9 June 2017

Researching Rights for Moving Images

By Corinna Reicher,Fim & Rights Researcher, NKCC

Clearing Rights & Films: Bringing Out the Inner Sherlock

Clearing rights is a process that many find daunting. Knowing where to start can be overwhelming, and research usually turns out to be anything but straightforward. Yet, it is exactly this uncertainty that is also the most fun and rewarding: Solving a mystery offers a sense of achievement. And who doesn’t want to channel their inner Sherlock Holmes or Miss Marple by successfully using the art of deduction? Logic and lateral thinking usually help, but luck and serendipity equally play a part. There is a huge danger of getting side-tracked, of following red herrings and suspecting the wrong character, but that in itself can be fascinating.  Just don’t forget to invite all suspects into the same room at the end to sum up and reveal your results!

Where to Start?

When researching rights holders for moving images, the ideal scenario is to have a copyright notice as part of the end credits. To keep things interesting, however, the details found on archive footage more often than not relate to a defunct company – but even outdated information is a solid starting point. Simple searches with a search engine may throw up useful results and additional pieces in the puzzle. Names of company directors or artistic personnel are useful leads. There are several national and regional public film archives in the UK with excellent online catalogues, as well as commercial footage libraries which also have easily accessible databases.

Orphans & Layers of Rights

Most difficult to research are works where the rights holder or indeed origin of the film are unknown or difficult to ascertain. In those cases, the method of finding out more about the item itself by forensically scrutinising the content of the footage is essential. Films do inherently offer a wealth of information, even if there is no metadata. There are also several layers of rights ownership, for instance rights in stills or music used, or performance rights, which need to be taken into account and which make the research an even more complex process.

Wealth of Experience and Expertise

Before joining the NKCC team earlier this year, I had been working in the film heritage sector for many years. One of my roles was to oversee the Imperial War Museum’s film licensing operations, so I have had first-hand experience at issuing licences and negotiating licencing agreements for material owned by the museum. As a film historian with a background in moving image archiving, I have substantial experience in researching and interpreting archive footage. Being able to read a film is crucial for establishing details such as the date and origin of a film – is it a newsreel, a TV interview or an amateur film, for instance. This is the type of information that helps to identify potential owners of a physical copy of a film as well as its rights holders. This also applies to the digital realm: it is important to find out who the owner of the source material is. To distinguish between the physical material, the copy of a film, and the inherent intellectual property rights, is crucial as they might be owned by different organisations or persons. Archives do not necessarily own the copyright to the material they are preserving.

These are just some of the aspects important to bear in mind when embarking on a project. At NKCC, we offer expert advice and carry out all research, due diligence and negotiations necessary to clear rights and obtain licence agreements on behalf of our clients.

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