Copyright Protection and Defense
by Martin Lisius
The purpose of this page is to provide information to help copyright owners protect and defend their copyrights. It was created primarily to benefit professional motion picture film and video photographers, but will provide helpful information to others as well.
What is Copyright?
Copyright is a form of protection provided by the laws of the United States (title 17, U.S. Code) to the authors of "original works of authorship fixed in a tangible medium of expression," including literary, dramatic, musical, artistic, and certain other intellectual works. This protection is available to both published and unpublished works.
The most helpful source for copyright information can be found at the US Copyright Office web site located at http://www.copyright.gov. From this site, you can learn about copyright basics, search copyright records, print forms, read about licensing, learn how to register works, and review copyright law.
Professional motion picture film and video photographers spend long hours perfecting their craft and creating their work. But being a true professional does not mean just shooting good pictures. A professional must protect their work once completed. The best way to protect footage is to register it with the US Copyright Office as soon as possible. Doing so will provide the copyright owner with statutory privileges in the event of an infringement, as long as the work is registered prior to the infringement. It is best to register a work within 90 days of first publication. If an infringement occurs during this period, you're protected as long as the Copyright Office receives your application within the 90 days. However, any work you consider valuable should be registered as soon as possible, even if more than 90 days have transpired since first publication.
Registration is a simple process. Visit the Copyright Office web site at http://www.copyright.gov, login to your account, and fill out the appropriate application. If filling out a paper form, owners of motion picture film or video footage should print "Form PA." Complete the application paying careful attention to the instructions. Submit it along with a copy of your work and the application fee to the Copyright Office (Library of Congress). Your work is registered upon receipt by the Copyright Office providing that your submission is complete and appropriate.
You may want to submit all of your footage, as it's created, or just submit a compilation of best footage on an annual or quarterly basis. You chose the method that works best for you. But don't wait long to make submissions. If you have a large quantity of unregistered footage that you've shot over the years, then create a compilation reel of best shots and submit it as soon as possible. You can give it a title like, "Best Nature Footage, 1990-2003, by John Smith." After submitting your years of unregistered footage, get on a more timely submission schedule.
It's important to note that your footage is copyrighted the instant it is created. You do not have to register your work for it to be copyrighted. However, you do have to register your work if you want the fullest protection of the law.
If somebody uses your copyrighted footage without your permission or the permission of an authorized agent, it is an infringement. This applies to virtually any case. It is an infringement even if the pirating party claims that they did not intend to use your material without permission. Furthermore, it is important to note that it is very difficult for a pirating party to prove "fair use." Some will make this claim, but it's likely they are confusing "fair use" with "free use."
Upon discovering an infringement, you should immediately acquire proof of the unauthorized use. A video copy of the use is usually the best evidence. Make note of where and when the infringement took place, and the title of the program or production in which it was utilized. You may contact the pirating party directly, or hire the services of an intellectual property attorney. Either way, you should make a serious effort to acquire compensation for the unauthorized use never demanding an amount equal to or less than your normal footage license fee. Finally, you should adopt a "zero tolerance" policy toward copyright infringement and leave no infringement matter unresolved.
Related Links and Resources
Information on this page should not be considered legal advice. To locate an intellectual property attorney, contact your local bar association.