Copyright law and raw footage… two very sexy topics we’re gonna tackle in today’s blog post. Sexy AND important. Important because they’re two things that clients really need to understand when signing a contract, but often don’t. No fault of their own, as many of them have never signed a video contract before. So our goal today is to help you understand how these work, and WHY they work this way.
So as a starting point, let’s take a look at what’s pretty typical in the video industry (here in the United States). This is not necessarily how all videographers/photographers operate (that’s why it’s important to read the fine print), but most do.
Copyright. The videographer owns the copyright to all videos created in the course of their work together, both raw footage as well as the final edited product. While this is usually explicitly stated in a contract, if it’s not US copyright law falls on the side of the creative. The default is that creators own their creative content because, well, they created it.
Raw Footage. When hiring a video production company, raw footage is not included. This is one of the large differences between hiring a production company and hiring a freelance shooter… freelance shooters are hired JUST for the shooting, so of course raw footage is included. But when you hire a production company the assumption is that you’re being hired to create a final product; that final product is what the client is paying for, not the raw footage.
WHERE WE STAND
Copyright. We also maintain copyright ownership over both the raw footage captured for a project and the final product. Our contract then provides a limited license to our clients for specific use cases. We intentionally leave this pretty vague to allow clients to use videos in any online/digital marketing including (but not limited to) their website, social media, online courses, Kickstarters, paid advertisements, etc. Basically all the reasons our clients typically hire us. We will adjust this section of our contract based on what we know about our client and what they’re hiring us to create (and for what ultimate purpose).
Why do we maintain ownership? We’re creatives. This footage, and the final products, are part of our portfolio and it’s important to us that we ultimately own what we create. This is both to protect our brand (it prevents clients from making any changes to the final product and keeping our name on it), as well as allow us to keep footage in our long term archive, which we can use in future projects should we choose to. This most often refers to scenery/establishing footage that might have been shot for one project, but could be a nice supplement for a future story where we weren’t able to shoot live footage for all portions of it. We can dip into the archive and see if there’s anything useful there.
Raw Footage. As a video production company (and not freelance shooters) our contracts do not include raw footage. Our clients are hiring us for a final product, and what we create along the way outside of that final product is not included in the package price.
Allow us a brief metaphor to explain our position. Sticking in the realm of all things “raw”, lets pretend our team at BDLB are sushi chefs. As master sushi chefs, our job is to create mouthwateringly beautiful “sushi” that will thrill your senses, touch your heart, and nourish your hunger. We pride ourselves on every bite being perfect, no matter what kind of “sushi roll” we’re making. And yet… have you ever watched actual sushi being made? The chefs strip each fish down to their core, cutting away the bad pieces until they have a perfect block of fish to use in each roll. Would you ever ask a sushi chef for the shavings from your Spicy Tuna roll? Of course not, because the simple truth is, anyone can go out and buy raw fish. But with sushi (just like with video), you’re not paying for the fish. You’re paying for the person who can transform that block of raw fish into deliciously delectable and digestible sushi.
Similar to our metaphorical sushi chef brethren, what makes us great is knowing which parts to strip away. It takes a trained eye to know what footage to include in any given film. Just how sushi chefs pare down their fish, we do the same with our videos. It could simply be a bad piece of fish (out of focus, shaky camera), or there’s a tendon (exposure, audio), or they need to shape the fish to fit a certain type of sushi roll (narrative vision, timing constraints).
To complete the metaphor, another reason we don’t release our raw footage is due to the unintended negative impact it can have on our reputation. Imagine if you took a sushi chef’s leftover fish and used it to serve your own homemade sushi. After your dinner guests are sick from the bad fish, they’ll ask where it came from. We don’t want to take the blame for an untrained chef’s rookie mistakes. After all, just like sushi restaurants, positive word of mouth is critical to our bussiness’s structure and growth. We want you to want to dine with us again.
And lastly, the very practical business aspect of our position is our business model and the loss of future work. We are not freelance shooters, but a video production company. We are not selling just our shooters and their time, we’re selling a process and a final product. Everything we do is partnering with our clients to create a video that will meet their goals, and we don’t feel okay about providing raw footage that you can shop around to see who can edit it for a cheaper price. We view our pricing as an investment in a partnership, a process AND a final product. Handing over raw footage just doesn’t make sense in the context of our business model.
BUT THERE ARE ALWAY EXCEPTIONS…
All of this aside, we care about our clients and there are some cases where providing raw footage or ownership of the footage is important, and we do occasionally sell* raw footage and/or copyright. There are two major instances (that we can think of) where it might make sense to do this:
- You are a large business/organization with a video team, and while you hire us for a specific project you’d like to be able to use footage collected in future projects. Purchasing raw footage here, as well as the copyright ownership, is well worth the additional investment because of what you’ll save in the future not having to hire another videographer to shoot for a project. You have a team in-house who knows how to use this footage in future projects.
- The topic or content is particularly personal or sensitive, and you want to maintain control over how it’s used in the future. This is an instance where you likely would care most about the copyright ownership, which would also include the raw footage. When the videographer owns the copyright they can use the footage in future projects, but by purchasing the copyright and footage you have ultimate control. One thing to note here is that videographers and video production companies (us included) are humans, and usually care about our clients. I can only speak for BDLB, but I can’t imagine a scenario where we would re-use personal or sensitive footage in another project without talking to that client first. That’s just one of the things that comes along with the way we approach our process and partnerships.
- You hired a videographer to film your wedding and you can’t imagine missing a single moment. This is an instance where it might be worth it to buy the raw footage**, but you likely wouldn’t care as much about purchasing the copyright.
*For all the reasons mentioned above, plus the cost of hard drives and the actual time it takes to export all the footage, we do not ever provide raw footage for free.
**Though it’s worth noting that most videographers (BDLB included) will provide the option of purchasing full doc edits of important moments so you don’t have to miss anything, but also don’t have to wade through a TB of video clips. Friendly reminder that raw footage is unedited, not color corrected, not synced with audio, and just a folder of lots and lots of clips- if you don’t know what to do them, they actually are more annoying than valuable.