9th Circuit: An actor’s performance is copyrightable

Always get talent to sign a release!  The 9th Circuit has ruled in a case involving the infamous ‘Innocence of Muslims’ film that an actor can under some circumstances claim a copyright interest in a performance, even if the lines spoken on camera were written by someone other than the actor.

What does that mean to the average indie filmmaker?  It’s very simple: for one, that you could lose the opportunity to distribute your movie just the way you intended if you neglect having talent sign a release – and that such a release better address copyright issues amount to a waiver of all claims.

The ruling provides the best evidence ever of why it’s important for producers to get signed waivers from actors and all those who are offering creative contributions. The ruling could open up the door to many future disputes from contributors in joint works.

Don’t take a chance.  You may not live in one of the states that comprise the 9th Circuit, but this ruling could easily end up affecting your rights in your own project – or your investors’ rights – sooner or later.

Make sure the language on your appearance releases and waivers is the right one.  Always consult an attorney.

UPDATE: Great analysis of the Court’s decision, by Eugene Volokh.

MORE: Now is when we wait for the other shoe to drop.  The reality is this ruling doesn’t just upset a long-standing industry applecart.  It blows it away.  So we surely haven’t heard the last word yet…


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