Television Production Handbook 
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1980-2009 Roger Inman & Greg Smith. All rights reserved.

Rights and Responsibilities

Television, more than any other medium, by nature can invade the privacy and trample on the rights of the people it uses. The television producer makes himself responsible to the people shown on camera and to the creators of materials he might use. He must also guarantee that he will use his medium responsibly and fairly. The ability to make and distribute television programs depends largely on the continuing trust these people have for the producer and his crew.

Rights can be divided broadly into those involving people who actually appear on camera and those involving the acquisition and use of the creative works of others. The two sometimes overlap when musical or dramatic performances are involved. Both need to be given careful attention.

People on camera

In certain kinds of programs everyone who appears on camera does so by choice. This doesn't necessarily give the producer the free and clear right to use recordings made under these circumstances in any way he pleases. First, those appearing should be informed of the intended use of the recording and its potential distribution. Understanding the producer's intentions, they should then give the producer permission to carry out those intentions by signing a "release form" stating the intent of the producer and any compensation to be received by the performer.

In other programs, people may be videotaped without permission. This may be done if the following conditions are met:

1. The taping is done in a public place.

2. No attempt is made to hide the fact that a recording is being made.

In any case, a person appearing on camera is in the hands of the producer, who has certain responsibilities toward him:

1. To respect any verbal promises or understandings made at the time the recording was make.

2. To refrain from using or editing the material in a way that alters the meaning of any statements made by the person appearing.

3. To refrain from editing the material in such a way as to misrepresent the circumstances of the recording in a way detrimental to the person appearing.

4. To refrain from distributing the material beyond the distribution agreed to and stated in the release form.

A talent release can be anything from the simple form below to a contract running hundreds of pages. It all depends on the complexity of the issues and the need to guard against unforeseen circumstances. This sample is a simple expression of good faith by both parties.

Sample release form:

General Release

In consideration of the payment to me of the sum of $___________, receipt whereof is hereby acknowledged, I hereby agree as follows:

1. I give and grant for a period of___________years (hereinafter referred to as the "Term") to MOVING PICTURES, its successors and assigns, the right to use, publish, and copyright my name, picture, portrait and likeness in a television program produced by MOVING PICTURES________________________________________and in all media and types of advertising and promotion of the above program.

2. I agree that all videotape of me used and taken by MOVING PICTURES is owned by them and that they may copyright material containing same. If I should receive any copy thereof, I shall not authorize its use by anyone else.

3. I agree that no material need be submitted to me for any further approval and that MOVING PICTURES shall be without liability to me resulting from the publication of my likeness.

4. I warrant and represent that this license does not in any way conflict with any existing commitment on my part.

5. Nothing herein will constitute any obligation of MOVING PICTURES to make any use of any of the rights set forth herein.

_________________________ _____________

(Signature) (Date)


(Printed Full Name)




If releasor is not yet 21 years old, complete the following form:

I, the undersigned, hereby warrant that I am____________________*of____________________, a minor, and have full authority to authorize the above release which I have read and approved. I hereby release and agree to indemnify MOVING PICTURES and their successors and assigns, from and against any and all liability arising out of the exercise of the rights granted by the above release.

______________________________ _________

(Signature of Parent or Guardian) (Date)

*Insert the word "parent" or "guardian," as appropriate.

Download PDF version of a sample release form.

In addition, it's important to respect the wishes of people who appear on camera. It's possible, for example, that a person recorded during a traumatic event might later decide to ask that he not be used in your program. Unless you can make a good case for the importance of that person's appearance, it would be wise to accede to his wishes. It's also a common courtesy to allow people appearing in your programs to preview material before it's shown in public. While this does not suggest that they have any right to edit or control your product, they may be able to make suggestions for changes that would improve the accuracy or impact of a program.

You also have an obligation to be fair in your treatment of issues. The composition of every shot, as well as its duration, is an editorial judgment. The process of selecting and rejecting sequences for inclusion, too, implies editorial judgments. If you have a bias or an axe to grind, get it out front both in dealing with those who appear in your program and in presenting it to your audience. No one is free of all bias, but in the communications media you have a special responsibility to the public to deal honestly and fairly with facts and with issues, as well as with people.


Copyright is the great two-edged sword everyone in the media must face sooner or later. In copyright, as in most areas of law, the more you know the more confusing it can become. Far from being legal advice, what follows is intended to let you know when to start asking the hard questions and not to lull you into a false sense of security.

Copyright is designed to foster the creation and publication of ideas by allowing the author to sell his ideas on the open market. It's thought that only if the creative process can provide economic rewards to creative people can the maximum flow of ideas be promoted. Thus, to deprive an author of his right to earn money by selling his product, whether a photograph, book, song, or videotape, harms us all by discouraging him from publishing his work.

Any use of a copyrighted work without the copyright holder's permission is an infringement of his rights. In certain cases, however, such use can be defended using the principles of "fair use." This basically means that the use will not cause financial injury to the author and that the need of the public to have use of the material can be demonstrated to be more important than the author's right to protect his creative work. Except in broadcast news and educational situations there is little point in considering "fair use" further.

Tthe proliferation of home recorders (both video and audio) has created a right to record materials for personal, private use. You do not have the right to "distribute, duplicate, or perform (present to an audience)" your home recordings except under very limited fair use guidelines. There are limited exceptions for educational use, but whether you make a profit violating someone else's copyright is irrelevant. The mere fact that you're not making any money does not give you permission to break the law.

A perfect (and common) technical violation of copyright takes place when you videotape your child's performance in a school concert or play. As long as the recording is for personal use only this kind of taping is permissible. If the recording will be used by the participants as part of their training it's okay. Again, any public performance, distribution, or duplication of your private copy (outside your immediate family) creates a real copyright violation.

The number one copyright rule is not to step on someone else's toes. It must be assumed that anything printed or published or shown is protected by copyright. This isn't literally true, but it's better to assume a work is protected until you can prove otherwise than to infringe on someone's copyright. Virtually everything in print is copyrighted. Most music, whether in sheet form or recorded is also protected. Broadcast radio and television stations pay a licensing fee to ASCAP and BMI for the right to use music on the air. Since you don't have a license to use copyrighted music, you'll have to resort to one of three alternatives: write and perform your own, buy limited rights for a specific recording or song, or buy a record library which you can use without restriction.

Dramatic works are a problem in that there are two considerations beyond merely purchasing rights. Not only will the licensing agent make sure your "performance" of a work won't conflict with any theatrical production in the same region of the country, but the agent may feel that a videotape recording of a work might, by virtue of its amateurish performance, actually harm the reputation of the work and deny permission on that ground alone. This is also true of short stories and novels, where the author has a legitimate right to impose conditions on adaptations of his work. Regardless of the type of work involved, the best way to find out who has the rights and how to acquire them is to write to the publisher of the work.

On the brighter side, as a creator of television programs, you are also protected from copyright infringement. In order to obtain protection, you should place a copyright notice prominently on your work. On a script or book it should appear on or near the title page. On a film or videotape the notice may appear at the beginning or end, as long as a viewer is likely to see it. Although an explicit copyright notice is no longer required by law, if you publish or distribute a work without a copyright notice you may give the impression you do not intend to protect your rights and are implicitly placing the work in the public domain.

Technically, you're required to register your copyright with the Register of Copyrights, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. 20559, by sending in an application along with two copies of your work. In practice this is rarely done. You can file your copyright at any time. Usually actual applications are made only if the copyright holder intends to sue someone for infringement. Obviously, the copyright has to be registered before such a suit can be brought.

In summary, a reasonable respect for the rights of people you deal with in the production of television programs is perhaps the most important single responsibility you have as a television producer. Respect for the rights of others will pave the way for your own work and the work of those who follow you. On the other hand, a disregard for the rights of others will make people reluctant to work with you, on or off camera, and close doors for everyone who depends on the good will of the public.

Taking it to the next level

If you intend to distribute your work commercially or have large quantities made by a commercial replicator you will want to take special care in documenting your rights.  Many replicators are members of the International Recording Media Association.  As one of the conditions of membership, these companies will require you to fill out a form supplied by the association (and available on their web site at and to provide documentation of the rights and permissions related to your project.  If you are using pre-recorded music you must be able to produce proof that you have the right to use the music.  This could take the form of a copy of your original contract with the music distributor, such as a “buy out” license or a letter from the distributor verifying your rights.  If your audio is licensed sparately you will need proof of audio/video synchronization licensing.  For CD's containing special software to make them play back like DVD's you will need distribution licensing documentation for the software.  You should be able to affirm that you have all of the releases necessary for your talent and permission to use any other copyrighted materials.   Needless to say, it is much easier to keep track of all of your paperwork as you go along than it is to assemble it after the fact.


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