Clearing Rights To Archive Entertainment Footage Isn’t Easy

Posted on 6/19/2014 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (0) recently asked David Peck, President of Reelin' in the Years Productions (RITY), the world's largest library of music footage and the exclusive representative of all footage from the Merv Griffin Show, to walk us through the basic steps involved in licensing entertainment and performance related footage.
"Probably the most important thing to keep in mind when working with a company like Reelin' in the Years," said Peck, "is that while we control the copyright to the footage in our collections, we typically do not hold the underlying rights, such as the rights to the performer's image and likeness."  
Which means that before using a clip from Reelin' in the Years of the Rolling Stones performing "Satisfaction" from a 1965 appearance on German TV, users will need to obtain clearances from, and often pay licenses fees to, a variety of other entities, such as music publishers, record companies, unions and directors and, of course, the band members themselves.   

"I can't tell you how many times people ask us with a straight face if we control the image and likeness to the Stones or other huge bands," Peck says with a chuckle. "To which I respond 'If we had the rights to the image and likeness of The Rolling Stones, I wouldn't be answering the phone.'"
And there are many critical nuances to consider as well, according to Peck. For example, if the song was lip-synced during the performance or if any part of the audio from the original recording was used in the performance, then a clearance from the record label would be necessary. Alternatively, if the song was performed live then the rights to the live recording would be owned by Reelin' as part of their rights to the footage.

Performers tend to maintain close control of their image and likeness, so clearing these rights generally means reaching out directly to the individual performer, the performer's management or the performer's estate if he/she has passed away.
Some bands and performers pose special challenges, according to Peck. For example, when trying to license footage of the Beatles, producers will need to approach Apple Records, who will then seek permission directly from Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, Yoko Ono (John Lennon's widow) and Olivia Harrison (George Harrison's widow) who are all very protective of the Beatles legacy and how their image is used.
And it's important to note that when you receive a license from RITY (or most other rights-managed footage houses) that you are 100% responsible for clearing all of these additional rights and will be required to hold the footage holder harmless from any and all legal issues that may arise from your failure to clear those rights, according to Peck.

Sound complicated? It is. Consequently, Peck and his team at RITY always recommend working with an experienced clearance professional like Cathy Carapella (at Global ImageWorks) or Chris Robertson (at Diamond Time). "They are truly the best in the clearance business," said Peck. "I've used them for every single DVD I've released and not only are they the quickest I've seen but their decades of experience has allowed them to work through very difficult situations."  
"In the hands of a professional this work is not always difficult but it does take a lot of patience and experience to do it right," said Peck. "Artists and their representatives move at their own pace and are rarely concerned with a producer's deadline."
Peck also takes pains to remind clients that while he has years of experience in the footage licensing and production business, he isn't a lawyer, and recommends that producers always seek the advice of a copyright or entertainment attorney when attempting to license entertainment and performance related footage.  
"In my experience, clearance is a very specialized field so don't try to do it yourself," said Peck. "If you only take one thing away from my comments then please pay the money and get it done right because you don't want clearance issues to bite you later."  

Copyright © 2014 Jim Pickerell. The above article may not be copied, reproduced, excerpted or distributed in any manner without written permission from the author. All requests should be submitted to Selling Stock at 10319 Westlake Drive, Suite 162, Bethesda, MD 20817, phone 301-461-7627, e-mail: wvz@fpcubgbf.pbz

Jim Pickerell is founder of, an online newsletter that publishes daily. He is also available for personal telephone consultations on pricing and other matters related to stock photography. He occasionally acts as an expert witness on matters related to stock photography. For his current curriculum vitae go to:  


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