We all know how difficult it can be to constantly protect our work from misuse or copyright infringement. But what happens when someone claims a copyright infringement against you, and you find out the content in question is actually the work you licensed to that party in the first place? If this sounds crazy, it is, and that’s exactly what happened to Mitch Martinez last week.
Last week I wrote about DP Mitch Martinez, and his fantastic free 4K stock footage that anyone can access for free. Well, I didn’t think I’d be writing about him again quite so soon, but I found out about a bizarre twist in his story a few days ago, and had to get back in touch with him. It was being reported that Mitch had received a copyright infringement notice from a well regarded music industry company claiming that he had infringed on their copyright, when in fact the content in question was the exact free stock footage I had reported on, and in fact he had licensed to them in the first place.
Needless to say, after much back and forth and extremely professional behavior and healthy doses of patience on Mitch’s part, it was resolved. Rather than just report on that story, I decided it would be more useful to ask Mitch for his thoughts and advice on how we can all better protect ourselves against this sort of activity in the future.
Dave: Mitch, I know you’ve just been through a pretty crazy set of events around this bizarre copyright infringement claim of your own work. This is something of a strange and new twist in the world of video copyright – do you see this sort of problem as possibly a bigger trend or issue?
Mitch: It’s definitely a changing world in terms of people’s perception of downloading, re-uploading, and sharing media. Social media sharing, reposts, and mash-ups introduce a new dynamic that isn’t accompanied by informative documentation on the statutes and liabilities of this easy and common sharing. Social media sites don’t tell people about the complex ins and outs of copyright law. A large portion of the content that people do this with is really just meant to entertain their friends for a minute on social media and has an innocent nature when it comes to intent – but content creator attribution is rarely accompanied and permission/licensing almost never secured. Companies like ImageWiki (http://image.wiki/) are working on content identification and management but currently, almost anyone reposting on social media without licensing or attribution don’t have any knowledge of or concern for copyright law; it’s just sharing – something that’s done with a supplied button that easy to use and encouraged to click. If an initial re-upload doesn’t have attribution for the content creator, none of the subsequent views or “shares” do either.
We also see more and more cases of large companies using media without permission. Some of them are using audio in political campaigns like Donald Trump and REM (http://www.rollingstone.com/music/news/r-e-m-to-trump-other-pols-go-f–k-yourselves-for-using-our-music-20150909). Other people like Richard Prince who used other people’s Instagram photos and sold them as large prints seem to intentionally push the letter of the law in terms of plagiarism and selling other people’s work (http://www.theverge.com/2015/5/30/8691257/richard-prince-instagram-photos-copyright-law-fair-use). DKNY used hundreds of images by NY photographer, Brandon Stanton, after he rejected their offer to license his imagery from him. (http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/us-news-blog/2013/feb/25/dkny-pay-photographer-without-permission). With these examples, a pattern of intent with total disregard to permission or copyright can clearly be seen.
This is not the end of this type of appropriation and infringement. The digital media community is trying to find ways to combat the trend but the digital age poses a lot of challenges for people working to prevent this type of issue.
Dave: Do you have any advice for those shooting video content about how they can copyright / log their footage in the case of disputes like this happening to them? Photographers can file copyright with the patent office but what can filmmakers/videographers do?
Mitch: Watermark and brand your content as much as possible; consider having it be throughout the whole video and prominently positioned. This doesn’t necessarily prevent someone from cropping your content to cut out your information but it does help your odds. With my recent video, Inferno, several different people downloaded the video, edited my front and end credits out of the video and uploaded the video as their own on YouTube – effectively removing my credits and claiming ownership and credit for creating the content. I then had to file copyright violations with YouTube and get the videos removed. It seemed really weird for others to take credit for my work as if they created it themselves.
Some other suggestions:
– Have your files organized and well documented. If you do have the need for legal action, the more information that you have at the ready and the more complete it is – the more it will help you. This type of information includes dates, times, crew member info, cast member info, tech info on what camera was used, release forms and location releases, and so on. For anyone infringing on your content, this is all information that they wouldn’t have an further reinforces ownership and who is responsible content creation.
– You can also officially copyright their video content (http://copyright.gov/circs/circ45.pdf). As noted in the US Copyright Office’s pdf, “An application for copyright registration contains three essential elements: a completed application form, a non-refundable filing fee, and a nonreturnable deposit—that is, a copy or copies of the work being registered and “deposited” with the Copyright Office.” This does involve work, incurs monetary fees and still does not guarantee that anyone will not infringe on your copyright or steal your content – but it would help your legal side of things in any copyright issues that you might encounter.
– Try to be stay up to date with news and legislation for content copyright. Organizations like the DMLA (Digital Media Licensing Association, http://www.pacaoffice.org/about.shtml) provide a lot of support for companies and content creators including educational copyright information and videos, sample contracts/agreements, and guidance for registering imagery and other content with the US Copyright Office and Library of Congress.
*DMLA legal documents – http://www.pacaoffice.org/library_legal_guide.shtml
*DMLA education and advocacy – http://www.pacaoffice.org/education.shtml
In the changing landscape of video appropriation, this is all good advice. As always, when it comes to copyright and protecting yourself, seek proper legal advice and treat these points as useful signposts for further action to protect yourself and your content.
On a personal note, thanks to Mitch Martinez again, for both his time and insights here, as well as his handling of the recent infringement claim against him. If you read into that story and how he handled himself, you’ll see he was an exemplar of professionalism and patience in his handling of the situation and as much as anything else, we can all learn from this attitude.