As someone in the film industry – and more so the producing side of film and emerging media – the legal support is a great thing to become familiar with. There are reasons why there’s a feeling of invincibility when everything is stamped and signed for stacks of agreements, insurance, permits, waivers, etc. I love those situations like “Yes sir/ma’am, we have paperwork right here stating we are allowed to film on the sidewalk”, little things like that! It’s important to know why we have all these different legal hoops to jump through. To better understand some of these hoops, I attended Washington Lawyers for the Arts (WLA)- Art Law Institute seminar that invited lawyers and artist to join together to participate in legal education for a full day packed of knowledgeable speakers.
The program had a planned schedule starting with Trademark Year In Review with Jim Vana, Perkins Coie LLP, as speaker. He spoke of laches, infringement, “initial interest” confusion, tacking… All things that made me instantly think “Oh man… I need to find a lawyer and make them my best friend.” Lets just say I was a little lost, and even after questions were answered (and after looking some questions up for myself) it still created more questions for me. Then Copyright Year In Review with Mark Wittow, K&L Gates LLP, highlighted some points on considering “fair use”, safe harbor, and DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act). I love the point he made how we could have the science behind our process but no creativity. There has to be creativeness! After a little break in between, Bob Cumbow, Miller Nash Graham and Dunn LLP, came to speak on Personality Rights/Right of Publicity. He had so many great examples to understand the past and present of publicity rights. He spoke fluently about person vs. property rights, privacy torts, transformative test, predominant use test, personality rights, and much more.
After a wonderful lunch that had been provided, it was time for the Film Panel to come to take a seat, we had Jennifer Reibman, Moderator; Lance Rosen, Rosen Lewis, PLLC; Jeff Unay, Local Film Director; and Elisa Haradon, Local Film Director. So many fantastic points and issues to think about were brought up during this period. The group started with categorizing the kinds of paperwork and seeing what is not an urgent issue for now – prioritize. One thing that pulled me in was when they talked about E’s & O’s insurance (Errors and Omissions). Whoever buys your film they want ALL the verbal and written forms first, because they don’t want to get sued later down the road. Understandable. You got your work for hire, clearances, agreements, and lawyer look over it all? Great – you’re on the right path! Hearing some past experiences from the panel was very insightful. They pressed on the subject that you need clearance from EVERYONE and if you can’t get insurance you’re more than likely screwed… In the filming industry it’s all hard though, right? Another surprising thing was they agree that raising money for films these days is much harder. The panel agreed that the number one hardest thing in making a movie was raising money; second, distribution; third, making the movie – totally understandable! Plus, while you’re going through all that, you have competitors in the mist. Competitors who will come out from your nightmares and make harassments, scare investors, distract you from your work, cost more money, and ultimately taking advantage of the legal system. There will be huge bumps in the road, but with positive thoughts and a kick-ass team, hopefully your passion will prevail! We then got to the topic of protection bonds, where a company guarantees a film will be done on time and in budget –but there was an avid tip to try to stay away from bonds. We also touched on employees vs. independent contractors and a tip from that was to have no volunteers because you don’t want to have any slips down the road – important for all people involved. Some other topics brought up were points, ownership of the film, and structure contracts (where money is made later in the long run, but has a falloff point). Then we ended with a interesting discussion about Life Story Rights and how you need to buy the life story rights with permission, which is very important for all sides in the industry.
Lastly we had our last speaker of the day, Anne Seidel with her points on Ethics for Arts Lawyer’s. Seidel made some great points on thinking through with documents with the service of process, and how important is it to be general and not personal through the process. She also mentioned how we need to make more of an effort when you work with people out of town or out of sight, which is very common in the film industry.
In all, the seminar was very educational and insightful. To every answer I have found from this seminar, I have five more questions – learning is never over! We really do learn from taking advantage and attending these events. Big thanks to WLA for hosting their 4th Annual Art Law Institute event for lawyers and artist to join together.