Shooting Video: Copyright Issues & Permissions

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One challenge from the dark side is the subject of copyrights and permissions. To adhere to global legal requirements, you first need to understand them. I’d spend a lifetime if I tried to understand the requirements, and during that time be immobilized. Or by not trying to understand them at all, and doing great video work, maybe I’d be sued first.

When writing Movie Maker 2: Do Amazing Things, I submitted a still picture, a video frame of a bus on the main street of Chicago, Michigan Avenue. The editor asked if I had signed permissions from the driver and passengers. Of course I didn’t, so we swapped the picture with one of a lighthouse with no people in the scene. 

I read about it being OK to take pictures of anything and anyone in a public place. How much more public can it be than outdoors on Michigan Avenue? Rather than study my rights about what I can or can’t do, it was easy enough to swap the picture with one I and the editor agreed to.

So much of the video content on YouTube today seems to come from those who blatantly ignore such matters, and nothing seems to happen as a result. But that doesn’t make what they are doing ‘right’, or justify others to do the same.

Copyrights are legal matters, and laws differ from country to country and time to time. Lawyers get paid to represent you or others on either side. I’ve read legal opinions on one side that supports what I do, and those from the other side that don’t. Here’s how I approach my video work.

  • If I’m in a public place with no signs restricting picture or video taking, I feel free to capture footage and use it in my videos. Street corner musicians at an art fair in Ann Arbor are fair game.
  • If I’m in a semi-public or semi-private place… Disney World would fall into that category… I read the info on the admission ticket and attraction entrances, and balance it with the many signs encouraging me to take pictures. What I do is on a case-by-case basis.
  • If I’m inside a private place, and there’s a notice not allowing picture-taking, I adhere to it.

I’m not out to push the limits by refusing to stop taking video footage when informed. This happens in indoor shopping malls. Are they public or private? Is video taking OK or not. I hear both sides, and take videos in them, but stop if asked by a guard to do so. I also stopped when taking video of airplanes landing and taking off from outside our local airport, when strongly told to stop by local police. They didn’t say I couldn’t use my already captured footage…

Here’s a note from Graham Hughes, who runs a DVD business and reviewed this article. “…. I’d distinguish between video for home use, where the street musicians are probably ok, and for commercial use, where you could get clobbered for all sorts of things depending on what the musician was playing. He may have been breaking the law by playing a copyrighted song!!!!!!…”. And so goes the arguements on each side.