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Lawyer’s Corner: What is a release? I am filming in a public area, do I still need a release?

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Succinctly described, a release is a legal document that is executed by the releasing party terminating legal liability by the released party. So ideally, the release gives the filmmaker the rights to film another person, location, or someone else’s materials and the right to use that footage in their project, to edit and exploit it throughout the universe, in any and all media, whether now known or hereinafter devised in perpetuity without the fear of ensuing liability. This will help in ensuring the filmmaker, as the copyright owner, has a clean chain of title for their content when such content is distributed and made public. The release is for the protection of the content creator.  

While there may be situations that, as a content creator, you don’t need a release, a filmmaker never wants to be in a situation where for example: angry parents later may not like having videos of their children in the project, or talent that has not signed a release might later ask the filmmaker not to use their performance or someone might not like the way they’re portrayed or look on camera and ask the filmmaker to delete any footage with them in it or the restaurant the filmmaker used for a scene changes management and the new management decides they don’t want to be in the project or owner of a trademark doesn’t like the finished project and wants their signage deleted from the project. These are just a few examples of what can go wrong without a signed release.  So it behooves the filmmaker to obtain the consent of the performer or owner in writing so they will not later object to the material being used by the filmmaker or anyone to whom the filmmaker may assign his or her project.

There are several different types of releases such as, but not limited to, general releases, group releases/filming notices/crowd releases, property/location releases, talent releases, minor releases, and materials releases. The filmmaker may need several types of releases depending on what is being filmed as explained below:

  1. General releases should be used for non-actors and the non-professionals used in the project.
  2. Group releases/filming notice s/crowd releases are used for large areas where the filmmaker is shooting in a public area that people in the background may be captured on film. Group releases/filming notices /crowd releases are used because it is not practical or feasible to get every single person who enters that area to execute a release document.
  3. Property releases/location releases are used when the filmmaker intends to photograph, videotape or record property which the filmmaker does not own. Property/location releases are to property or location what talent or general releases are to individuals.  Do not assume that public buildings can be used in your project without an executed release by the owner.
  4. Talent releases are similar to general releases and  should be used with professionals, actors, performers, and models.
  5. Minor releases are similar to general and talent releases and must be signed by a parent or legal guardian of a minor who is performing in your project. Note that the legal age varies from state to state.
  6. Materials releases are used for obtaining permission to use in your project still photographs, objects, videos, films, web pages, book covers or other media which may be copyrighted or owned by others.

While there may be circumstances that a filmmaker may not need a release, it is always better to err on the safe side than to be sorry as the release is for the protection of the content creator and no distributor will distribute such content without the proper documentation and chain of title. Not to mention, the filmmaker may not be able to secure errors and omissions insurance for distribution of such content without it.  As in most other instances, searching the internet may provide samples of various types of releases that may be required in creating your content.  However, a good lawyer will save the production money by protecting the filmmaker from unforeseen legal nightmares. A filmmaker may need specific and particular language depending on whom and what the filmmaker is filming. Consult with an experienced entertainment lawyer who understands production to assist with the release forms before you start filming.   Almost always, it is much easier to get releases signed before you start shooting than after you are done filming.  It will also help you plan ahead for your project.


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Nadia Davari

About Nadia Davari

Nadia has over 14 years of experience as an entertainment and corporate attorney. She has served as the outside counsel and in legal and business affairs for several media companies and start ups, including MavTV, Channel Factory, Prescience, and Lightning Entertainment. She works with a wide range of clients including digital media companies, new business start-ups, production companies, movie studios, television networks, investors, and talent. She is well-known for her superior negotiating and drafting skills in development, production, distribution, licensing, and acquisition of entertainment content in animated, scripted and unscripted television, and motion picture content. Nadia graduated from UCLA with a B.S. in molecular, cell and developmental biology and attended USC Law School where she participated in the Hale Moot Court Honors program.