Updated November 25, 2020:

Intellectual property film rights are protected by copyrights, trademarks, and patents. Without these important protections in place, artists, actors, writers, and other creatives wouldn't be able to profit from all of their hard work.

An Introduction to IP in Films

Filmmaking is complex and requires large teams of people. Intellectual property refers to the unique products and ideas created by any artist. Under the umbrella of IP, you'll often find the concepts of copyright, privacy rights, publicity rights, and trademark. 

Intellectual property rights play a vital role in making movies and shape every stage of the filmmaking process. For example, intellectual property rights:

  • Help producers get funds to start a film project.
  • Help actors, directors, screenwriters, artists, technicians, etc. earn a living.
  • Spur innovations that continue to push the boundaries of creativity.

Important Protections for IP

When a person authors an original work in a tangible form, it's copyrighted. Copyright law can be considered the lifeblood of the filmmaking industry because it protects creatives' rights without limiting the creation of new media.

Many people mistakenly believe that it's difficult to obtain a copyright, but it's actually very simple. The only steps you have to take are producing an “original work of authorship” and recording or fixing it in some way. These ways include the following:

  • Write it down
  • Film it
  • Record it on tape

You can't copyright an idea, only the fixed expression of it. When you own a copyright, you own some exclusive rights to what you create.

These rights include the following:

  • You can make copies of and distribute the work.
  • You can perform it in public.
  • You can display it in public.
  • You may create derivative works from your original work.

The exclusive right to distribute copyrighted works is very important in the film industry. Not only does copyright protect original works that act as a film's foundation, but it also makes it possible to create licensing deals that take one film and turn it into a series or entire universe. Copyrights are also vital to the sounds and music we hear in films as they protect the score and soundtrack as well.

During the process of making a movie, producers negotiate various agreements for IP rights that define how the contributions of different parties will be used and remunerated. Underpinning these agreements are contract law and copyright law, referred to as the chain of title documentation.

IP rights that are supported by a clear chain of documentation are the most valuable assets that a producer has when he is trying to obtain funding for his project. Without a clear chain of documentation for the copyright and intellectual property, it can be difficult, or even impossible, to make a film.

Trademarks and Patented Technology

A trademark can be any of the following:

  • Word
  • Design
  • Symbol
  • Phrase
  • Combination of any of the above

Trademarks are used to identify and differentiate goods from one company from goods from other companies. They are valuable business assets because they create goodwill between consumers and sellers. Unauthorized use of a trademark in a film — particularly if the trademarked goods are portrayed in a negative light — can lead to legal action from an attorney hired by the trademark's owner.

Similar to the protection that copyright gives, trademarks protect a movie's brand while also being an additional source of capital. Trademarks also protect any merchandise created in connection with a movie. 

There are usually broader fair use rights connected to trademarks compared to copyrights. For instance, if you use a trademark to depict goods, that would generally be considered informational, so you wouldn't need to get permission from the owner to use it.

Films wouldn't exist without patented technology. Moviemaking involves a lot of technical equipment, such as cameras and all of the equipment for editing, lighting, sound, and special effects. Innovation is a hallmark of filmmaking, and patents play an important role in helping technology progress, just like copyrights and trademarks do.

Patented technology was responsible for creating the industry to begin with. It has also upended it and continues to provide the foundation for an exciting viewer experience and advancements in filmmaking. Without IP, movies wouldn't exist. Intellectual property covers what consumers see, hear, and experience. For the many players involved in making movies, IP protection allows the industry to keep moving forward.

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