Monday, March 5, 2007



If you haven’t got permission to show everything and everyone featured in your film, you’ll not be able to show it.

You’ll only be able to distribute and screen your film in public if it is ‘cleared’. This means that you have written permission to use everything and everyone that appears in your film. This includes script, music, locations, actors, contributors, products, company logos.

If you submit your film to Film Network, it’s your responsibility to ensure that you have obtained all the necessary clearances in writing. If somebody claims your film breaches their “copyright”(eg you have used them/their identity/their work in some way without their consent), it is you, as well as the BBC, who is liable. If you have breached copyright, at the very least you will not be able to continue to show your film and you could end up being sued. Please check that the clearances you have obtained include internet use (‘All media’ covers internet as well) and should ideally be for use in territories throughout the world, in perpetuity (indefinitely).

Make clearances as you go along, as soon as you can, rather than trying to get permission retrospectively after you’ve shot your film. You may find that you encounter unexpected problems getting clearances for things. If you can’t obtain a release for anything, use a substitute instead.

We have included several example agreements on this page. These are only illustrative samples and may not always be appropriate to use, so make sure you get your own contract drawn up, written and checked by a lawyer. The BBC is not liable if these forms do not cover you.

original work
If your script is an original work of fiction then make sure none of the characters resemble an actual individual (living or dead). (Real people must not be identifiable and if they are, should not be used unless you have their express written permission.) Otherwise, make sure the names of the characters are fictional and their characteristics do not solely and undoubtedly resemble real life individuals. If you do base your idea on a real event, make sure you have written permission from all people involved including permission from living relations of dead people, if applicable.

Many short films are based on short stories, poems or magazine articles, i.e. someone else’s work. In the case of an adaptation do not proceed on such a project until you have permission to do so from the original author and/or the owner of the rights.

In the case of a short film this need not be overly complicated. Find out who owns the material. This may bring you into contact with publishers, agents, lawyers and authors, who may or may not be helpful. Persevere. Explain that short films are not about money but about shaping talent and that no one is likely to gain financially from the project but that you would like permission to adapt the original work into a short film script. This permission will usually take the form of a brief deal memo or option agreement outlining the ‘terms’ of the permission and for a short film it is rare for money to change hands. Sometimes, if a well-known author is involved, they may insist on some cash. This will vary depending on the material concerned, but make sure this makes sense in the overall budget of the project.

It is important to note that many filmmakers spend a large part of their budget on buying the rights to use a certain track or piece of music. Many people make the mistake of thinking that singers/songwriters are in control of their own music and so want to appeal to their artistic temperament and thus obtain the rights to their music for a song. Unfortunately, music is often owned by big publishing and recording companies who rarely have an artistic side to appeal to…

The easiest way round this is to steer clear of famous pieces. Hire a composer or use a local band, which haven’t yet been signed to a label. Another alternative is to use a piece of library music. Music libraries have a huge number of pre-cleared tracks that you will pay a lot less for than almost any piece of music you will have in your collection. See right-hand column for links to some music libraries.

You should always make sure you can clear a piece of music before it is used in a film. This includes all identifiable background music (eg a jukebox in a pub).

Whatever music you use there are two licences that you need to obtain for each piece:

Publishing licence – from the people who own the copyright to the piece of music ie lyrics and composition.
Recording licence – from the people who performed the version of music that you want to use

There is no hard and fast way to find out who owns the rights, it is usually a bit of a maze with each piece, but the first port of call should always be the MCPS ( This company looks after titles on behalf of many artists. If you fax/email them a list of the music that you would like to use, they will often be able to tell you who owns it, if they don’t.

When you have a contract drawn up you’ll need to check that the terms cover you to use the music everywhere you want to distribute your film. The main elements you need to look out for are:

geographical – “all world rights” is the ideal, which means that you can show your film anywhere in the world. This often costs more though so it is maybe more cost effective, if you want to use a well-known piece, to specify ‘within Europe’, or an individual country (eg ‘in the UK’).

time – in perpetuity (which means indefinitely) is the ideal, but again if you’re dealing with well-known musicians or bands then you’ll probably get between one to five years.

media – Ideally you want ‘All Media’, but short films will usually start out with ‘Festivals’ and then look to acquire ‘terrestrial TV rights’ in various countries. To show your film on Film Network or other websites you need to acquire ‘online rights’, Acquiring ‘theatrical rights’ is where you have to start paying real money (in the hundreds of thousands if you are talking about a named band.)

location agreements

You should find a location manager as soon as possible. Even if they are untrained, it is good idea to find someone who is willing to take on the responsibility of finding the locations and making sure you can use them. This involves looking around your local area, finding a location that suits your needs and then finding out who owns it and whether they’ll let you use it. You should always try to have a location agreement in place before you shoot on anyone’s land. You can always draw up location agreements leaving blank the names and addresses to be filled in later.

download example location (with fee) agreement

download example location (with no fee) agreement

These are examples only. The BBC is not liable for any use of these contracts.

actors' contributions
You will need to ensure that all the actors and/or contributors (eg interviewees) who appear in your film sign a contributor’s release form, giving you the rights to use their performances in your film and in the related marketing. Release forms aren’t necessary for anyone who appears as part of a crowd scene or fleetingly in the background of your film.

download example contributor (with fee) release form

download example contributor (with no fee) release form

These are examples only. The BBC is not liable for any use of these contracts.

product clearances
All products or logos that are featured prominently in your film (you don’t need to worry about background props) need to be cleared for use by the manufacturers or businesses concerned. It’s often worth getting your art department to create fictional brands instead to avoid the hassle. If you do use real products or logos, find out who to talk to at the manufacturers via the press office. Some of the clearances can be done in pre-production, as the art department should have an idea of which products they want to use, but there will always be products that come up on a daily basis.

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