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Should You Make Your Film Available for Streaming?

By December 21, 2015 Uncategorized

Should I stream my film? A legal perspective.

Should You Make Your Film Available for Streaming?

As clearance professionals in the film industry, we frequently receive questions about streaming services and exposure.

Truth is, streaming services are now an integral part of the entertainment world, so you may consider adding your work onto digital platforms.

Read this article first, as yet another lawsuit has brought film ownership into the limelight.

This time around, the court case centers on streaming services.

This copyright court case began decades ago, when Vittorio De Sica’s classic 1948 film, Bicycle Thieves (originally released in the United States as The Bicycle Thief), was deemed to be public domain. In other words, the film had no copyright protection and was free and clear for anyone to share.

The English-translated version is a different story.

Even though the original release now belongs to any party, the subtitled version remains protected by copyright.

When Netflix started streaming Bicycle Thieves, the streaming service was hit with a copyright lawsuit.

According to official court documents:

the Court, however, noted that even though the picture is in the public domain a derivative-work copyright may exist in the picture based on a translation of a pre-existing work. 

Therefore, valid copyrights may still exist with respect to any English-language, dubbed or subtitled version of the Film, even if, as the Court has found, the underlying Film itself is in the public domain.

Read the entire brief here.

This lawsuit, and many others like it, begs the question…

Should you make your films and television programs available for streaming? And what should you do to protect your work that appears on digital platforms?

There’s no question that the rise of streaming services such as Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon is indicative of the future. More and more, audiences are moving to online formats for entertainment , and content must follow them.  This is a business, after all.

But where do legal concerns come into play?

From a clearance perspective, we see a very short pro/con list when it comes to digital formats.

PRO: Streaming attracts a larger audience. This is almost every producer’s dream come true—a large (and hopefully) captivated audience to enjoy the project.

Now that millions upon millions of people are relying solely on streaming devices for their movies and television shows, today’s filmmakers will reach today’s audiences online.

CON: Because more people will see your project, it leaves it open to more legal vulnerability.

It’s unlikely that a 12-year-old who makes a home movie featuring a toy lightsaber would be sued. However, if you accidentally use a trademarked item in your project, and that project gains notoriety online, more people will pay attention.

Not all attention is good, not when it comes to copyright lawsuits, claims of trademark infringement, and chain of title issues.

The answer to whether or not you should put your work on streaming platforms is…

You may not have a choice—streaming is the future of entertainment forums. Luckily, you’ll gain a wider audience, but at the same time, you’ll have more exposure.

Now more than ever, it’s imperative to protect your intellectual property and avoid costly lawsuits that could cost millions in the future.

If a film such as Bicycle Thieves, which was made 67 years ago, can cause a legal ruckus when it is first made available for streaming, your projects are equally vulnerable to the threat of court battles.

You can protect yourself legally, and we can help.  Click here.