If you've made a movie and are interested in posting it online, distributing it on DVD or just generally sharing it with the world, you need to be certain that you own the copyright to everything contained in the movie. If it is something you'll only be showing privately to family and friends, you probably don't have to worry. But if you expect it to be viewed by wider audiences, the following steps can help you avoid legal problems with the content of your movie.
This information is only for helping to identify potential problems. It is not a substitute for the advice of a practicing attorney.
Get participants to sign releases
Anyone who speaks on camera, or whose name you use, should sign a release giving you permission to use their image. There is no standard release; do a Google search for "appearance release" and you'll see many examples currently in use.
Some releases are comprehensive, and some are simple. The type you use will depend on your production.
Generally, if your video will be widely seen or will make money, you'll want to be more careful in drafting the release. This will better protect you if anyone objects to the content of your movie or claims a share of the profits. If you are concerned, talk to an attorney.
Releases from incidental participants
Anyone visible in the background of your production should also sign a release. If someone doesn't want to sign a release, it's best to blur the person's face.
Often, in a crowded scene, producers will make an announcement or post a notice effectively stating that by entering the area people are agreeing to be taped. This happens at concerts or sporting events.
Again, if you have any concerns about this, speak to an attorney, preferably before you start shooting.
Releases from locations or businessIf you are shooting on private property, get a release signed by the owner or property manager. This is most applicable if it is an place of business, such as a restaurant or store, rather than if it is a person's house. The more identifiable the place is, the more concerned you should be about having a release.
Copyright clearance for music and video you didn't record
If your video contains any music or footage that you didn't record, you must obtain the copyright to use it. For example, putting a Madonna song or a clip from the Daily Show directly in your movie is a clear copyright violation.
Even if you are using stock footage or stock music for which you purchased copyright permission, make sure that it covers exactly how you are using it. Often there are restrictions on where and how you can use the footage, and on how you need to credit the original creator.