Everyone who renders a creative service on your picture may have a claim to the picture’s copyright, since copyright vests the moment the creation is fixed in a tangible medium. You avoid copyright vesting by making each person execute a Work-For-Hire Agreement prior to the commencement of services. All of the employment agreements related to your production from the director down to the editor are Work-For-Hire Agreements. Everyone agrees, via the Work-For-Hire Agreement, that they are being paid for their services and, hence, that they are not the owners of the proceeds of their services. The copyright never vests in anyone you hire if they sign the Work-For-Hire Agreement prior to the commencement of services. You will have to secure an assignment of copyright from anyone who slips through the cracks. Below are what I call the “Six Magic Clauses” that must be included in every Work-For-Hire Agreement.
The Work-for-Hire Agreement will include a clause that states the details of the employment. For an actor, the role is specified. For anyone else, the position they are being hired to fill is specified. It will also include the dates of the employment.
The Work-For-Hire Agreement will state the fixed and contingent compensation that is being paid to the person being hired. It can be expressed as a weekly salary, as in the case of a crew member, or as a lump sum that is being paid in installments.
Everyone that renders services on a picture receives a screen credit. The creatives on the film are considered above-the-line and they are credited in the main titles, e.g., producers, director, writer(s), talent, casting agents, editor, composer, production designer, etc. Their credit in paid ads is up for negotiation. The crew, the technicians, and support staff, are credited in the end titles and do not receive their credit in paid ads.
Results and Proceeds
The Work-For-Hire Agreement includes a clause that confers upon the production company the results and proceeds of the employees services. This clause is why the copyright does not vest the employee, so long as the Work-For-Hire Agreement is signed prior to the commencement of services. I also include a copyright assignment in this clause just in case the results and proceeds of the employee’s labor do not vest in the production company.
Name, Voice, and Likeness
The Work-For-Hire Agreements always include: a “Name, Voice, and Likeness” clause, which grants the production company the right to advertise the picture. All distributors require this clause in the Work-for-Hire Agreements, since they cannot market, advertise, and distributor the picture without it.
No Injunctive Relief
Another very important clause that is included in all Work-For-Hire Agreements is the “No Injunctive Relief” Clause. If you will remember, an injunction is a court order that can put a stop to the production or the distribution of the picture.