpetuity to use the video anyway they want in their market. Station B may state that when they pay you, they can send it worldwide and they own all rights everywhere. Station C may not have a clue and may do whatever they want until you rein them in.

Don’t let the rush of possible cash click the “off” switch of your logic center. You should always make contact with potential markets before you work with them to find out what their terms are and negotiate as much as you can to either keep as many rights as you can or raise the ante for any potential income. Or at the very least know what you’re giving away when you send them a file.

Let’s take a quick look at what you are actually giving away when you sell your video. Rights mean who owns the rights to use or sell something. We’re talking about something solid here – video – not intellectual rights, which are a different ballgame in many ways.

First – as an independent Videojournalist you own all rights.
You may choose to sell some or all of these rights to one or more entities.
You should know exactly what you are selling…and price your product accordingly.
You can sell one-time rights to use your product in a specific market.
You can sell rights to use only on a news program and then resell to the same station for public affairs or other programming.
If you have a produced final project you can offer it up to a distributor who will attempt to find a client for you…but even here watch what you sign. You may be handing your hard work over to a company that does little or nothing to market your video. And some of those sites slip in a clause that will not allow you to regain your video even if they don’t work to rep you.
If you sell the completed project you can sell the rights to the project but not the raw footage.
You can upload to a stock site and sell there but maintain rights to everything.

Are you beginning to get the idea? And yes, it is confusing. The nugget of advice you should have gained from reading this is to read all contracts carefully. Don’t do hand-shake deals (they can go sour). Make decisions about your work based on knowledge, not lack of knowledge. Yes, go ahead and sell that video of the accident to the local station for a hundred bucks…but make it clear you retain the right to sell it to the lawyers or stock footage site. Or just take the money and walk away. It’s all good so long as you know what you’re doing…it’s your decision.

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