Who owns the raw video footage?

This post continues the article ‘Who owns the video I made?’ If you haven’t read it yet, you can check it out here!

When we talk about footage, we mean all the footage/shots recorded in the entire filming process, sometimes called the “raw footage.” This question can be contentious with clients and production companies, but it shouldn’t have to be. As discussed in the previous article, this is something that needs to be discussed and agreed upon before any production begins. Getting the question of ownership in writing beforehand is essential to make sure everyone is clear from the beginning.

In the TV and film industry, it is standard practice to ensure contracts are in place for the creator, the director, and all the creative influence (i.e., camera, costume, make-up, etc.) and assign copyright to the producer. When creating something with multiple people, it is essential the issue of who owns the footage is cleared up before any filming is started.

However, in the smaller-scale corporate sector, it is not commonplace to address this problem up front. We make sure EVERY project has this in writing.

In our terms and conditions, SpotOn Productions retains the copyright on all work and original files (including raw footage). SpotOn Productions grants the client a perpetual, worldwide, fully paid up, nonexclusive license to reproduce, distribute, sell, publicly perform, publicly display, and transmit any of the produced materials and products created by SpotOn Productions and to prepare derivative works of the materials and products created. Unless otherwise noted in the proposal, the ownership of all original files remains with SpotOn Productions. Original files and raw footage can be provided to the client for an additional cost. We do not automatically assign copyright of the raw footage unless the client specifically stipulates it beforehand.

There are a few reasons why production companies do this, which may go some way to explain why it’s a contentious issue.

1. The Copyright

This is the big one, and it is mainly about protecting the rights of everyone involved. When you make a video, the production company will be very clear on what the video is for and where it will be displayed. They will then make sure everything is cleared for this and provide the licensing to you. More importantly, they will price it into the quote. This will not include the raw footage. Therefore if you think you will want the raw footage, mention it at the start of the process.

2. The Cost

Handing over raw footage does have a cost implication. If you imagine that on some high-end cameras an hour of footage can be 765 GB. If on a project, 10 hours of footage is filmed, that would be 7,650 GB! Nearly 8 terabytes of data! The hard-drive cost alone would be hundreds of dollars. On top of this, there is the time it would take to export all the data; it could run into 20+ hours of computer time.

3. The Loss of Future Work

Imagine being a chef and a customer comes to the kitchen and asks for all the ingredients and the secret recipe to your award-winning dish. That customer may only want to recreate the meal at home, or they may take that recipe to the restaurant next door so that another chef can make it at half the price.

In most cases, client motives are genuine and innocent. But that doesn’t stop production companies sweating with fear at the thought of the implication. They also worry that someone else is going to ruin their work. It does seem crazy, but most creative people have an attachment to their work, no matter who it is for. And the thought of someone tarnishing that is hard.

4. Seeing Us Naked

This is the silliest reason, but it has to be mentioned. With every great shot amongst the raw footage, there may be several bad shots that would “end up on the cutting room floor” (they never make the edit). Those shots may be ruined by minor tech issues, poor timing, sudden shifts in lighting, or by that one ‘videobomber’ staring at the camera. A camera operator may spend an hour trying to get the perfect shot. When reviewing the footage, minutes may be completely useless. These are not exactly a good reflection of their best work and something they won’t want others to see. But it is all totally worth it for that one great shot.

At the end of the day, whatever the reason, if you have a contract first with all this agreed upon, you won’t have any problems. One final note, it’s worth mentioning that although the production company holds the raw footage, it doesn’t mean they are free to do what they want with it and use it without first seeking your approval. In our case, we retain the right to use the finished videos in our portfolio or only some of the best shots in our demo reels.

As always, if you have any other questions about ownership, feel free to contact us.

Scroll to Top