So you made a film. It’s original, it was a blast to produce, and it’s good. You can’t wait to submit it to all the festivals and win all the awards. Then you realize you don’t know the first thing about copyright law.
In order for your film to be legitimate for any professional application, you need to follow basic copyright laws. Everything in your film must either be original, or you must have the explicit right to use it. This includes sound effects, the script, musical score…and basically everything.
You need to be compliant for your film to stand on its own two feet. But where do you start? Trying to read through technical legal jargon can be confusing and intimidating. We’re here to help.
Rule #1: create your own stuff.
Shoot your own video, record your own audio, write your own script. If you (and your production team) are the sole creators of your work, then you don’t need to worry about infringing on anyone’s rights
Rule #2: if you use someone else’s stuff, make sure they’re cool with it.
Most of us aren’t Jacks & Jills of all trades. Maybe you’re a mean cinematographer, but you don’t know the first thing about producing score. That’s okay! There are lots of resources – both online and in your local community – you can use…with permission.
TAP INTO YOUR COMMUNITY
If you have friends that can create content for you, ask them if they can help you out. Maybe there’s a local artist you love whose work you want to feature – just make sure you get explicit written consent from that creator.
Want some options without all the legwork? The Golden Lion Awards has you covered. We’ve partnered with some local bands and organizations who are willing to share their music with you. Check them out here.
One of these organizations is the Music Resource Center (MRC), a non-profit serving teens in Cincinnati by giving them a safe space to create their own music. You can browse their library here for use in your film submission.
A simple Google search will reveal all the different stock photo, video, and music websites out there. Some are free and some aren’t. The quality of the product is usually contingent on how much $ you’re able and willing to drop, but even the free stuff isn’t so bad.
One cool database to use is called Motion Array – it has thousands of options, some that are free, and many that are at different price tiers.
KNOW THE TERMS
Is “royalty free” content really free? Lots of content labeled “royalty free” still requires payment for you to obtain the rights to use it. Royalty free basically means that once you obtain the rights the first time you download it, you never need to pay to use it again. This language can be tricky, so pay attention.
Can’t I use whatever I want under fair use? “Fair use” essentially allows you to use copyrighted material for certain purposes – like commentary, criticism, parody, or for educational use. You may think that since the Golden Lion Awards is a festival for high school and junior high students, it would be okay to use any content you’d like under the educational aspect of fair use. You would be wrong. Using copyrighted content as a learning tool in the classroom is one thing – using that same content so your film wins an award? That’s quite another.
Do I need to be worried about the Digital Millennium Copyright Act? In 1998, the United States passed a law in order to help protect content creators and their works in the digital age. If something digital is copyrighted, it is protected under the DMCA, period. If you are abusing or ignoring copyright law, the DMCA makes it easy for content creators to take action against you.
What’s a Creative Commons license? Another great thing to keep in mind is that there is a lot of content out there attached to a Creative Commons License. Content creators may choose to license their work so that only some rights are reserved, instead of all of them. This allows the content to be re-used and distributed (non-commercially) as long as you attribute the source. There are over a billion CC-licensed works online – happy hunting!
Can I use works in the public domain? There’s also a whole array of content that is in the public domain. These are works that are basically immune to copyright law for one reason or another. It could be because the copyright has expired, or that the creator intentionally wanted his/her work to be in the public domain. Anything published in the US before 1923 also falls in this category.
USE YOUR SCHOOL’S STUFF
If you’re entering this festival, you’re definitely a high school or junior high student. Check with your teacher to see if your school already has a hookup with any databases that offer up content for educational use.
Rule #3: credit your sources.
No matter where you got your content from, include it in the ending credits. We cannot stress this enough. If you got music from a local artist, put them in your credits. If you used an image from Shutterstock, put it in your credits. If your dad shot some old home video you put in your film, put him in your credits.
It’s impossible for us to know where your stuff comes from if you don’t tell us. No festival is going to go searching for the rights to the content YOU delivered. It doesn’t matter how hard you worked on a film if you can’t prove that you’re allowed to submit it. If you credit your sources, you’re eliminating all confusion.
Pro Tip: you can’t put something in your credits if you don’t have explicit permission to use it. For example, you can’t put a Beyoncé song in your film – correctly crediting Beyoncé as the singer/songwriter – and expect your film to be accepted. You did not get permission from the Queen to use Single Ladies. Tough luck, kid.
READ THE FINE PRINT
Our goal here is to educate you, so you can be empowered to succeed in your projects. We are by no means experts in copyright law, but instead hope to help steer you towards the right path in order to reduce confusion down the road.
Want a more in-depth explanation of how to navigate this legal obstacle course? We’ve found this article to be a great resource.
We also can’t speak for all festivals. Each one is different, and may have different criteria upon accepting submissions. If you’re still unsure about what’s allowed, check their specific Rules & Regulations. It’s good practice to know what you’re dealing with – it’ll prevent frustration and delays on both ends.
Here are the official Rules & Regulations for the 9th Annual Golden Lion Awards High School Film Festival. Read them, know them, love them. The red carpet is waiting.