Films usually have 'multiple copyrights' - directors, screenwriters and composers - and then there's 'distribution' rights, and 'product placement' and performer's rights. All in all, a very complex mix.


General principles of film copyright

 Most professional films are made by groups of people and there are often a number of copyright owners – scriptwriters, director, music – as well as performance rights for actors and musicians.

 Copyright in film lasts for 70 years after the death of the last person to survive of:

  • the principal director
  • the authors of the screenplay and dialogue
  • the composer of any music specially created for the film

 In some cases extensions beyond the 70 years are in place and sometimes the count starts when the film was digitised -the digitised film files having their own copyright - or at least licenced conditons of use.

 There may also be third party rights for music - for recorded music, clips of news or archive film, still photography -  think of the list of music credits at the end of most feature films. There can also be rights attached to the use of trade marks and brand names and the use of well-known products - "product placement".

 "Copyright infringement" has been a major issue for the motion picture industry – first with 'pirating' cheap video and DVD copies and more recently with internet 'sharing'. 


Archive Film

 Archive film ("old stuff") is generally owned by archives. BTW there's both public and commercial archives.

Example: Some archive film, like the British Pathé newsreel archive, is available to the public to view without charge and available to education to download, re-use and edit as a subscription service.  The Education Licence provides permissions to edit and work with the film, provided it stays within the school – including VLE – but it is not permitted to show or distribute the film in public by a screening or through a website. Members of the public can also 'buy' clips as can media and other commercial companies.

Polling Day, London, 1945. Thumbnail of still from British Pathé archive.

 Example: Online editing for education. The problems of making film with copyright restrictions available for use by keeping the resources within an authenticated access only website with on-line editing tools and space to publish results. Unlocking Archives includes this on-line method of working. It is also a great example of several copyright holders – BFI,The national Archives and English Heritage - working together with the schools sector, SEGfL, to enable learners to compare, mix and work with resources from different sources unimpeded by multiple websites and differences in the terms of education use. The BFI’s, Screenonline education service has launched an online film-making experience called The Cutting Room which enables archive film to be edited together with contemporary production music – from Audio Network - in an online editing suite. Because of the restrictions of copyright and commerce these activities would be possible without the use of digital technologies online.


Student and Teacher film

 An individual who makes a film – whether a professional with all the gear or a child with their first camera – owns the copyright to their film. So that means students have copyright of their 'original' films. For teachers, if it's 'school work' its probably the schools; if it's not, it's probably the schools.

 For more information about Teachers' copyright see Section 2 - 'The Teacher, the Workforce and the School'.

 For more information about Students' copyright see Section 2 - 'The Pupil and IPR'


 Make your Copyright conditions known on your own films - with a creator's name and date; acknowledge the efforts of others and any permissions given for shooting, recording or use of third party materials.

 If there's more than one of you making the film - sort out copyright BEFORE you make it, when you are planning things - don't leave it till later OR until it becomes a problem!



Music, Special Effects (SFX) and other soundtrack materials needs to be from sources that have granted their permission - and there's lots of ways of achieving that - with an open licence such as Creative Commons or from an education service or because you asked and they said 'Yes!'. Of course you can make your own music or chat up a local band or someone on who is publishing their music over the web. 

 Example: Audio Network provides professional music for digital production through the NEN with a flexible licence for school and examination use and with all the associated rights (composer, musicians, recording and distributor) in place.

Tracing the copyright owners of film soundtrack effects and music on old films and broadcasts is one of the greatest problems that faces organisations who want to re-release or re-use the material and make it more widely available to the public - as things stand, if they can't identfy or find a composer, for instance, a whole project may have to be called off. 


Teaching about making film

 Teachers have a special 'exception' to use clips from film sources for ‘instruction and examination’ when teaching students to make films or soundtracks - to help you learn. This doesn’t prefer further rights to ‘deal’ with the materials for commercial use or, probably, to re-use the materials, distribute or publish them in public or to use them for other subjects. It is menat for a restricted audience - the teacher and the class of learners. It requires ‘sufficient acknowledgement’ and good practice would encourage the acknowledgement of the creator, distributor, date and the source.



 Exam boards usually require that student films make use of material, including music soundtracks, that are 'original' or have had permission to use the film or music granted by the owner or their agent.


Festivals, Competitions, etc.

 Showing your work in a competition or arts festival or an outlet beyond school is a great experience. Make sure you haven't spolit things by using, for instance music without permissions. It could disbar your work a competition or festival.  It is forth noting that trying to change a soundtrack after you've finished a film - maybe months later - isn't just a nuisance, but sometimes pretty much impossible; get it right from the off!


Film on the Web

 Film on the web comes from a very wide variety of sources - including some 'illegal' ones. If you are downloading film take the time to check out where it's come from and what the terms and conditions of its use are. In many cases the films you see will be there by agreement or licence - BUT - remember because someone else has a licence to put a film onto the web, doesn't mean you have the same rights as them and doesn't mean you can do what you want with it.

Uploading your film to a website - check the terms and conditions and make sure you are not signing away your copyright unknowingly or giving someone else permission to use your film without your say so. Check out the terms and conditions! This 'take care' advice applies to any web site or project encouraging you to upload your stuff.

 See also Safety, data protection (your data!) and Guidance on Using Social Websites.


Film Clubs and Film Shows

A special licence called the PSV licence is required to show feature/commercial films at a school event to a public audience (public includes parents), fundraisers or showing films for an after-school club.

 For more about PVS Licences see Section 2, 'Licensing’, Unit 3.


Film Education  has worked extensively with the motion picture industry to develop curriculum resources about copyright and film, including:
 Switched On: an educational learning resource for students aged 11-18 with a range of activities suitable for exploring social, financial, legal and ethical issues around the use of ICT.
 Be Creative: an annual production competition for 11-18 year olds encouraging young people to respect the UK film and TV industries and make the positive decision to choose official film and TV.
 Coming Soon? Taking film and cinema as its focus, 'Coming Soon?' explores how intellectual property and copyright are needed to support creativity and innovation. This site provides a taste of the interactive educational
DVD-ROM resource for primary schools along with an order form for your school's free copy. Tell your teacher!