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Legal advice: Can I stop a Film to be released if using my content without my consent?

Hi, I come to you with a legal enquiry - a bit sad for a first post!

I've DOP/cam op a few scenes for a film. Later on that shoot, the producer and I had a massive argument which ended up in me abandoning the project. Nevertheless the film finished filming and after watching the trailer I realised that my footage was being used. I never signed any release form of any kind and I still have the original footage - who has the metadata of my personal camera; my name even appears on the clapboard as DOP/ camp op-, am I legally able to block any sort of release of that Film if the end edit contains some of my footage?

Thanks in advance guys!

  • Depends on a great many things you've not revealed.

    Is there an agreement in existence? If so what's in the agreement and in what form is it? It need not be written but it has to be manifest in substance. To be manifest it ought to be in an evidential form safe from reasonable rebuttal. Some evidential forms are more watertight than others. Other issues that might have effect where there's no manifest form of agreement, could be; what are the circumstances by which the producer has possession of the footage? Did you receive any money or other form of reward? Who owned or paid for the hire of the camera kit? These are just some of the issues that might arise in any litigation. The devil is very much in the detail.

    As to whether any distribution might be stopped, presumably through injunction after judicial review at the High Court, then the above facts would still be at issue. If any form of commercial distribution occurs (pretty much any form other than private viewings and some forms of limited specimen sampling) and it can be proven that your underlying rights have been improperly abused then you are into Tort Law territory and entitled to remedy.

    6 months ago
  • Was there any contract at all?

    What is the film, a short film or a feature film where everyone was getting paid and the intention is to sell it for profit?

    There's a big legal difference between you abandoning a project (technically quitting) and getting fired.

    Who was paying for everything?

    Look at it from the producer's point of view - if the DOP walked off halfway through a shoot and took his camera with him, you may have cost them a lot of money while they scrambled to find a new DOP and camera.

    Is it worth your time/money taking legal action? I doubt you could stop the film being released, the most you might achieve is compensation when you were shooting it, but you may be counter sued for the losses you caused by abandoning the project mid shoot.

    If you stopped the film from being released, how is that going to go down with the rest of the cast and crew?

    Are you happy with the finished film? You might be better off just making sure you get a credit for your work and putting the whole thing down to experience.

    6 months ago
  • I've always understood that if you are paid for a job, the copyright for the footage belongs to the person who pays for it. If you are doing a freebie, then the copyright remains with you. So, if you were paid, it is not your footage.

    6 months ago
    • Getting paid for work does not automatically assign copyright for writers... (In UK Law) Copyright is assigned by agreement/contract. Although I don't know how this applies to other facets of making a movie.... I interviewed an entertainment lawyer for my podcast about it and this is the biggest mistake producers make when they assume that payment is equal to owning copyright www.britflicks.com/podcast/23792/Podcast...

      5 months ago
  • My (entirely non-legally qualified) thoughts...

    As you were engaged as DP, have your name on the slate on footage, etc., there's no question that you intended to shoot material someone else had invested in for them to use in the film. Paperwork aside, that's a pretty clear intent. This wasn't you going out and shooting some random stuff which someone stole from YouTube, there's no question that you entered the agreement intending to shoot for the project. Your license to the producer is certainly implied.

    Can you injunct the release? Yes, but it's non-trivial and will cost serious money. Can you threaten the distributor with an injunction? That'll put the cat amongst the pigeons and challenge their chain of title. It's a bit of a last resort dick move, it's the nuclear option. If we're talking about a dispute over 5-6 figures then maybe it's worth it (and realise you'll never work again in this small industry), but it's unlikely.

    People fall out, it happens. I've certainly fallen out with crew and replaced them. I've certainly carried on working with crew I don't like. The producers responsibly was to make the film. Losing crew midway is a disaster, having to replace someone at short notice is expensive and hugely disruptive. It could be that the producer is seriously upset at you for putting them in that position. It may become a bigger fight when instead you could choose to get over it.

    Life isn't fair. I've been stitched up for tens of thousands of pounds, I've had messed up credits, I've had many circumstances where I had to choose between fighting and walking away with a deep breath and dignity. Unless we're talking about being owed serious money, I suggest walking away. Anything with the courts is slow, expensive, or both, and the only winners are the lawyers. You can't eat principles. Instead, take it as a life lesson, a cheap one. You won't work with that producer again, fair enough, there are plenty of other terrible producers to work with!

    Look at the signs that should have given it away, and adapt so you don't get into the same position again.

    5 months ago
  • First of all thank you all so much for taking the time to answer my post, I've learned a lot out your messages. Nevertheless I was kind of raging at the time of the post and I have to apologise for skipping on the details so here's a few important things I forgot to mention:

    - I have not been paid for the job. I joined the project in a first place because I had never worked on a short film exceeding 15 mins before; this one was a 40 mins scrip which I thought could be a good thing to add on my showreel in order to demonstrate my ability to work on a longer piece.

    - The gear used on shoot was mine: my camera, my steadicam, my IT,... I've even invested in some new kit for the occasion! The rest of the gear (lights, cranes, dolly ..) was borrowed to a film school.

    - The film was crowd funded also I am pretty sure the money received has not been invested for the making of that film. (Had to pay for my own transport to get on set, cheap props that we couldn't get dirty as they were to "get returned to Amazon after use",...)

    - I realise that it might've sound like I've thrown a tantrum and left which truly isn't the case. Basically I've discovered that the production had used another DP for last minute shoots they had organised, taking good care of keeping me in the dark. I've made myself clear at the time that I did not want that to happen again and I was insured by the production it wouldn't. On another shoot, their soundman lost a pretty expensive piece of my kit in a taxi, I was told I was going to get it replaced. Through a Facebook post of one of the crew member I've discovered that they had -again- shot without me. I've quit the project because of that and only yesterday (time of the post) got told that after all they didn't have the money to replace my gear and that unfortunately there was nothing they could do about that.

    All in all I've been fooled by these people. The final product is likely to look cheap and incoherent and I don't want my name to be associated with it. For that reason i don't feel like (ethically) they should have the right to use my footage.

    5 months ago
  • It is important that we don't extrapolate anything from imaginative supposition. There's so many scenarios that might be imagined with this story. As a Common Law attorney for getting on for four decades I usually find that there's at least two sides to every story; but even so, there's usually more righteousness on one side than the other. The particular and nuanced issues of this particular story has been revealed a little more and I can understand why Tomasz is annoyed. What has not yet been revealed is why, after having been provided with a free camerman, camera and sound kit the producer would feel the need to go against the wishes of the benefactor of such largesse and secretly use another shooter? Who's camera was used? As said before, the devil is in the detail.

    I think Paddy's comments are particularly helpful. I'd agree with Paddy that some battles are best won by walking away gracefully. If the accused producer has behaved badly without mitigating excuse then what turns around comes around in my experience. This is a forum where folks can get great advice on a range of issues from other folks with conciderable experience and real expertise. This is also a forum where the uninitiated often shoot from the hip without seeming to realise the fact. Thankfully this school, whilst often quite stern when confronted with naivety or presumption, is also benign and generous. With few exceptions the callowness of youth usually benefits here from not being permanently labeled by its own errors. I maybe wrong but I imagine that film in question is not going to make or break anyone's career in itself. How reputations might be adversely affected is another even if disproportionate matter.

    5 months ago
  • I would suggest just walking away and learn from this. Saving the battles for the important things like not being paid etc.

    5 months ago
  • I'm with Paddy, John, and Mark. Thing is, you agreed to do it. Ethically, they have the right to the footage you shot. Legally possibly not. No matter how badly you were treated, being a professional is white-knuckling it through bad producers and bad decisions. Dare I say most low budget shoots have some degree of this. They lost your gear. Sorry, that's partly your fault. Never put gear up for a feature that doesn't have production insurance, and that you are included in that policy. Never. It's an expensive lesson. It's a shit thing to do on the part of the producers to not replace it, for sure. But am I surprised? Not in the least. The thing is, you're going to have a lot of this as your career progresses. But now you know that a deal memo and insurance are part of your package. As for using other DPs, it sounds as if they were putting this film together in a piecemeal fashion. So maybe ask yourself, in a hard self examination, why they got a different DP. Why they didn't tell you. Are you difficult to work with? Was your work not good enough? There IS a reason they didn't keep you on. It may be a shit reason, but there is a reason. Years ago, I was fired as an editor because the director overheard me trashing the lead actress as I took one of her shots and threw it across the room as hard as I fucking could. She was just terrible, and I was having trouble making her scenes work. Was he right to fire me? I don't know. Probably. But I learned to keep my mouth shut and not throw 35mm shot reels against the wall.

    If you don't want to be associated with the production, I'm sure they'd be fine with taking your name off.

    5 months ago
    • Hi Thomas it will not affect your reputation film makers do not pay much attention to poorly produced films it will probably be forgettable. Focus on your best work and keep hold of your equipment film sets are fast paced any it is difficult to keep an eye on everything you may have to develop a system for keeping everything together good luck

      5 months ago
  • The question is "Can I stop a Film to be released if using my content without my consent?" and the answer must be "no" but you may be etitled to damages, and he fact that the film has been released should increase the amount of damages to which you may be entitled. Courts and lawyers should be a last resort as they are likely to be extremely expensive. However, cases where there is a lack of written evidence on the nature and terms of a contract and contractual relationships are generally doomed in my opinion. [I had 21 years in legal profession - quite a time ago now though]

    5 months ago
    • There's a difference between expectations informed by 'usual practice' and actual law. What ought to be a shocking fact is all the more shocking in that a great many lawyers are so ensnared with the usual processes that they've lost sight of actual law. At the level of the High Court the supremacy of actual law is easier to assert because Tort Law is within the jurisdiction of Common Law or as some of us also put it, actual law. So yes it is possible to get an injunction affecting anything at all provided that one can establish an enforceable probable cause. Having said that though I would imagine that Tomasz's chances of success before the fact are slim. Neither would I bet on him being successful after the fact; but not because a lawful remedy doesn't apply but because they don't make law easy for lawyers let alone laymen.

      5 months ago
  • You mentioned that some of your shots are in the trailer. Trailers often don't have some of the shots/scenes in the finished film. I've a trailer out for a new documentary and some shots didn't make the final cut.
    Just a thought.

    5 months ago
  • Also just a thought, taking anyone to court uses a lot of negative energy and money. That energy can better be put to use doing something positive. Been here. The other way round for me;when I first began a DOP ran off with my footage as he did not believe I had no money to pay, though he had agreed to do it free. I even had a written contract to that effect. My advice is to move on as annoying as it is. And besides if you win the next problem is has that producer got money to pay, or it'll be 50p a week for 5 years. Pointless waste of time unless big money is involved and that I doubt.

    5 months ago
  • Short film, folk working for experience, no contracts,young folk finding how teams knit together (or not) stir well, cook fast under time pressure and difficult locations: it's amazing it can ever bring off a masterpiece, with a totally happy cast. It does quite often, but scenerios like yours Thomasz are common.
    Learn quick; contracts, insurance, clear idea of who is responsible for what, and a feeling of respect for the everyone on the team. Failing that, money works.
    Don't take them to court, you'll lose money, friends and contacts for the future. Don't deny them their footage, just check that your name is on if it is good, and not if it a turkey.

    5 months ago
  • Gosh its awful when this happens. Obviously lessons are great but a little research indicates your permission is necessary if you wanted to do it. Im not sure about consistently excusing bad behaviour and always putting it down to lessons. There ought to be a line and we not only work on craft exchange (and money when it is there), we work on respect - with the knowledge that it isnt exactly a linear career trajectory so to speak. I do hope you can stop them and get your kit back (if they are insured, they should be able to get it back).

    I wish you all the best going forward!

    5 months ago
  • It's awful when things go so far wrong on a shoot and I can totally see why you're upset. I don't know the legal situation - but I would think that it is clear that you shot the footage with the intent to be used in the film.

    One thing I would really try to consider in if I were in your place is that it is one person who has really annoyed you. Probably lots of people have worked hard on this project and if it were to be binned for any reason, so many people would be hurt. For what it's worth, I would say, be the bigger person, be the good guy and that's what everyone will remember about you. People who treat others badly or who are flakey come to have a reputation to that effect and I'm sure if this person repeatedly mistreats collaborators he'll soon run out of experienced people wanting to work with him.

    Best of luck x

    5 months ago
  • Thanks guys for all the replies, I've behaved myself and avoided conflict...
    Ironically enough I received an email Wednesday morning asking me for the RAW footage of two scenes I've shot for them as they managed to lose it before grading! Also was told earlier that one of the supporting actor refused to appear in the final edit - again, no release form.

    I shall be more careful in the future who I accept to work with -can't always rely on karma!

    5 months ago
  • why would you want to get the project pulled? People have worked hard on the project so there is many factors to consider! What about the actors involved? there project shouldnt be scraped because you had an argument with a producer! if you got paid on the day then i really dont see a problem with them using your footage, its what you get paid for

    5 months ago