Copyright and Video

As still photographers move and expand into video because of the convergence of their tools, they often ask me about copyright, licensing and usage and how to apply that to video.  Essentially they are trying to apply a licensing business model from their still photography and sometimes that doesn’t work in video production.

The biggest distinction between shooting video and shooting still images is that for the most part a video camera operator is just one of the many creative people involved in a video production.  So unless the camera operator is also the producer and in charge of the entire production, including the hiring of the crew, they will be working in a “work for hire” situation.  One video project can’t have every collaborator on a project maintaining ownership of their part of the whole.

Depending on the job and the market you work in will ultimately determine who will maintain ownership, copyright and control.  Generally speaking the end client or video production company holds the copyright to the finished production.  This is why I made a conscious decision when I got into video many years ago, to position myself as a producer and not “just” a content provider. I wanted to maintain creative control and ownership of my projects.

But even in still photography these days, I see more and more “work for hire” contracts, and in market sectors like editorial where that wasn’t the case just five years ago.  Sometimes I feel that in our efforts to protect copyright laws, we end up fighting for that right for big corporate entities that in turn grab those rights from the creators through lopsided contracts.

Something to think about – maybe with new eyes.  Perhaps we need to start thinking of ourselves as “publishers” rather than just content providers.  It’s never been more possible to be a publisher, because distribution has been democratized by the web, giving all of us a pipeline to a global audience.

It’s time to look at our creative businesses with new eyes and not just on the creative part of the process – but the business part as well.  I’d love to hear others’ thoughts and ideas on this topic.

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