We are living in a generation of creators. The tools necessary for filmmaking have never been as accessible and affordable as they are today. Consumer equipment and software and online tutorials are abundant and user-friendly; however, there is one component missing – the copyrights that are created when utilizing these tools. More importantly, the knowledge of how to secure, assign, maintain, and protect your project so it can be successfully marketed, distributed or sold, is lacking. As part of your deliverables to an interested distributor, broadcaster, or purchaser you will be required to acquire Errors and Omissions Insurance. In order to do this, you must have a clean CHAIN OF TITLE for your film. So what is it, and how do we do it? Simply put, the chain of title is a series of agreements assigning individual copyrights and granting various permissions to the owner of the film. For example, a screenwriter writes a script and owns the copyright to that script. The production company enters into an option agreement with the screenwriter that proves they have secured the rights to pursue producing the screenplay. When the film goes into production, or even beforehand, the writer assigns the copyright to the production company.
There are hundreds of copyrights being created on a film set. The cinematographer, actors, director, make-up, FX and wardrobe are all creating individual copyrights. It would be a labourious process to get permission from all of them every time the film was exhibited, distributed, or sold. This is why EVERYONE on your film must sign an agreement that assigns the copyright to the production company.
Some of these agrements include:
• screenplay option agreement/ copyright assignment
• music licenses (both synchronization and master use)
• trademark clearances of products depicted in the film
• talent agreements, including rights to their work, image, likeness, andpersonality
• crew agreements, including rights to their work, image, likeness, andpersonality
• location agreements
• art releases
• E&O Insurance (errors and omissions insurance), which provides insurance to producers for any omissions in the chain of title (often secured at time of sale).
Without a clean chain of title you will not get Errors and Ommissions Insurance, and without E&O you will not be able to distribute your film in any traditional venue. If you distribute it in a non-traditional venue without a clean chain of title, you are opening yourself up to litigation. You will still be accepted into festivals, and may even win an award - however, there is a section in the ‘Terms & Conditions’ on ALL festival submission forms warranting that you have secured all necessary rights for exhibition.
In short, if you acquire distribution, they will require a proper chain of title and E&O Insurance. In addition, they will ask you to sign an agreement warranting that you do in fact have all the proper rights in place and hold them harmless to any claims of copyright infringement.
It is also worth mentioning that most distributors, broadcasters, funding agencies, and investors will not deal with an individual, so you must have a Limited Liability Company - this is for your protection as well.
I look forward to a time when Creative Commons is the mainstream and all this paperwork is unnecessary, but that time isn’t now. We operate as creators in a very litigious society. You must acquire and maintain a clean CHAIN OF TITLE on your projects to protect yourself and ensure your product is marketable.
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