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Shortfilm preparation - legal question regarding film score
  • Hi I'm currently working on my next short and have some legal/copyright question. As usual, we plan on recording most of the film score ourselves but this time, there will be a scene where I need a TV comedy as background sound (no picture). How is it with rights. Plan would be to simply record 2-3 min of a real TV comedy. Can I use this without paying specific rights, no matter what I record? (widely known or unknown TV comedy).

    Help appreciated and sorry if this has already been answered here, haven't had the time to browse.

    Cheers Chris

  • 19 Replies sorted by
  • Anybody? If seen tons of footage with some TV broadcast sound in the background (audio only). How do you guys handle copyrights.

    Sorry again for this mabye banal question. I'm pretty new in this field ;)

  • I think more people will check after Thanksgiving and weekend :-) Bump the topic on monday, ok?

  • @vitaliy_kiselev Thanks for reminding, completely forgotten. Will check back on Monday :)

  • Other forums suggest you just create something that sounds like comedy rather than risk using a real show. I'm not an expert though but if I had to use comedy in the background that's what I'd do, to avoid problems down the line. PS it's only thanksgiving in the US so I'm surprised you haven't had more replies

  • You have to make a list of all the applicable rights, then check them off one by one, including the software. Since the soundtrack is integral to the work, stripping out the soundtrack would not necessarily give you the rights to show it without the soundtrack; that is, you would still need to get all the rights, plus derivatives.

    The fact that you might think, rightly or wrongly, that you have the rights is ultimately irrelevant. So if you use something that is "royalty free" or "public domain", you still need to get your ducks in a row.

  • @drdave I think he wanted to have just the soundtrack, without pictures, but the same applies: yes, a whole heap of rights from individual performing rights to mechanical copyright, if he uses a "real" comedy. Creating something with some laughter tracks plus some indistinct speech could possibly do the job (if well done) if nothing majorly specific required. While it's tempting to try to get away with using a real soundtrack without clearing it, it can bite you in the bum sometime in the future!

  • Thanks presumably the same is also true, the picture could be construed as integral to the work, but if it is "released" as a soundtrack, then rights can be acquired from the soundtrack only, with the caveat that the distributor may not actually own the rights, or the rights may have changed over time.

  • If it doesn't have to be a particular show, then by far the easiest thing would be to compose your own music for the background. Some cheesy music, a couple one-liners by two actors, and a laugh track sounds exactly like any generic sitcom.

  • Pretty sure you cannot do that unless it's public domain. If it's a short film, and since shorts don't make money or have a wide audience, unlikely you'd be sued, where'd you likely have trouble is with film festivals. They wouldn't appreciate the use of pirated media.

  • If it's obviously from a network show, you're very likely to get an angry lawyer letter and festivals would probably avoid it. You say it could be an unknown comedy--just make your own. It's easy enough and eliminates future problems.

  • Even some unintelligible dialogue mixed with a laugh track might work.

    Here someone mixed a laugh track with scenes from ABC Scandal. Parts of the Oval Office scene are a little too dramatic to work as a sitcom, but still demonstrates how a laugh track can make anything resemble a comedy.

  • Don't forget that a lot of companies are daily hunting for someone ready to pirating their catalogue, with a bunch of hungry lawyers ready to jump at your jugular. It' happens at a documentary I've worked on (as soundtrack composer): a few seconds of an old song and bam: a letter from an almost bankrupt and unknown recording company. With a lot of hard work we managed to have their approval for the first broadcast, but as soon as we can we wipe out their music and I composed a "sound alike" short piece. In your case the best thing to do is the same others suggest: DIY...

  • @Mark_the_Harp @jleo @DrDave @DouglasHorn @brianl @trafficarte Big thanks for your comments and tips. Really appreciate!

  • @Chris74 Sorry to pour cold sick all over your idea, though. In a simpler world, you'd just be able to "do" these things and not worry!

    As a student I helped make a short item which had some perfect music in it, and we fitted a complex sequence of pictures to the song. This item wasn't for public consumption and basically we just did it as an exercise in film-making. But technically we were infringing copyright by just copying the music. Later on we investigated and found out that this particular song would never have had clearance for any sort of public showing. It didn't matter, in our case - but it would have seriously scuppered the final product had we intended to do anything with it other than to use it for our own private learning.

    I have, in the past, got away with layering several instances of different music over the top of each other, just to create the feeling of music in the background without having anything specific to distract. I was going to suggest that as a possible solution for your comedy soundtrack but I think even that is a bit risky and I'm pretty sure the day will come when it will be possible to find out when any recording appears as part of a mix even when it's buried under loads of other stuff.

    On the other hand (to balance this thing out in favour of evil lawyers) a parent recorded a choir item which we decided to put on our school website. I got in touch with the publishers in New York and they allowed us to do this for a modest fee of £25. Better than getting sued or getting the school in trouble. It was easier in that the composition, lyrics and arrangement were all owned by the company that published the music.

    Basically copyright should be simple to understand and navigate, but it's more like crossing a radioactive minefield surrounded by banana skins!

  • Two months later and we have released our 4min thriller short. Please share our movie if you like it! Big thanks to all the advice you guys gave me regarding the film score.

    I have opened a showcase earlier this month and will put more info on the production. In short, we had a 500 euro budget and shot everything with the GH3 and Sigma 18-35 on SB on a shitty tripod. Most of the money went into light renting, as usual.

  • The above (Music rights for video explained) is a good overview, but if the performers add any notes or ideas that are not in the score, you need to clear those rights, plus the performers rights. What's missing is the concept of a "signed artist". What's also missing is that aggregators don't usually own the complete set of rights, and it can be very difficult if there are conflicting claims.

  • The more I understand about copyright/rights under capitalism, the more I hate it.