Film still publication rights?
March 1, 2004 4:19 AM   Subscribe

A question of rights. Does anyone know the best place to start looking for film stills and the right to reproduce them in a publication? More specifically, if the precise frame isn't available, is it possible to take and use your own screenshot if the right credits/fees are paid?
posted by jonathanbell to Media & Arts (7 answers total)
I don't have any experience with this, but if it's a specific film you want stills from, I would suggest contacting the studio that made it -- they can tell you how much and what the procedure is.
posted by JanetLand at 6:38 AM on March 1, 2004

i've heard some hear-say about film stills grabbed *directly* from films are not copyrighted, due to the trouble involved in copyrighting each frame, most studios apparently didn't bother. This, it was explained to me, is why clothing companies like "Serial Killer"were able to sell t-shirts from movies like "Taxi Driver", etc -- as long as they didn't grab publicity stills, they were ok.

Of course, I now suspect this is bs, but hey, who knows? you might get lucky and not have to worry about copyright at all.

it might help to know exactly what sort of use you are planning for these stills.
posted by fishfucker at 7:13 AM on March 1, 2004

Maybe true back when you had to specificly claim copyright for everything you want copyright on, but since the berne convention almost all countries have "it's copyrighted by default" rules. I'm afraid your instincts were right.
posted by fvw at 7:42 AM on March 1, 2004

Response by poster: It's for a book, and a publisher who is (rightfully) concerned about making sure the i's are dotted and the t's are crossed. Fishfucker - interesting point. I've seen (and done) publications before that use photographic grabs from TV - the grainy quality adds something more, and it makes the copyright issue even more complex. There was no comeback that time. Yet.
posted by jonathanbell at 8:20 AM on March 1, 2004

Is it for a book cover or the inside of a book? Will the accompanying text be talking about the movie? Will it be positive or negative? Is it a review/critique?

My instincts are that it will depend on the studio and they will more than likely drill you on what the context is. If it's flattering and in any way promotes the film, you will not have any problem. If it's derogatory or out of context (for instance, if you're using the shot on the cover of a book because you like the image but the image has nothing to do with the book itself), you will run into trouble a) if you do approach them and b) if you don't.

If it's a critique or review, you may be able to use the image under fair use.

I used to own a small distribution company and appreciated any time people used images from the films I disto'd as long as they credited where the still came from. I'd say I was asked for permission half the time and the other half I just saw it afterwards or someone pointed it out to me. I always granted permission when asked.

You could start by approaching the studio or you could ask your copyright lawyer for advice or to approach the studio on your behalf (I assume if you're a publisher you're are in contact with one in some way or other).
posted by dobbs at 11:00 AM on March 1, 2004

Response by poster: Sorry for the delay - it's not for the cover, just a small(ish) illustration to accompany an essay. The image supports the argument in the text - it's not there to be criticised. I'd forgotten about the issue of Fair Use, too.

Helpful stuff - thanks to all who responded.
posted by jonathanbell at 2:11 PM on March 1, 2004

I tried to use a still in a poster for a client - the film was a 3-4 year old major studio release but not a huge, award winning success - and found that all rights to all materials asociated with the firm had been sold to video distributors in each territory. Contacted the UK one but they just refused straight out - not interested at all, payment or no.
posted by elliot100 at 3:38 AM on March 2, 2004

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