Rick is an experienced Nashville intellectual-property litigator and an erstwhile part-time professor at Vanderbilt University Law School whose writing and teaching focuses on copyright issues but whose law practice involves a wide variety of IP-related disputes.
As Between the Director and the Producers, Who Owns a Movie’s Copyright?
When the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences hands out the award for Best Picture, the award goes to the movie’s producers. The director, the actors, the cinematographers, make-up artists, and so forth, all get their own awards, of course. But Best Picture goes to the producers. As it should be. They are the ones who pull the movie together: they arrange for the screenplay (either to be created or to be licensed); they hire everyone; they finance it; they pitch it to financiers, actors, other producers, directors. Sometimes they are also closely involved in the movie’s creative vision. It’s not unusual for directors to also be producers, or for the producers to participate in the direction of and screenwriting for the movie. Other producers (often “executive producers”) view matters at a much higher level: they’re content to organize, finance, hire and consult.
So, from a business perspective, a producer may legitimately be said to “own” a movie. But do the producers automatically own the copyright in the movie? Until very, very recently, I would have thought the answer was clearly and obviously no. The director is the…