Clearing Audio Visual for Documentaries: Advice from Cathy Carapella of Global ImageWorks

Cathy Carapella began working in the music clearance business in 1984. She met Jessica Berman Bogdan in 1995 when they both worked on the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction films.  Jessica was in charge of audio-visual research and Cathy was heading-up the rights clearance team.  Today, Cathy and Jessica work together at Global ImageWorks where they continue to provide research and rights and clearance services to filmmakers and specialize in archival music documentaries. 

Recent projects include: The Beatles: Eight Days A Week, Danny Says, Who the F**k is That Guy? The Fabulous Journey of Michael Alago, Sidemen: Long Road to Glory, Michael Jackson's Journey from Motown to Off the Wall, Montage of Heck, and Supermench

The top three things Global ImageWorks would like all archival music filmmakers to know are: 

1. The clearance work starts in pre-production.

This is essential when making a music documentary. Sadly, this rule is all too often ignored. Knowing what needs to be cleared, creating a game plan for dealing with clearances and clearance related issues (i.e. fair use), organizing the audio-visual elements and its associated copyright data are all part of an important foundation.  Integrating the research and clearance schedules into the production schedule, budgets and grant of rights are all issues that need to be discussed in pre-production.

“It’s best to get all your legal documents such as talent and material releases together in pre-production. This way you can send the paperwork over with the request rather than after the fact. This will save you valuable time” advises Carapella. 

2. Budget time as well as money for music clearances.

Most producers know they need a licensing budget. What’s often not understood is the amount of time it can take to secure the clearances.  Record companies and music publishers may be required to secure “prior consent” from performer(s) or writer(s) before they’re at liberty to quote on your project.  This process can add to the clearance timeline.  

3. Source as much material as you can directly from the copyright holders.

“Building a rough cut out of YouTube downloads and then looking to unravel the rights ownership is not a cost-effective process” says Carapella. “At that point, you’re starting with a deficit of knowledge that needs to be completely rebuilt.” There are several first-rate professional archives that represent performance footage, like Reelin’ in the Years, Historic Films, Retro Clips, WPA and Global ImagesWorks to name a few.  “Sourcing your footage directly from the right holder is the way to go. Doing so saves time, money and it makes ordering edits masters much easier” recommends Carapella.  

Overall, rights and clearances is an organic process. There are known considerations, but not a lot of consensus or hard and fast rules. It’s fairly standard for each production to review their clearance related issues with their legal and clearance team. Generally speaking, the lawyer assigned to the project will establish the clearance guidelines, policies and set the strategic foundation. Then, the clearance team facilitates the assignment. “In the end, you want the person who’s going to defend the decision to make the decision,” says Carapella.

A major factor that plays into the clearance strategy include an understanding of what is and is not covered by E & O insurance. "Once you know that, you can work backwards and figure out your clearance requirements," advises Carapella. 

Know the possible financial investment. When working with music performance footage, there may be multiple layers that need to be cleared and each layer will likely require a fee. For example, a single performance clip may include: The copyright holder of the clip Artist consents The music publisher of the song being preformed   Record company rights Unions and guilds permissions.

Clip Rights

Clip rights are obtained from the copyright holder of the footage. This may be a footage archive like Reelin’ in the Years Productions or Historic Films, or an individual rights holder. Music performance footage is typically considered Premium footage and is licensed at rates higher than standard stock and archival fees.

Artist Rights

Artists rights are typically obtained from the artist, band or estate. In the case of a band that’s still together, one clearance will usually suffice. In the case of a band that is no longer together, rights must be obtained from each individual band member.

Music Rights

Often referred to as synchronization rights, this permission covers the use of a specific song or piece of music. In most cases, these rights are represented by a music publishing company. If the song is lip-synched, a record company clearance will be required. Record companies may also have a Blocking Rights clause in the artist contract which would require you to seek their consent, even if the song is not lip-synced.  

Guilds & Unions

Unions and guilds have authority over content created pursuant to a union contract. The main unions to consider are: Screen Actors Guild/American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG/AFTRA); Writers Guild of America (WGA); Directors Guild of America (DGA); and the American Federation of Musicians (AFM).

"In almost cases, the fees are negotiable," says Carapella. "The variable is too great to guesstimate – it can be anywhere from a few hundred dollars to several thousands of dollars depending on the clip and its union obligations. This is why it’s important to work with someone who knows what they’re doing and to address these issues in pre-production."  

A Production Bible is the End Game for Clearances

Ultimately, all clearance documentation, including fully-executed agreements, releases and payment records for all third-party material, ends up in the production bible. “A fantastic clearance bible is the pot of gold at the end of the project,” says Carapella.