Although we’re all awash in video these days, it sometimes can come as a surprise to clients that a video’s presence on the web (YouTube or Vimeo, for example), does not translate to its availability for your media project. While it’s easy to understand that the latest blockbuster is protected by copyright, the reality is that this protection is available to anybody, and your organization cannot automatically take video from a third-party source and use it without permission. (Nor can another party take video you have produced and use it without asking.) It is best to assume that unless public domain status is explicitly stated (and credible), you should assume that rights will have to be researched, permission obtained, and possibly a payment made.
What does this mean? If you have found the the perfect closing sequence, downloaded it from YouTube, and transferred it over, so the editor can lay it in to the video, don’t skip the rights step. Once the editor has spent a few hours tuning it up and fitting it perfectly with the result of the video, she may not take kindly to hearing, “oops, my bad, we don’t have rights for that.” Planning is key. Ideally, any and all third party footage will be planned in advance, logged, with usage rights explained.
But how about Fair Use you say? This is the concept that small parts of a copyrighted work can be used under restricted circumstances, such as commentary or criticism to illustrate the point being made. Although it’s possible some content in a video you hire a professional video company for might qualify as fair use, it’s best to avoid this status unless you understand the law (and the attendant risks). There are multiple factors that come into play, and unfortunately there is no clear standard to rely on in advance; instead challenges to fair use may result in litigation. That will clear up the question, but sometimes at quite a cost!
So here’s the takeaway: make sure you have the rights to use the material you want to present, and plan early.