In A Confusing World of Legalese – Creative Counsel

Your Questions Answered!
Write in with your questions about the confusing legalities in the world of music or filmmaking, and make informed, professional decisions that affect your creative work. Manojna Yeluri, Founder of Artistik License, clears the fog with her regular column on the questions you ask, to get the answers that you need.

Artistik License is a legal education and services platform dedicated to addressing the needs and queries of artists and creative entrepreneurs in India.

When you’re shooting a film, it’s always wise to make a checklist with respect to the permissions you need, before filming. Prepare the checklist from the perspective of the content that is used, rather than whom you need to get permission from. This approach will eliminate any confusion you might experience at a later stage, with respect to whether you can include something in your film or not. If you’re going to be filming a documentary on bands or folk artists, then you ought to take their permission before interviewing them and then incorporate that content. In addition, you do need to get permissions from the musicians with respect to including their music – even if you’re recording their performance as a part of your documentary. Additional permissions for music need to be taken owing to the fact that the musicians have a copyright over the music, as well as performer’s rights. The most streamlined way to obtain these permissions is to prepare a contract, or what is commonly referred to as an ‘Artist Release’ whereby the artist clearly reads and signs off on what rights you have as a filmmaker over the content produced by the artist. A word of caution – folk music and folk performances are a bit of a grey area owing to the fact that it is difficult to determine copyright and ownership over such content (since often, folk music is a community based art form). However it is important to offer them a release which explicitly states that you have their permission to record and then incorporate their performances.

If you’re interested in making a simple Artist Release Form, you can do so by printing your terms and conditions clearly on a letter head or a document containing your insignia. Ideally then, you should make two copies containing your signature and the artist’s signature. Although it is possible to draft such a release form yourself, I recommend seeking professional legal help in order to ensure that you don’t miss out on something important. Remember legal assistance and knowledge is very specialised, so do take help when you can get – consult a lawyer before sending out a Release Form

As many of you might know, there’s something very negative and sinister about the idea of signing a contract. Fortunately though, not all contracts or agreements have to be filled with legal jargon. I highly recommend getting agreements in place in order because (1) It ensures all terms are clear and there’s no room for confusion later, and (2) Getting things in writing strengthens your case in the event of a dispute.

Depending on your needs, you can choose the format of your agreement. If you’re dealing with a huge budget and big players, then get an agreement drafted and registered by a lawyer. If you’re uncomfortable with the idea of registrations, then please draft an agreement, print it on your letterhead and get it counter signed. Finally, if you want to make it really simple, ask your lawyer or consultant to help you draft an agreement that says what needs to be said in simple language. The choice is yours, but don’t shy away from investing in some legal help at the initial stages. As someone rightly said, ‘failing to plan, is planning to fail’ – so include basic legal costs in your budget.

Script registrations might have to be obtained for several reasons – the most obvious question is usually with regards to ascertaining copyright ownership over the script. In India (and a few other countries that are party to what is known as the Berne Convention), we have something called automatic copyright registration. This means that if your content satisfies the requirements for copyrightability, then the mere fact that you have expressed this in some kind of tangible format implies that you are its rightful copyright owner. While this informal but automatic copyright protection is beneficial, its scope is limited. By obtaining a formal registration with the Copyright Office of India, you give yourself the opportunity to exercise several rights. Many producers and investors prefer that you obtain a formal registration – this is also great from the scriptwriter’s point of view as it makes the whole process much clearer. In addition to copyright registration, a scriptwriter may also have to register his or her work with a local union or trade association of some sort, in light of industry standards and collective bargaining. A great example is the Film Writers’ Association in India or the FWA. Registration of this sort implies compliance with industry standards and may subsequently allow you to gain access to certain opportunities, investors and producers.

Although copyright registration does help you to protect your script and perhaps other descriptive material with respect your movie, it is important to understand that there are other intellectual property rights that you need to be careful of too. So if you’re looking to protect your movie’s title or tagline, then you might have to consult a lawyer and proceed with trademark registration instead.

Manojna Yeluri

Manojna Yeluri is an independent legal consultant advising artists and startups on issues related to IPR and entertainment law. She also founded and runs Artistik License – a legal education initiative for artists working in India that’s meant to empower artists through simplified legal knowledge. When she's not talking to artists, you can find her drinking tea and trying her hand at all kinds of DIY craft projects. You can read more about her work with Artistik License at

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