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legal Ownership Rights To My Own Movies?

Hello, I have been wanting to produce/write/direct my own movies for some years now but it seems like a huge and complicated process. I realize this seems like a tremendous goal but I am hoping to just take a few steps at a time as far as learning everything that may be involved. I have a lot of questions about things. One thing in particular, for the moment, is ownership.. This has been something I have been worried about. I know that whoever produces/directs the movie for the most part gets the lions share of money the movie brings in, so ownership rights are important for me. How can I secure these rights considering I am new to the scene and starting from the bottom?

Like for example if I have some core movie ideas that I want to flesh out and make into feature films, should I study to become a director/producer in general or is there any other way that I can own my own movie? I mean to actually be the studio who is creating the movie for example.. I am not really a script writer, of course I can study any aspect of film creation along the way. I don't know if that would exactly be my strong point though. I am usually the guy who comes up with the ideas and inspiration for things, so I think the role of "Director" would be ideal for me to study at this point.. How would I best fit myself into the creation process and still be able to own the rights? I am thinking to Start my own studio/company and be the director as well. While learning a bit of everything else as much as I can.

I would assume being the studio and the director would be the best answer..

Studying production/directing/writing I think would probably be required since I want to have creative control as well.
I get very personal about original ideas so I might just need to be a jack of all trades in that respect.
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Staff Member
In a simplified explanation, if you put up the money and make the movie, you own it unless you give/sell the rights away.

If you have an idea for a screenplay but don't feel that you can write it well yourself, you can hire and/or collaborate with a screenwriter. You may need to pay that person or someone also just starting out may be happy with a credit and a piece of any possible revenue (which may never exist...).

Make sure you copyright a screenplay that you write or hire someone else to write. In the latter case, you need to specify up front that it's "work for hire," meaning that you own all the rights.

And you also need to copyright the movie once you make it.

I strongly advise that you start with short movies as you get your feet wet and get experience.

Good luck!


IndieTalk Founder
Staff Member
Sounds like you are putting the cart miles before the horse. If you want to start at the bottom you don't need to worry about ownership of anything unless you are funding the project or providing the screenplay, which you would copyright. If you are providing the "idea" you just need to write up an agreement. At the beginning stage you are unlikely to make money. You should focus your efforts on creation and getting that experience.
I believe there is a common-law copyright, as in, once you write a story, it's copyrighted - assuming you can prove you wrote it. The same should be true for movies, because you don't have to register a copyrighted work. But I'm not an expert in intellectual property law, so you should speak to a lawyer in your area.


Staff Member
everything comes down to contracts... you hire someone to do a job, you own their work.
its really that simple. like if you hire someone to write software app for a phone, you own the app even though someone else wrote the code.
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SFoster is correct that everything comes down to contracts, but incorrect that you automatically own the work of people you hire. Your and their rights will be specified in the contract.
ABOVE ALL ELSE, remember this. Generally speaking, the person who pushes the "on" button on the camera OWNS THE MOVIE! It doesn't matter if you wrote the script, directed it, produced it, AND financed it, copyright is automatically assigned to the creator (i.e. the camera operator). Make sure the entire camera crew signs over ALL rights, or signs an agreement that the film is "work for hire" (terminology will vary from state to state). And don't just take my word, talk to an entertainment attorney in your state to get the specifics (I'm getting old and forget shit). Even when I was producing "Officer Survival" training films for the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department, the camera crews (all members of SOC Local 600) always had to sign agreements transferring property rights ( I THINK that the entire crew had to sign similar agreements).


IndieTalk's Resident Guru
ABOVE ALL ELSE, remember this. Generally speaking, the person who pushes the "on" button on the camera OWNS THE MOVIE! It doesn't matter if you wrote the script, directed it, produced it, AND financed it, copyright is automatically assigned to the creator (i.e. the camera operator).
Perhaps a bit pedantic but the ASC (I'm assuming that what you mean by
SOC) should not be confused with IATSE 600. They are different organizations.

I've been in this business for a long time as a producer, writer, director and
cameraOp (member of IA 600) and I've never head this. I've never had to
sign over property rights as an operator.

However, could this be an issue with non-union shows? If a contract isn't
signed that specifically mentions property rights could the camera operator
actually claim ownership of the the entire movie? What if there are several
operators on a show?


IndieTalk Founder
Staff Member