Monday, July 15, 2013

Editing Company Wants To Use Movie Stills on Site

Dear Rich: I just read your post regarding the legality of using movie stills on websites. We were thinking of creating a website promoting our editing company and wanted to use the stills from the movies we worked on.  Is that allowed, or do we need to get permission for each picture? One of the photos we want to use is on one of our IMDB pages. Can that be used? On our website, we were also going to have a credits page with about 40 TV shows and features that we received credit for. If not allowed, do we contact the various production companies, or do we have to find out who actually took each picture? We doubt that you will get hassled for your potential uses ... but you could. Here's why.
Why we doubt you'll get hassled. There's an industry tolerance when individuals and companies associated with film productions post examples of their work. The fact that you worked on these films and are using the stills as part of your business resume will probably deflect any claims from the owners of movies and TV stills that are featured. In addition, there is a reasonably transformative use happening (in the event you need to make a fair use defense). The stills are being shown to highlight your company's expertise and skills; they are not being provided -- as originally intended - to entertain or enlighten.
Why you could get hassled. You have two potential issues - copyright infringement and false endorsement. By reproducing the stills without permission, you're infringing the copyright. As noted above, that may be tolerated under a fair use defense. The second concern is that by posting the stills you are implying that your previous client (the individual or production company that hired you) endorses your work. If a client is unhappy about that kind of posting -- for example, you and the client had a falling out -- the matter can usually be resolved simply by taking the movie still (and accompanying text) down. To lower your risk, make sure that the work you performed on the project is described accurately. For example, don't imply you edited the complete film, if you only edited the chase sequence. You may also prefer using posters from films (instead of production stills) as the posters are always owned by the production company (to avoid the potential hassle in the event the production still copyright is owned by a third party).
In the future dept. You could consider adding a provision in your standard agreements in which the client agrees ahead of time to let you use a production still or other visual image from the film to promote your business.