Student Films and Copyright

Wednesday, 15 Jul 2015

When students use their film assessments in a new context, it’s important to consider copyright

While most of us are only mid-way through our year, some students are in final stages of theirs. Most notably, our 2015 year 12 students are on the home stretch towards taking their final exams and handing in assessments; as are tertiary students who may be entering their final semester of study.

Given that the academic year is rolling towards a close for these students in particular, it’s important that they start thinking about the copyright implications they may face if they’ve used someone else’s creative content in their audio-visual work.

This could include using existing film footage, photographs, dialogue or music.

While the Copyright Act ensures that students are able to use copyright content that is owned by other people for examination purposes, it’s important for students to think about how they want to use their audio-visual creation – like a short film – after it’s been assessed.

Do they want to put it on their YouTube channel? Do they want to enter it in a film festival or public screening? Does the school want to put it on their website? Does the university want to screen it on loop in their gallery? Does the student want to enter it in competitions like Top Screen?

These are all important questions for you to start to ask if any of your students have used someone else’s creative content in their film.

If a student has used copyright-protected music in their film, then they have exercised what’s called a ‘synchronisation right’. This is the right to put music and video together – to synchronise them.

Synchronising copyright music with a film for the purpose of handing it in for examination or assessment is covered under the Copyright Act and requires no licensing or permissions as noted.

However, synchronising copyright content for other purposes like those listed above, requires permission from the person who owns that content. In the case of the film’s soundtrack, there are two rights to consider:

  1. The copyright in the musical work (the music and lyrics); and
  2. The copyright in the sound recording (the subject matter housing that musical work).

Musical works are protected by a different copyright than the sound recording that houses them. What this means is that the person who owns the copyright in the music, may not be the same person who owns the copyright in the sound recording. If your student used a commercial sound recording of a musical work, then they need to make sure they get permission for both copyrights. If they recorded their own version of a copyright work, then they only need to seek permission for the music, not the sound recording.

It’s important that students begin the process of seeking permission as far in advance as they can – especially when entering in competitions like Top Screen – to ensure that if permission isn’t able to be granted, they have enough time to find a supplementary song.

Students should also keep in mind that they can use public domain works and sound recordings, free-for-use music like Creative Commons works or even pay a small fee to use Production Music if they can’t obtain permission for commercially released, copyright-protected music.

The first step to seeking permission though, is locating the copyright owner and we can assist in this process. If the student submits a Research Form to us, we can provide contact details for the relevant person and the student will need to approach them directly to request permission.

To seek permission to use a commercial sound recording of a work, the student must also contact the record label that owns the recording. The record label is noted on the back of the CD or in the album details on a legal digital download. If you are unsure who the record label is you can contact ARIA.

For more information on synchronisation rights and seeking permission, click here.

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