The art of copyrights and Unions

Having to deal with copyrights is a hard lesson to learn, especially after you have unknowingly infringed the rights of someone’s original work and are forced to pay a fine or remove your film from distribution. Whether you are a film director, musician, actor or writer, you need to understand copyrights and your right to protect your intellectual property to avoid any issues in your career.

There are many filmmakers that are unaware despite their best intentions of the various licenses needed to have soundtracks playing in their movies. Whether you have a short film you intend to sell, or a documentary you want to find a distributor for, it is essential that you have all the rights cleared with the proper documentation to prove that you can use those sounds.

Often it is easy to download a track from the internet and place it (even a short 10 second segment) in your editing timeline and consider it legal because it is only part of the song. This is not the case. All commercially released music is protected and it is advisable to create your own original music with a composer.

For writers, having a script copyrighted is essential to protecting all written work and for script sales. If you are planning to sell a treatment this also needs a copyright.

As an actor you also have an image to protect, and when you are involved in a professional film, it is important that you look carefully at the agreements you sign. There are unions for actors, writers, directors and other professionals in the industry, which can guide you in your careers, and help protect your intellectual rights including contracts, financial issues and member forums. There are also organizations in the recording industry that oversee music rights.

Below is a list of recommended reading to point you in the right direction.

BBC copyright and legal guides for filmmakers/writers

Fair Use and code of practices (including remixing youtube videos)


Screen Actors Guild

Writers Guild of America WGA

Directors Guild of America DGA

SESAC Performing rights organizations (songwriters/publishers)


Actors Union

Directors Guild of Great Britain

Assistant Directors Guild of Great Britain

Media and Entertainment Union

BPI Trade Association for British Phonographic Industry


Australian Director Guild


The WGC (Writers Guild of Canada)

Directors Guild of Canada


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