Can I use paintings of celebrities in my documentary?
(Santa Barbara, CA)
Copyright/Legal Question: Do I need written permission to use paintings I've done of celebrities?
I'm producing a documentary about my personal life as a fine arts painter. Since I'm also a filmmaker, the documentary could possibly be picked up for commercial distribution.
Over the years, I've done some portraits of celebrities and other people. Do I need written permission to show my own paintings of these people? Some of them are no longer living.
I also have photographs I've taken of these same people. I photographed them when they came to my studio to get their portraits done, then I did much of the painting from the photos rather than have them sit for weeks on end.
So my second question is, will I need written permission to show my own photographs of these people who modeled for me? Again, some of these people are no longer living. Others, I have no idea how to find them as the photos and paintings were done 30-40 years ago.
I'm guessing that if the documentary were only used for informational purposes, i.e. to show my work to galleries and museums, I would not need written permission? Thanks for the help!
Answer | Desktop DocumentariesBy Faith
Thanks for your question. This is a very interesting situation!
To answer your question "do I need written permission to use a celebrity image", the answer is "probably, but it depends."
Did you have any kind of agreement with your subjects as to who owned the photographs and paintings? (sounds like no)
Are these photos/paintings controversial in any way (nudes, etc)? Or are they respectful and complementary of the subjects?
If I were you, I'd try my best to track down these people and get permission. For those who are deceased, surely there are relatives or attorneys who handle their estates.
Trying to get in touch with these folks serve several important functions:
1) Gives you peace of mind that you can use the images without future problems.
2) Courtesy to the families of the deceased that their loved ones will be honored in a film.
3) Expands your network of supporters of the film who can help spread the word about your film and possibly even help you find funding!
4) If your documentary is excellent and gets interest from a distributor/broadcaster, they'll require you to have written permissions for everything
in your film that you do not directly own (ie celebrity image). So worse case scenario, you would have to cut out or blur images you don't have permission to use.
Assuming your portraits are tasteful, I cannot imagine anyone not giving you permission.
I just did a little research for you and there is definitely some gray area as to whether or not you would need permission to use these images in your film. If the film was simply for educational purposes, then I'm pretty sure you'd be protected under "Fair Use Laws." But if you plan to sell your film (essentially selling their image over and over for profit), then the celebrity/their estate MAY have protection under something called "celebrity's right of publicity" and could potentially sue you.
Please understand that I am not a lawyer and this is general advice only to point you in the right direction.
To know your rights for SURE, you should contact an intellectual property law attorney. Here's a link to a discussion with several lawyers about a similar issue that may be helpful:Avvo.com | Can I sell my own artwork depicting a celebrity?
Another resource for you is the Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts: www.vlany.org
And to learn more about Fair Use:Summaries of Fair Use Cases | Standford University
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