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Independent films and legal issues

Region: Ontario Answer # 166

Independent film producers often do not have significant resources to ensure that legal issues are dealt with properly and thoroughly. The following examples are some of the common issues that arise in independent films.

First, ensure you have the legal right to produce a film based on a book, screenplay or other work. All too often, producers or screenwriters create a script and produce a film without ensuring they have the rights to the intellectual property underlying the movie.

It is also important that all of the legal relationships in the production are understood. For example, asking a writer to “polish” a screenplay written by another person can result in claims of joint ownership of the script.

Next, the legal obligations and responsibilities of any funding partnerships, investors, co-production companies or distribution companies must be clear and set out in writing. For example, who owns the rights of distribution worldwide? How will profits be calculated? Who gets “Producer” credit in the final production?

For investors, it must be clear whether the money supplied is a gift, a loan or an investment. If the funds are provided as an investment, what is the interest rate and payback schedule? If you are selling shares in the film production, you also need to be careful not to violate provincial securities laws.

Next, the film production should be properly incorporated and formed to avoid liability issues that may arise if the movie’s participants are sued for defamation or there is an injury on the set.

Finally, it is important for all intellectual property rights to be secured, including those of the final production. This may mean registering the film in multiple jurisdictions.

For more information about intellectual property law, contact the Canadian Intellectual Property Office (CIPO). If you require legal advice and assistance, you should consult a lawyer.


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