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Using a clip from another film in your film

John W. King

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Hello all,


Here's a question that I would like to know the answer to:


I'm preparing to shoot a short film, which will be entered into various film festivals, and there is a scene in the movie in which the protagonist is watching an old Western film (haven't decided on which one yet, but most likely The Wild Bunch (1969)). The movie will mostly be shown in the background, though for a few seconds I plan on shifting focus to show some of the violence from the clip.


Now, my question is, would there be any copyright/legal issues with this? I plan on giving full credit to the studios in the final credits.




John W. King

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It's been done before - one of my professors at CalArts made a documentary called "Los Angeles Plays Itself" which was the history of Los Angeles as shown in movies over the decades that have filmed there. It's a great documentary but he pulled decades of clips from laserdiscs and DVD's, etc. without clearance, so the film was only shown in film festivals and places like the American Cinematheque - it was sort of an annual event there. It finally got a release on DVD somehow, I don't know how the licensing was worked out.


So while you are not legally allowed to do it, if you never distribute the movie and only show it in one-off screenings, it is unlikely the studio would take the time to come after you. And some places may decide to not screen it without clearances. So you run that risk.


There are westerns that have fallen into public domain which would be safer to use, but they are probably older and less violent than "The Wild Bunch".

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Thom Andersen was able to release “Los Angeles Plays Itself” after the massive stretching of fair-use license in the last decade opened that door for him (I can’t find the interview in which he discusses it at length, but I will post it if I do). Fair-use covers you if you’re making some sort of commentary on that film, as Andersen is doing, but you might have to stretch that for a work of fiction filmmaking. But, as David mentions, if you explicitly state that you have no commercial intentions with the work then a theoretical court would be more likely to rule that you are within the bounds of fair use. I am working this out currently with a documentary project in which someone performs a famous song. To be on the safe side, you might be better off just using something that is public domain. It will take some hunting for the right clip, but it seems that the actual source of the clip itself is not instrumental to your story.

Edited by Kenny N Suleimanagich
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At college our tutor made us clear two 10-second pieces of soundtrack only from a comtemporary TV series (Brideshead Revisited) but that may have been more of a exercise in professional practice. Anyway, we asked, and ITV said yes.

But then the scope of fair dealing is much narrower in England.

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