Sharing Your Video

Understanding Copyright

Copyright logos

You may be unconcerned with copyright and intellectual property laws when trying to get important videos out to the world. This is especially true if you are working a situation where there is no rule of law. There are some instances however, especially in the longer term, when an understanding of intellectual property rights may come in handy:

  • If a site like YouTube takes down your video because of a third-party copyright claim.
  • If someone uses your video without your permission in a way you do not agree with.
  • If a television producer wants to use your video but needs to clear the broadcast rights.
  • If a film festival wants to show your video but needs the public performance rights.
  • If you want to derive revenue from your video collection.
  • If you deposit your collection in an archive that requires rights information.

Intellectual property laws vary from country to country, but there are general principles that most countries (the 165 signatories to the Berne Convention) adhere to. The following information is not intended to be legal advice or substitute for legal advice.


Copyright laws protect rights of creators to their work, including videos, for a set amount of time (around 50 years, varies by country). These rights include the right to copy, distribute, display or broadcast, and to re-use or adapt the work.

The person who records raw video footage, or who creates an edited video, automatically owns the copyright from the moment the video is created. This person can, however, transfer these rights to someone else (see “Granting Permissions” below).

In sum, copyright protection means that:

  • People cannot copy, distribute, display, broadcast, re-use, or adapt your videos without your permission.
  • You cannot copy, distribute, display, broadcast, re-use, or adapt someone else’s videos without their permission.

Exceptions to Copyright

Laws vary, but one of the general exceptions to copyright protection is “free” or “fair” uses. In some countries, free or fair uses include use for teaching purposes, use for news reporting, and copying for private, personal, non-commercial use.

This means that:

  • People can make limited use of your videos without your authorization, within the bounds of free or fair use exemptions in their country’s law.
  • You can make limited use of others’ videos without their authorization, within the bounds of free or fair use exemptions in your country’s law.

Try This: BASIC

The Fair Use/Fair Dealing Handbook summarizes fair use laws in 40 countries.

Try This: BASIC

Columbia University Libraries Copyright Advisory Office has a Fair Use Checklist to help determine whether usage falls within the limits of fair use in US Copyright law.

Granting Permissions

As a copyright holder, you can give other people permission to copy, distribute, display, broadcast, re-use, or adapt your video. There are a few ways you can do this:

Assigning copyright

Completely hand over the copyright ownership of your video to someone else, i.e. you do not have rights to it anymore. It is common for staff at organizations, for example, to have agreements that state that the work they create during work hours belongs to the organization.


Allow someone to use your video in a particular way (often for a fee), without giving up the ownership of the video. You negotiate terms that specify how, where, and for how long your video will be used. For example, you could allow a filmmaker to use 10 seconds of your video in a documentary, for DVD and European broadcast, for the next 2 years.

“Open” licensing

Allow anyone to use your video, for free and without consulting you, without giving up the ownership of your video. You can set some limitations on use. Using a Creative Commons license is one easy way to do this. With a Creative Commons license, you can specify whether uses require attribution, have to be non-commercial, and other qualifications.

  • Identify your key users, how they want to be able to find and access your videos, and if any controls need to be put on usage.
  • Create a finding aid — in the form of a guide, list, index, and/or catalog — with appropriate access points to enable your users to access your videos.
  • Make use copies from your duplication masters or originals as needed, in the format your user requires.
  • Control access to your collection, if necessary, to protect the identities of those in high-risk situations or to respect privacy.
  • Assume that anything you share or put online can be made public or used without your permission or in a way you do not agree with.
  • Be sure you have the legal rights to provide access.
Key Concept: Informed Concent

There are potential consequences to providing access. This is why you obtain informed consent when you film.
Read More

Key Concept: Generation

Provide your users with use copies generated from your duplication master or original.
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Key Concept: Finding Aid

A finding aid is the tool that you provide to your users to help them find what they are looking for.
Read More

Key Concept: Findability

A key aspect of providing access is making it easy for users navigate and locate what they are looking for.
Read More

The Archiving Workflow

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