5 Mistakes To Avoid If You Want To “Make It” On YouTube
Digital Video As A Way To “Make It” In Hollywood
In their 2014 survey, Nielson reported impressive growth in digital content consumption, finding that viewers between the ages of 18 to 34 are consuming 16 more minutes of digital video per day (total of 35 minutes of digital video per day). Similarly, adults between the ages of 35-49 are consuming 26 minutes of digital video per day, which is twice the consumption of digital video for that age group in 2012.
Although adults continue to watch a lot of TV (around 4 hours a day), Nielson’s study indicates that TV is no longer the sole avenue for content consumption. This rise in digital content consumption represents a unique opportunity for all content creators, but specifically for unestablished and niche content creators, by providing them with a platform to create inexpensive content and deliver it directly to consumers. 
Putting it simply, the rise of digital video has brought about a new way for content creators to “make it” in Hollywood.
Make It, Don’t Break It – Legal Pitfalls For The Digital Content Creator To Be Aware Of
The purpose of this article is to educate content creators about some of the legal pitfalls that can limit their projects’ success.
Below, I outline 5 mistakes that you should avoid.
1) Failure To Make The Deal Clear
If you are creating content with a group of people, establish the terms of the arrangement before you begin working on the project.
In order to avoid disputes about profit sharing or roles and responsibilities, make sure the project creators (co-owners) form a partnership agreement. The partnership agreement should include the manner in which profits and losses will be allocated, initial contributions of each partner, management powers and duties, how decisions will be made (majority vote), ownership of business assets, and specific buy-out methods.
In order to avoid the inadvertent creation of a joint copyright, make sure that project contributors sign work-for-hire agreements. For example, make sure you establish an employer-employee relationship with the editor, director, sound crew, lighting crew, and talent. It is important to establish terms such as the length of engagement, compensation (including compensation schedule and whether or not payment will be deferred), credit, and roles and responsibilities. It is also a good idea to secure appearance releases from these people – you never know when you might need an extra body in a scene.
For more on joint authorship, see Edo Azran’s article.
2) Failure To Secure Appearance Releases
Even when you work with friends, it’s a good idea to secure a signed release from everyone involved in your project. If your project turns out well (gets picked up), there may come a time when you need to produce the paperwork to prove that you have the right to use those actors. Get the rights to use their performances in the project and to use in related marketing.
Another consideration for new media content producers is whether or not to engage SAG actors. If you employ a SAG actor, then you may have to submit your project to SAG and become a signatory to their new media agreement.
For more on SAG’s New Media Agreement, click here.
3) Failure to Secure Location Agreements or Permits
Guerilla filmmaking, which is filming without securing the necessary permissions, is a risky undertaking. The advantages of guerilla filmmaking are obvious: it’s cheap and fast. But this filmmaking strategy could end up costing you a lot of money in fines and result in the seizure of your film equipment.
Permits and location agreements can be expensive; you have to pay for the permit and for insurance. These can take a lot of time to secure, but distributors will insist that these agreements are provided as part of chain of title.
Some general tips:
1) If you are shooting in or at private property, get permission from the property owner or authorized agent. If you are shooting at your friend’s house, and he is a renter, get permission from the occupant and the landlord.
2) Be aware of what is being shown in the shot. Avoid filming street addresses and identifying signs (anything with names and phone numbers).
3) Avoid filming any background art.
4) If you are filming in an uncontrolled environment, avoid filming large groups of people without getting permission to show their likeness.
For more clearance tips see: http://www.artslaw.com.au/info-sheets/info-sheet/do-i-need-a-film-location-release/
4) Failure to Clear Wardrobe, Sets, and Props To Eliminate Trademark Issues
AVOID the use of prominent trademarks. Brand owners should have the right to decide if they want to be a part of your fictitious story.
Some general tips:
1) Books (cover art and content therein), plays, and newspapers used in the film must be cleared by the publisher.
2) Photographs require several levels of clearance. You need to obtain permission from the copyright holder (normally the person who took photograph) and appearance releases from the people in the photo.
3) If you are using existing products instead of creating your own, do not misuse the product.
Products that are used as intended are generally okay. Using the product as directed has a low risk of reprisal, because there is not much that a trademark holder could complain about. Also, where the product is shown in the background or fleeting, there is usually no trademark issue.
4) If you are using existing products, do not portray the brand in a negative light.
Using the product in a manner that causes the audience to associate the use of the product to a negative trait or nature can give rise to a claim. For example, avoid showing a brand name product malfunctioning. Also, take care to avoid incorporating a product as a part of a negative plot line. For example, avoid dressing characters in clothes bearing trademarks if the character is part of a gruesome horror scene.
5) Failure to Clear Music
Do not use music in your project without acquiring a sync and master license.
For more, see Edo’s article about YouTube star Michelle Phan being sued for using Kaskade’s music here.
Featured image by fensterbme under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 license.