Rights and ownership can seem scary but it’s vitally important to know what rights you have and what rights you are giving to other people.
protecting your work
If you’ve written a script, or had a great idea, one of the first questions you may ask is “how do I protect this idea or script?” The quick answer is that you can’t copyright an idea but you can copyright a script or a film. Intellectual Property is complicated but don’t panic or worry too much. You can find out the basics about how to protect your work at: www.patent.gov.uk/copy
Be aware that when somebody gives you money to make a film, they may expect to retain certain rights in return. They may keep all rights to distribute your film, which means you’ll need to ask their permission if you wish to show it or allow others to screen it. This includes submitting films to Film Network – we need the permission from whoever owns the distribution rights for your film before we can showcase it.
In the life of a short film the most important stage in terms of rights is the distribution of the film. This is where you need to be clear who owns the film and who has the right to give permission for the film to be screened on television, the internet or in film festivals. By giving permission to screen the film, you will be entering into an agreement to screen or ‘exhibit’ the film.
The key terms of the agreement will include:
media – which media your film can be exhibited in eg on television, theatrically, or on the internet
number of screenings - how many times the exhibitor can screen your film eg once or multiple screenings
the licence period - how long they can use your film for eg six months, one year or indefinitely (known legally as ‘in perpetuity’)
territory - where they can use your film eg in a UK region, in the UK, Europe or globally
premiere - if you give someone the right to premiere your film, it can’t have already been screened within the specified territory
exclusivity - if you agree to exclusive rights, it will stop you allowing others to show your film within the specified medium/territory/licence period
fee – how much you will be paid in return for allowing them to show your film
For example: Film Network asks for rights to use your film on the internet only (the medium), for free (the fee), non-exclusively (the exclusivity), for five years (the term). This means that we can show it on the BBC website, for up to five years but it doesn’t stop you from allowing other people to show it elsewhere on the internet or anywhere else. If we would like to show your film on television, we would have to negotiate a new contract with you and pay you the standard rate.
One of the best ways to be clear on what is a good deal is to talk to other short filmmakers about their experiences. If you are still not sure, you can get advice from either your regional screen agency or a short film distribution company (see right-hand links).
The best policy is not to sign any agreements that you don’t fully understand until you are clear about all of the terms. There are plenty of people who can offer advice to help you along the way towards the successful distribution of your short film.