View Full Version : doc legal stuff

06-28-2005, 11:33 PM
i am about to start shooting a documentary and will be submitting to festival for the first time. in the past i have only been the shooter and never had to worry about all of the legal junk and i am curious...

is there a book or website i can check out to save people from having to type too much? here are my concerns.

i know i have to get location releases for pretty much everywhere. but what about private residences? what if i dont show or mention the name of the place i am shooting (like a grocery store or book store, for example), do i still need a signed release?

what if there is music playing in the background, how do i get permission for that? or should i just not shoot there to avoid the issue altogether?

can my subjects talk about other companies or personalities? do i need clearance from who/what they are talking about or do i have the liberty to let them talk about whatever they want since it is all opinion-based? i think as long as i dont use materials or images from those companies i am ok.

what if someone is drinking a coke? do i have to blur it out?

in other words, what all can i do without releases/for free and what do i need to get permission or pay for?

06-29-2005, 11:02 AM
A lot depends on the nature of your film, your intent, and how it is used.

If you want to err on the side of caution, get releases for everything. If you don't want to be consumed by paranoia, use common sense. Why would someone in a private residence object to you taping unless you're doing it covertly? If they are in the shot, permission is implied.

It's a good idea to get releases if you're showing a business. But if it's shot in a way that looks generic (like omitting signs, logos), forget it if you are shooting from public property. If someone refers to a product or person or business, don't worry about it. That's called Freedom of Speech. Now if they accuse them of murder, that's a different story.

Music is very much a problem. But let's be reasonable. Attorneys call it exposure. If you're a teeny weeny filmmaker, Wayne Newton isn't going to come after you because his song was on the elevator you were taping. If you're Michael Moore with a $100M film, that's another story.

You don't have to blur out any commercial product. That's freedom of speech, too. But you may threaten to blur it if they DON'T pay for product placement.

I don't know of any books, but I have 22 yrs experience in broadcast journalism. News people have additional rights than commercial filmmakers, but you can make yourself nuts worrying about all this stuff. Especially after talking to a lawyer or reading a book. Get releases for the principal subjects, locations and still images and make your film without fear.

06-29-2005, 11:12 AM
"Directing the Documentary" by Michael Rabiger is incredibly comrehensive and has never steered me wrong. It also has a hearty bibliography which you can draw from if you need more specific answers.

You absolutely need releases for music (or radio or tv) in the background, unless it's in the public domain ie: twinkle twinkle little star. In general, it will save you hours and hundreds of dollars to simply make sure these devices are off while shooting, if the subject is comfortable enough to have you shoot them in their environment, they will likely not mind turning off the radio for you.

You do not need releases for companies mentioned by your subjects, but you may want to consider the possible consequences for the subject or the company mentioned should you film be seen by certain people which may be effected.

Hope this helps.

06-29-2005, 12:37 PM
thanks for the advice guys.

good to get the feedback. as you can probably tell from my original post, i was a tad worried about all of it.

i'll definately get "directing the documentary."

thanks again.

06-29-2005, 08:21 PM
Regarding music: If your film is a true documentary and not news, a half-feature, or a "mockumentary", then music that accidently (that's the key word) appears on the recording falls under "fair use" (especially if it's just a short bit). You don't need any permission or even acknowledge that it's there.

However the music industry is very effectively eliminating fair use in America, so if you think your doc will get lots of exposure or if you'll be dealing with nervous and misinformed broadcasters/distributors/festivals, then CYA with paperwork.