That big ol’ double edged sword.


Ah copyright.

The bane and love of many a creative individual. The fact of the matter is that copyright is as much a headache as it is a godsend when it comes to those who strive to make their way into the creative industries. It can help protect your materials that you have spent countless hours refining and perfecting from being stolen after. However, at the same time it restricts you from being able to use other content which you feel like could make your piece so much better. This becomes apparent in a culture such as ours which values sampling (taking little pieces of several pieces of work and mixing them together) not just in music but in video as well, these copyright laws may hinder some artists desires to break into the creative industry. Some may even argue that though copyright law is meant to be used with good intentions, in practice it creates iron grips on content with judges “increasingly fixed on assigning monopoly rights (and lots of them) to single, indivisible authors, who are more than likely to be corporate entities.” (Ross, 167) As a result, many popular independent properties are held onto by corporate interests. In some cases, so sternly that new laws are enacted to preserve the companies hold on their content, like how Disney literally rewrote copyright law so that they could have exclusive ownership of Mickey Mouse for a few more decades under a law nick named the Mickey Mouse Protection Act.


It’s also odd to think that they copyrighted three circles.

However when it comes to interacting with copyright law, aside from the not to unusual copyright infringement that stems from posting something to Youtube that you don’t own, many people of the general population don’t have first hand experience with copyright law, whether it is protecting their own material or someone else’s.

I am not one of those people.

A few years ago, I was making a documentary called My Own Voice which followed a choir of the same name whose mission was to give kids and young adults with special needs the opportunity to learn how to sing and be a part of a team. I started the project when I met the head of the group through some family connections. The agreement was simple, I’d make the video and the group would use it to garner financial support. The issue, which occurred in the last few weeks of making the video after a five month shoot, was if I was going to get paid.

To make a very long and convoluted issue short, there had always been talk about me getting paid but never any paper work to support this (admittedly an oversight by myself since this was my first film outside of school). However, when the film was done, I was encouraged by friends, fellow filmmakers and family to get paid before I handed over the final product since there was a concern that I might not get paid otherwise. I went and met with the group director, showed my content, gave her the contract that would allow her to use my content under my permission and informed her of the final cost (roughly 2-3 hundred dollars for five months work resulting in a full length documentary and some promotional material to go with it). Well the group director was convinced that there had NEVER been talk of money and that this was simply free. Seeing that this director wanted my five months of work for free so she could try and raise money prompted me to leave and let things simmer down for a few days before I would try and talk to her again.copyright

What I faced for the next month was nothing short of a mind splitting headache. The group director first tried to obtain the video from behind my back (by asking my Mom to deliver it to her). When this didn’t work she then threatened me with a cease and desist order if I ever posted the video for my friends and family to see. Finally, she demanded that I give her the video as it was hers, and she was prepared to bring in legal consul to obtain it. She claimed the video was hers because the group she ran was the center of the content.

Now see this is where copyright comes into play. Though I never filed for copyright, under copyright law, as soon as a product is made, the one who made it (in this case me since I filmed, edited and produced the entire video) owns it in its entirety. If it had not been for copyright law, my first film could very well had been taken away from me.

I wish I could say that the end of the story was that I sent the video into a few festivals and won one or two awards, though sadly this is not the case. In some more of my brilliant oversights, I had not gotten the release forms before finishing the film. I had tried but had been stonewalled repeatedly and had ended up with a hand written note, no more than a paragraph, saying I had permission from the director to use the content, barely a legal document. As a result, since I had no actual release forms, lest I risk legal issues, I cannot make a profit from the film whether it be commercial, contest or otherwise.

So there you have it, copyright did let me keep my work mine. And though I ended up shooting myself in the foot, I can at least know that I still own my own work. Has much of a headache as copyright may be for the beginning artist, its creation and foundation do help to protect artists who are starting out from losing their hard work.

As a parting note, before doing anything creative, get the paper work done first.

As a parting note, before doing anything creative, get the paper work done first.


  1. What wound up happening to your film?

  2. It’s currently on my vimeo, I’m free to show it and use it for education purposes, just can’t make any money off of it.

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