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Does a Client Modifying Your Video Constitute Copyright Infringement?

August 23rd, 2017

Ken in Texas said:

I recently shot some photos and video of a vacant lot for a Realtor. I asked him if he wanted music on the video and he declined. A few days later, I saw the video on his YouTube channel and he had added music to it. He also linked to that video from other real estate sites.

The contract I have with him has this wording in it regarding copyright: “All images and videos produced by Company remain the property of Company and are protected under USA and International copyright laws. Company may use the images and videos for the promotion of Company business.

Company grants to Client exclusive license to use the finished Product for purposes of promoting Client’s business or other uses. Client may not sell or transfer Product without prior written permission of Company.”

Two questions: Has he violated my copyright? Should I have language in the contract that explicitly prohibits modifying the video to add music, titles, etc?

It doesn’t sound like he’s violating your copyright to me. If the client is using the video to sell the property you shot, there’s no problem. Transfering the video means giving or selling it to some other party.

As for not allowing clients to modify your video, that’s up to you to decide but I don’t see any point asking him not to adding music or titles. This is beyond most Realtors technical ability but I don’t see that it’s a big problem.

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4 Responses to “Does a Client Modifying Your Video Constitute Copyright Infringement?”

  • This is probably a question for a lawyer, not only for what is allowed but an exclusionary clause for modifications made to original content (authorized or otherwise) that you are not aware of. What if the music itself was copyrighted and the Realtor didn’t have a license to use. Think about it, marketing a vacant lot with the Beatles “Imagine” soundtrack…and you are noted in the credits as having created the video – who is the owner of the copyright going to go after – (everyone, and your legal cost go up to extract yourself). While that is an extreme example, lesser artist are more likely to get past YouTube filters where Realtors typically host video, but it is copyrighted music none the less. I have had to decline request to use similar soundtracks as background music in tours, but it is an easy discussion as they hadn’t even thought of it. It is also an easy discussion with home owners then photographing a house to turn the TV off. While there is zero chance I would be photographing a house during Super Bowl or some other NFL game, children’s programing and other content is equally protected, and Disney is equally aggressive as the NFL in protecting their brand.

  • Thanks for the replies. Fortunately in this instance, the realtor used copyright free YouTube music, so there’s no concern about that. I suppose my primary concern is that he added music after telling me it wasn’t needed, and I lost the fee for my add-on service. Oh well, live and learn.

  • I would think (I’m not a copyright lawyer of course) that any modification form the original is a copyright infringement. You own the copyright (you own the video), so you have the say on what can and can’t be done with it. What if it was a image and the person added some crazy font telling how great the house is to the image. Rather it’s actually a copyright infringement or not, you also have to worry about someone looking at that video and thinking you did it. It might show poorly on you if this person added some bad music that didn’t go with the video correctly. What if he added a rap or thrash metal song to your video (and it is your video, you’re just licensing it out). Personally, I would just let it go, but that’s just me and everybody is different.

    As far as putting in the licensing agreement that any videos/photos you have can’t be modified, it wouldn’t hurt to put it in.

  • I am not a lawyer and cannot give legal advice. Now that that’s been said, I’m not sure a claim of copyright infringement is the most relevant issue at hand. Technically, you might be able to argue that the addition of music and titles constitutes the creation of a derivative work or a violation of the right to modify the work, which is reserved by the copyright holder unless otherwise granted. But the potential merits of the case seem far outweighed by the negative consequences of pursuing it that way.

    Consider this: Assuming this issue is important enough to you to dispute or go to court over, any copyright infringement claim (at the time of this writing) requires the suit be filed in federal district court. So you’re deep into attorney fees and court costs before you even find out whether the court will give your case the necessary credence to proceed. On the other hand, if your case cites a breach of contract, rather than a copyright infringement, you could generally file in the appropriate local court, possibly even small claims. Of course, if your contract does not reference the issue at hand, I probably wouldn’t go that route in this specific instance, either.

    As your goal is to preserve your relationship with clients while still protecting your own interests, my suggestion would be to contractually restrict further editing/annotation of the work, if for no other reason than to prevent someone from seeing your video and images with music and titles you did not create (possibly of poor quality) and mistakenly thinking that is the type of work you would deliver. It doesn’t seem any different to me than including a clause in the contract preventing clients from applying Instagram filters to delivered work before they post the image.

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