Share this post
5 min read

When you hire a company or individual to make your video who owns it?

Making video is increasingly common and necessary to stay ahead in business but one area that often gets overlooked is copyright. Who owns the video you are having made? Like many legal matters it is not necessarily straight forward but… here is the Smarter Video guide to what you need to know.

One caveat to everything here is that I am not a lawyer. My understanding of this area has come from research and experience over ten years – and of course working with people who are experts in copyright law. The other thing to point out is that I am based in the UK. As such my experience in this area is based on UK law. Other countries tend to take a similar approach but not always. You should always research your local laws.

Not so simple

The famous grinning selfie taken by Naruto ( David J Slater/Caters News Agency )

The famous grinning selfie taken by Naruto ( David J Slater/Caters News Agency )

In 2011 a photographer set up a camera, perfected the settings and then a waited. A macaque picked up the camera and snapped the now infamous selfie above. A two year court battle ensued between the photographer and PETA over who owned the copyright.

The photographer won but it brought attention to the importance of identifying who owns the copyright for a creative work.

What does the law say?

Normally the individual or collective who authored the work will exclusively own the work and is referred to as the ‘first owner of copyright’ under the 1988 Copyright, Designs and Patents Act. However, if a work is produced as part of employment then the first owner will normally be the company that is the employer of the individual who created the work.

Freelance or commissioned work will usually belong to the author of the work, unless there is an agreement to the contrary, (i.e. in a contract for service). –

Essentially this gives us two pieces of information:

  1. If you have a video team working for your business full-time, and on your payroll any video they create as part of their job belongs to the company.
  2. If you hire a freelancer or external video production company to make a video – they own the copyright.

The law favours whoever creates the content and is responsible for the creative, design, technical implementation of that work.

What does this mean practically?

Practically however this feels like it doesn’t quite work. The idea that a video that you have paid for beings to someone else is a strange concept.

In reality however most video production companies aren’t bothered about the copyright of the end product. You have paid for it and therefore they consider it yours.

Legally however, this is not the case. Discuss this with a video production company as most will happily include, as part of the terms and conditions of the contract, that you have copyright over the end product. This will offer you the protection that you need.

What about the raw footage?

What video production companies are less inclined to give away is the copyright to the raw footage. Video production companies know that their client will get the copyright on the finished video and be able to use it as they want – and rightly so.

The raw footage however is legally ours and most production companies and freelancers don’t want to just give it away. There are a couple of reasons for this that go beyond copyright:

Raw footage is too raw.

The raw footage is just that… raw. It hasn’t been coloured or treated or edited. It looks plain and doesn’t necessarily show either our work or our clients in the best light. As a result we try to avoid this being seen. Remember what you see in the finished video is the result of hours, days or weeks of work. You wouldn’t judge a painter based on his paint in a tube – editors don’t want to be judged on their paint.

Future work

For a video production company having raw footage is a valuable commodity. It helps keep the relationship with their client alive. They know the client will come back to them if they ever need the footage to be re-edited. Giving up the raw footage feels like they are losing a client or future work. 

Cost and time

Footage takes up a lot of hard drive space. The files are not small! transferring this takes time, hard drives which start at £80 or more, postage and a lot of patience. As a result if you want to get raw footage from a video production company you should always expect to pay.


Other than copyright there are other legal issues like:

  • Model releases
  • Talent agreements and usage
  • Copyright and licensing of music, graphics, logos, performers and locations

When it comes to video owning the copyright does not mean you have the freedom to do what you like with a video. The simple solution if you have any confusion over copyright or the myriad of legal issues is to talk with your video producer before you begin a project. Make sure you have, written down, a clear indication of who owns copyright of what. If you do that you can’t go wrong.

For more information about Smarter Video take a look here.

Please get in touch and let me know what you would like to learn or read about.


Share this post