Thursday, December 9, 2010

Can video artist collect royalties from MTV UK broadcast?

Dear Rich: A friend and pro photographer made a music video for a friend's band which is now going to be broadcast on MTV Britain. She wondered whether she can collect any royalties from this? This seems like a money-making situation. Wow you sure got us thinking about some of our favorite music videos, like this one by A-ha, and this one by the Beastie Boys, or one of our favorite overlooked (and overcooked) rock videos as shown above. (Spoiler alert: heads explode). (And y'know the DR staff has appeared in a couple of music videos, too!).
RIght, you had a question. Funny how deceptive the music business can be. You'd think that the director of a video that's broadcast on MTV would receive some kind of a check in the mail even if it's a small one.Not! Though the songwriters may be entitled to payment (and possibly in some cases, union actors or musicians), we can find no basis for a compulsory payment to the director/photographer of a music video on British TV. (Shout out to any UK readers who know otherwise). The TV network must get permission to broadcast the video from the owner, but typically there's no payment for the use because such broadcasts are considered to be promotional -- that is, they promote the band. So, alas, there's no reason for your friend to wait by the mailbox.
Ducks in a row dept. That's not to say the director/photographer doesn't have some rights. She may claim rights for any revenue that the video earns based on any contractual relationship she has with the band -- for example, if the video is sold as part of a DVD of compiled videos. Or she may have a claim to copyright in the video (assuming there was no assignment of her rights or assuming her contribution cannot be categorized as a work made for hire.) If she does have a claim to copyright, she could obstruct the permission process. But we don't think that's what anyone wants to do in this situation. Apparently, there's no dispute between the parties (and we don't want to be the ones to cause one), so perhaps now is the time for the photographer to work out some contractual relationship with the band that determines what happens if the video does generate income.