Can I screen uncleared video at film festivals?

by Site Visitor

Documentary filmmaking copyright and fair use question: I am working on a documentary about a coffee shop I owned. I have 4000+ photos that are edited into fast moving sequences where each picture is on screen for 1/2 second. The pictures feature patrons, friends and acquaintances (including minors) in everyday moments, at parties and during performances. In many cases the people in the background of photos are not readily identifiable, but some become identifiable with continued photos featuring them in either the background or foreground. To clear it all would involve hundreds of clearances.

Next I have video clips of performances in the space featuring solo performers in groups improvising music. I have secured clearance by at least one of the performers in each instance I assume I will need release from all performers? In some cases I just have pictures of performers over cleared music so it is just the photos of the performers in 1/2 second intervals (as above) again clearance on all likeness required?

I also have featured a animated sequence of a music CD the coffee shop released. When the CD was released there was no written agreement but all consented verbally to the release. Is there any protection assumed from the CD as it was originally released under the coffee shop "brand" name?

Alejandro Jodorowsky was unable to screen his film Holy Mountain because of legal disputes unless he was speaking at the screening as it represented his personal artistic history. I assume this was because under Fair Use it could be represented as informational or free speech. Do I have any similar rights under fair use as the video represents a personal history of my space? Could I screen the video at festivals assuming I am present as free speech or fair use?
Because of the large volume of potentially unclear-able material I feel this might be my only hope. Is this a reasonable assumption?

The video features lots of archival material I squired from and Prelinger Archives (also is it necessary to credit each clip or can I just credit to simplify things as in some cases I have just grabbed clips from other works I have done where I am no longer sure of the origins besides they originated from These are not full screen but assembled within animated sequences.

Additionally, I have one sequence where I have manipulated images from commercials recorded off Chinese TV and incorporated into animated sequences is this once again required by international copyright for clearance or am I ok since it was off Chinese TV? To further complicate things it also appears the Chinese TV commercial might have grabbed bits of video from american TV...I assume this might be a cause for worry?

Finally I also am including video footage of videos bands used during their performances that might be of dubious origins. Am I legally responsible for this material if the band signs a clearance on the material? In one instance the bands video is full screen with cut-aways to the band performing. Is this best avoided as I don't want to cause myself or performers legal problems. Or is this also a fair use issue?

I realize this is a lot of legal questions -sorry, but I have a potential screening coming up and need a quick answers to these questions to proceed. -Thanks

Desktop Documentaries | Answer

First of all, congratulations on making your documentary. That is quite an accomplishment. And you have been quite creative in how you have pulled together all the elements of your film!

However, it does sound like you have some potential problems. There are too many issues to cover here, so I highly recommend you find an entertainment attorney to help you. Yes, you may have to pay some $$ for their time, but it could be worth it to avoid lawsuits. Click here for information on how to find an entertainment lawyer.

A few other sources you could try. Reach out to Alejandro Jodorowsky for his advice since he has gone through the same thing. Post your question in documentary groups on LinkedIn and also try the documentary community on the I would also contact the film festivals you are entering and ask their opinion. I know there are fewer restrictions at film festivals since it's not being "broadcast", but in general you want to have permission from copyright owners to show anything that's in your film.

Here's a link that helps explain a bit about Fair Use:

And here's a great overview about documentaries and copyright: Legal, Consent and Copyright Issues for Documentary Filmmaking

Anyone else have advice? Please leave comments below.

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