The Legal Pitfalls That Animators Must Navigate

I would love to go into much more detail on the topic but unfortunately, I don’t have that long a lunch break to knock one out. So instead, here’s a quick run-down of what animators should be aware of when it comes to their work.

For the record, I am not a lawyer and the following should not be construed as legal advice. If in doubt, consult a legal professional, preferably one with a Bar Association logo on their newspaper ad.

When it comes to animation, there are a variety of laws that animators must concern themselves with. Perhaps most prominent is contract law and labour laws, which naturally help determine how long you work and how and when you are paid.

I read numerous stories that pop up fairly frequently regarding various setups that invariably involve the production of animation without pay. These can take the form of a competition, test or and “internship”. I use inverted commas because no internship as defined by law allows the intern to actually undertake anything even resembling work without due compensation.

Another aspect is overtime. Again, it is worth having an inside-out knowledge of your working contract. Bear in mind that for some, this may be in the form of an agreement that the union may have with the company. I’ve found that the TAG Blog to be a good source for explanations in this regard.

Besides the various labour laws, the second big grouping of legislation that animators run up against is copyright. In general, if you create work for a studio or otherwise entity that compensates you for the work created, you do not have rights to said work. In other words, it is created under a “for-hire” arrangement. For most studio employees, this is the nature of their work.

If you are creating your own stuff, then it is owned entirely by you unless you sell or otherwise transfer ownership and/or rights to another party. This would be the case of you pitched a TV show idea to a network who subsequently purchased it.

It is important to remember that you are responsible for monitoring your work. In other words, if someone is plagarising your work, it is your responsibility to notify the responsible party in order to rectify the situation. A while back, an animator I know had issues with someone on YouTube outright copying his work without due recognition. After failing to rectify the situation through communication, he simply contacted YouTube and had the video removed.

having said that, keep in mind that fan-art or personal art featuring personal interpretations of copyrighted material may still fall under trademark law, where the rights are assigned to a particular character and not the individual piece of work.

In today’s modern, internet-crazed age, many animators are rightly eager to get their films online for all to see. This is encouraging, yet I wonder how many are familiar with the single most important law regarding the internet and copyright? In the US, it is the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (wikipedia link) and it outlines certain conditions regarding the uploading and availability of copyrighted content on the internet.

For instance, it outlines the concept of safe havens for ISPs and website owners in relation to user content and outlines the nature by which content can be considered infringing. Animators should be keenly aware of this, especially if you would like to upload films you produced under contract, studio employment or otherwise “for-hire” work. It should be especially noted that even inclusion in a demo reel is grounds for a takedown notice. A few months back, Berlin-based David OReilly found this out when the U2 video that he made was yanked off You-Tube for copyright violation by Universal Records. This should serve as a stark reminder that although he posted it as a way to inform and display his own talents, the copyright owner thought differently.

If in doubt, get everything in writing and consult with a legal professional before signing any contracts. Read through any contracts and be aware of your obligations before signing, you will not have any excuses later on. If you are considering putting a video online whose copyright or other rights do not belong to you, get clearance first or better yet, negotiate a clause in your contract that allows you to publicize your creations.

If anyone out there has any other advice, please add it to the comments. This is all I could come up with in half an hour.

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