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Use of photographs, footage of well known American Actress

I'm making a short documentary, and need some creative input here of how to go about this, in my documentary, the main character talks about her mother and how she loved going to the cinema and particularly liked a 'famous actress called Laraine Day, in fact the central character in my documentary was named after her, and I would like to include a photograph of the actress, or maybe some film footage or even the cinema audience watching a film in 1950, my films are basically made on no budget and are mainly made to highlight issues and to start conversations. My films have done well in the States so I don't want to get into issues with copyright etc.Any advise ?on how I can get round this.

  • Seek permission from the copyright owner of the material you want to use. Written permission is permission.

    Google would point you towards a corporate route and a family one...

    2 weeks ago
    • I will do this but I didn't particularly want to get involved with on going expensive copyright issues

      2 weeks ago
    • @Moira Rowan - you have to. I filmed a regional final for Young Musicians. The ones who played out of copyright works, put them on their YT profile page. The ones who chose 20thC works, when I asked the copyright holders, were mainly told "sure. £100".

      OTOH the Pears Britten Foundation wrote back with "permission granted, no charge". Good chaps.

      2 weeks ago
    • @Marlom Tander
      Hi Marlom thanks for your suggestions, the director of a film festival has found one of Laraine Day's daughters I have emailed her so you never know I may get a photo of her late mother that way

      2 weeks ago
    • @Moira Rowan :-)

      2 weeks ago
  • I can only offer the "right" answer as opposed to the "what you might get away with" answer. You need to clear the images, you need to clear the footage, and you want to be cautious having a character called "Laraine Day" at all . In features, we get clearances for all that stuff ahead of shooting, and that includes name searches! Calling your character "Laraine" (better still, "Loraine" - "Laraine" looks a bit like a SAG/Equity/Stage name as there was already a Loraine?) without a surname would be fine, but naming a fictional character after a real one risks confusion and people getting upset - especially if you are clearly aware of "the" Laraine by having a photo!

    Each photo or clip will be copyrighted by the photographer and/or producer, although they may have sold image rights to a holding agency with a clearing agent like Getty who will absolutely come for payment. Clearing before use is always cheaper than getting caught!

    In short, every single thing in any kind of focus in a film is put there, and needs clearance.

    2 weeks ago
  • Hi
    My character isn't named completely after the actress only her first name and the same spelling, if I can't get around the copyright issue I will just mention she was named after a film star as her mother was a fan of the cinema? without mentioning her full name would this work

    2 weeks ago
    • There is no copyright in names, the name isn't the issue.

      If you find a way to not use a copyright work, you're good. E.g. drop it entirely or get an artist friend to paint a portrait of her. Note - they might use photos to see what she looks like but they should NOT just paint the photo. Don't create a derivative work.

      Riffing, but, maybe the mother painted it. The mother in an artist. Her artist studio becomes a location, which is nice an visual...

      2 weeks ago
    • @Marlom Tander - though there might be tradename issues in a name. But probably not for her. Check.

      2 weeks ago
  • Moira describes the project as a documentary, but is it more like a drama posing as a documentary?

    There's an important difference.

    An actual documentary relying on factuality is a fundamentally different thing to fiction, including dramatised documentary that includes elements of fact. Truth and fact is always in the public domain unless exploited improperly. Such improprieties include misrepresentation by association and over exploitation amongst other things. Parallel action incidential to factuality that might otherwise not be can be in the public domain if not improperly exploited. There's a common sense theme to what's in the public domain that once 'clicked' becomes self evident.

    Broadcasters and distributers however are often risk averse to the degree of extreme paranoia and for that reason alone being compliant with their requirements is more important than actual law. Nevertheless factual films are far less vulnerable to intellectual and material property challenges than are fiction dramas.

    Moira mentions a real person who is named after an actress. If that's her real name there's unlikely to be a problem. There's no Equity barrier if the subject is not using her real name as an actor. Appearing as oneself in a factual documentary is not acting.

    Without knowing the specifics and contexts it's not possible to be definitive about the case at issue.

    The devil is in the detail.

    2 weeks ago
    • Hi John
      Thanks for your reply, I hear what you say, the question is if while the central figure in the documentary mentions the actress by name and I use a photo of the actress or footage of her acting what issues would I have re copyright, if it's going to be too tricky I will get the central character in my film to say ' she was named after an actress and not mentioned her name at all, after all it is only her first name that is the same

      2 weeks ago
  • I doubt that referencing anyone by their full name is a copyright violation, even in a fiction drama. Slander and misrepresentation is always vulnerable except as excused by comedic parody, satire and factual truth.

    Using a photo of an actress in a factual documentary depends on context and where the photo was recorded. For example, a photo or picture displayed in the public domain, on a billboard, published in newspaper or magazine, or on the mantelpiece of your subjects home can be relevant and incidental. Using film or photographs that don't appear incidentally is another matter. The copyright owners permission would usually be required even in a documentary. However such is not cast in legal stone. Context and factual fair use can trump everything. If in doubt get advice or permission.

    For broadcasters and distributors however, every second needs to be clear of any challenge, either by permissions and releases or by right of fair use or public domain.

    Factual documentary has as much licence to free use of a lot more material than fiction, as does news and current affairs.

    If these things were not so the reporting of news and current affairs would be difficult to the point of constitutional crisis.

    2 weeks ago
  • My observations are mostly common to western free democracy countries, though there can be some differences. Outside of those domains there can be big differences; some stricter but also some looser

    2 weeks ago
  • Paddy's comment "Getty who will absolutely come for payment" is spot on. They chased me for 100's of £, for my unintentional use of a mundane cinema interior image...

    2 weeks ago