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Film and Video Institute

The world of non-commercial film and A-V


Join the IAC logo. Most of this information is UK-specific. Laws and customs may be different in other countries.

Copyright and Licensing - avoiding problems | FAQs | IAC Licensing

What did you steal for your film?

  • Where did the music come from?
  • And that nostalgic scene from an old newsreel?
  • That clip from your child's favourite movie?

For most of us the answer is "a download, a CD or a DVD we own."

The tricky word here is "own".  What you own is the physical CD or DVD but not their contents. On a download you don't own anything!

What you have bought is the right to play that track or watch that film in private. Here "private" means so that only you or your immediate family can enjoy it.

You cannot even legally copy it - not to another computer, an MP3 player, a backup DVD ... or your film soundtrack.

To play it to other people or to copy it legally you need permissions.

It is difficult and very expensive to get permission to use most copyright music on the internet.*

Cartoon image of a family watching television.

What you do at home is rarely a problem.

If you copy music and movie clips to a film and show it to friends you have broken the law but no one is likely to find out - or to worry about it.

But any showing at a club, competition or to another group needs several permissions.

The laws of copyright allow artists, writers, composers and film makers to treat their work rather like possessions which they can sell or rent out to others.

They can also refuse anyone else the right to use it. Almost anything you might include in a movie may be copyright: a picture, poster, product label or film clip. So is most music.

Products are rarely a problem

For non-commercial films casual glimpses of posters in a street scene, pictures on the cover of a book, a product label on something in the background are no problem. No one minds those appearing in that way.

If, however, the poster / book cover / product is featured as a key part of the movie there may be objections, especially if  the film seems to bring the product into disrepute - like the toy that becomes a murder weapon.

It does not matter that you bought the picture, DVD or product  ... that still does not allow you to feature it in a movie.

Film clips and music are a problem.

Even casual background use of  music  or film may cause their owners to object.

If someone sings Happy Birthday in a party scene, the rights owner  (Warner/Chappell Music Inc) expects to be paid.  If a passer-by whistles a pop song in the background of your documentary, or a brass band plays a tune on camera - the copyright holders expect to be paid.

If the tv in the corner  of a shot has a movie running the owners of the film rights expect a fee.

Photograph of a hand shake.If your video features anyone else's work
- make sure you have permission to do so ... IAC can help

For film makers copyright and the licences required for any public show are a real pain. But how would you feel if someone else exploited your work for profit without permission or payment?

(In reality most of us would be flattered that our work was considered good enough!  But if we made our living by making films, it would feel as if someone was stealing the bread from our mouths.)

IAC can help with its licensing schemes ... read on ... avoiding problems

* In the UK, YouTube has reached an agreement with the main music copyright agencies, which allows most music to be used on films uploaded to their website. The copyright owner may sometimes refuse permission or insist on an advertisement being played (by YouTube) before a video. The agencies concerned usually only hold UK rights and so cannot agree to the work being used in other countries. Many YouTube video are therefore not available overseas.

Most of this information is UK-specific. Laws and customs may be different in other countries. Any copyright owner can refuse permission without explanation. This can happen, for example, if the managers of an artist think a film brings the artist into disrepute.

Pictures on this page come from Stock.XCHNG - top by Billy Alexander, bottom by Philippe Ramakers.