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Legal Considerations in Distribution

Like financing, distribution is almost all business. Now that you're this close, it's not the time to forget about this side project. Thankfully, most of this work involves stuff you've already done, so basically you're making sure there are no loose ends. Of course, if there are, or you haven't done this – well, hopefully you have a business minded partner who can help.

Photo: Public Domain | U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Grace Lee

Copyright Registration

This is really easy, so you may decide to just take care of it yourself. Start by going to Copyright.gov and see what they need. If you’re really nervous, you can use a legal service to help. Either way, do it. Do it early. And don’t forget to revise it with new drafts or versions of your project.

Licensing | Clips, Music, Other People's Materials

So you obviously got permission for all the music and protected material just like your lawyer told you, right? Now, when you made those agreements, were they “handshakes” or do you actually have signed pieces of paper verifying that you have permission to use it? Even if your best friend reworked “Mary Had a Little Lamb” into a fake 4-second commercial jingle, get written permission from your friend (and also make sure “Mary Had a Little Lamb” is still in the public domain). Logos, catchphrases, even other people’s faces – you’ve gone over this stuff before, but make sure absolutely everything is still in writing. And when in doubt, consult your lawyer. Because McDonald’s and Coca-Cola may seem as universal and all-American as apple pie – but apple pie isn’t trademarked.

Further Reading:

Insurance | Production, General Liability, E&O

You are going to need at least two kinds of insurance if your project involves more than you and your living room. You probably already have production insurance, which basically covers you and your team should anything happen while you’re making your project. E&O insurance covers you if you inadvertently infringe someone else’s copyright in your project. They are both expensive, but you need them. If you decided to hold off on E&O until distribution– well, here you are, so go out and get it. Distributors will almost always require this.

Further Reading:

Talent & Crew Agreements

You’ve already signed contracts with all the cast and crew. Have your lawyer review them to make sure there’s nothing that can affect distribution.

Titles & Credits

Hopefully you worked out all the credits before production. However, maybe you had to make some side deals, or maybe your conscience is nagging you because the poor PA’s contributions outweighed the lowly job title. Whatever the case, make sure you have this written down somewhere. Someone later on is going to ask you about requirements. Remember Gino’s Restaurant who donated all its leftovers to feed your crew every day? Were they okay with a catering services credit, or did they expect their sponsorship to be more prominently displayed? Good to know. Is Uncle Sal the CPA willing to take a producer’s credit and 10 tickets to the premiere in exchange for his help with your books? Also good to know. Update your log as needed. Or even better, make your lawyer deal with all of this. Also, don’t forget – unions have pretty strict guidelines for how credits are displayed. Here are a few links to get you started…

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