Film and the Law

Women in Film & Video DCResourcesFilm and the Law

Contracts. Rights. Clearances. Permits. Permissions.

In film production you run into legal issues every day. Laws are in place for just about everything. Laws determine who owns the rights in the project, where and how you can shoot at a location, and even who can appear in your film. To complicate the situation, new laws and regulations are constantly being developed to address new issues as they arise, such as proposed laws criminalizing digital transmission of music and downloading movies.

Several online resources are available to help navigate the web of legal issues. Before relying on information you find on the Internet, it is important to consider the reliability of the source. You also need to consider whether the information is up to date. If you have any concerns about whether what you are doing is legal or that you might get sued, it is a good idea to talk to a lawyer.

The information and resources listed in this website are intended to help provide our members with information that may answer basic questions. The resource links are to other websites that provide useful information on legal issues affecting the film and television industry. WIFV cannot account for the accuracy of the information. It does not replace legal advice.

For names of attorneys, you may want to check our resource directory, call your local volunteer lawyers for the arts organization, or contact your local or state legal bar association.

If there are any issues you would like to see addressed on our site, feel free to contact us.


Fair Use

Untold Stories: Creative Consequences of the Rights Clearance Culture for Documentary Filmmakers

A Study by Patricia Aufderheide and Peter Jaszi for Center for Social Media, School of Communication and Program on Intellectual Property and the Public Interest, Washington College of Law, American University.

Working with the Center for Social Media and Washington College of Law at American University, WIFV joined four other media organizations to publicize what documentary filmmakers currently regard as reasonable application of the copyright “fair use” doctrine.


Family Entertainment and Copyright Act of 2005 (P.L. 109-9)

The law was passed on April 27, 2005. It has three parts:

Title I of the legislation, Artists’ Rights and Theft Prevention Act of 2005 (“ART Act”) makes it criminal conduct to use a video camera to copy a movie in a movie theater and to make a computer program, music or motion picture available over the internet if you know or should have known that it is intended for commercial distribution.

Title II of the legislation, Family Movie Act of 2005, exempts liability for copyright infringement where limited portions of audio or video content are copied during a performance in or transmitted to a household for private viewing from an authorized copy of the movie or for creation or provision of technology that enables such use.

Title III of the legislation, National Film Preservation Act of 2005, expands the use of the National Film registry seal for use on other approved copies of the Registry version of the film subject to certain guidelines and criteria.


Artists’ Contribution to American Heritage Act of 2005 (Introduced March 3, 2005)

If passed, this bill would amend the Internal Revenue Code to allow taxpayers who create literary, musical, artistic, or scholarly compositions or similar property to deduct at fair market value (determined at the time of contribution) for contributions of such properties, the copyrights, or both to certain tax-exempt organizations.


Copyright Protection and Clearances

General information

Registering and protecting your work

Searching registered copyrighted works

Guidance on copyright clearances


Compulsory digital transmission


The American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP)

Broadcast Music, Inc. (BMI)

The Society of European Stage Authors and Composers (SESAC)


Harry Fox Agency


Copyright Clearance Center

Trademarks Basic Information