Updated November 19, 2020:

Intellectual property movie rights are designed to protect the innovations involved in filmmaking, as well as provide important protections for creators and performers. These rights involve each stage of a filmmaker's journey, from the script to the big screen. The various areas where IP movie rights come into play include:

  • Copyright
  • Script
  • Funds procurement
  • Actor protection
  • Distribution deals
  • Trademarks and merchandising
  • Product placement
  • Technical innovation
  • Digital technologies

How Intellectual Property Rights Relate to Film

IP rights help producers attract the necessary finances to get film projects going. It also gives the many people involved in film production a way to make a living. This includes actors, screenwriters, directors, and the behind-the-scenes artists and technicians.

Copyright protection is the most important type of IP rights in the filmmaking business because they prevent other people using creatives' works without their permission. For example, producers are responsible for starting film projects, so when films are made, producers negotiate a number of agreements related to IP rights, including how to manage input from various contributors.

Copyright law and contract law are the underlying principles of these agreements. Together, these form the IP's “chain of title documentation.” For example, a film project begins with the search for an original story or script, which carries its own IP rights. Producers secure the rights to use certain materials if the film is an adaptation of an existing work. Experienced producers try to obtain as many rights as possible in order to be able to make a sequel or maximize profits. Likewise, original copyright owners will try to retain certain rights, including the following:

  • Stage rights
  • Publication rights
  • Radio rights
  • Character rights (if he or she wants to ever write a sequel)

Having the author's rights detailed in the agreement can help prevent legal problems in the future.

The IP rights that are supported by a clear chain of title documentation can be one of the most valuable assets a producer has when it comes to securing funds. If the chain of title is unclear, it can be extremely difficult, even impossible, to move forward with the film project.

Producers must also negotiate agreements with a film's performers and actors. This can be a complicated issue since an actor's legal status may vary from one country to another. Therefore, IP-related issues, such as conditions of employment and the transfer of rights, sometimes blend together.

When it comes to distribution deals, there's no standard in the industry. A producer must have a clear chain of title documentation before he or she can successfully secure deals with distributors.

Merchandise, Products, and Technology

Movie studios, like other businesses, use trademarks to make themselves stand out. Examples include the recognizable 20th Century Fox and Disney logos. Movie titles can also have trademark protection, as well as important characters or film elements. Examples of franchises with this protection include:

  • Star Wars
  • Harry Potter
  • James Bond, 007

Product placement, or placing trademarked products into a film, is a profitable avenue for filmmakers and businesses.

A lot of technical equipment is involved in filmmaking. This includes the following:

  • The camera(s)
  • Lighting equipment
  • Editing equipment
  • Sound equipment
  • Special effects

Innovation is the cornerstone of filmmaking. Throughout the history of movie-making, creative types have constantly looked for new ways to improve upon the process of film production. Patents are used to protect many of these technological advancements.

Moving from celluloid to digital in filmmaking has greatly impacted the industry. This move has improved quality while cutting production costs. It's also made it easier for amateur filmmakers and those with limited budgets to enter the business. The widespread availability and use of digital technologies are vastly shaping the industry, including how movies are made, seen, and distributed (such as downloading and video streaming).

Many rights go into film production, and anyone involved in the business understands how important it is to secure proper rights before simply moving ahead. These rights offer invaluable protections for the creatives in front of and behind the cameras, as well as those whose ideas contributed to the project to begin with.

If you need help with intellectual property rights, you can post your legal need on UpCounsel's marketplace. UpCounsel accepts only the top 5 percent of lawyers to its site. Lawyers on UpCounsel come from law schools such as Harvard Law and Yale Law and average 14 years of legal experience, including work with or on behalf of companies like Google, Menlo Ventures, and Airbnb.