1) First and foremost, it's not ethical. If you're making it for a class than
I don't think there's any objection. But once you start charging admission or
rental, you've become a thief of other people's rights be it a single
starving artist or giant multimedia conglomerate.
2) It is illegal and any company (especially Disney and the Chaplin estate)
can come at you at any moment in the film's life be it opening night or five
years down the line and with a simple cease-and-desist, make the film
3) No legitimate company would distribute the film without the proper
clearances. If a company is willing to, I suspect they are unethical as well
-- and as a filmmaker, I wouldn't be dealing with them. I don't care if it's
a nonprofit or for-profit. I definitely suspect the company you bought the
tape from and personally, I would take it off your stacks.
As nice as Milestone is supposed to be, when I find a film or website that is
using our copyrighted footage illegally, I immediately send a
cease-and-desist letter off to the producer. If that doesn't work, I take
legal action. It's my moral and contractual obligation to my producer or
So, the answer to your filmmaker is yes, people do this all the time. Is it
legal? No. Is it ethical? No. Can it get you and your film in trouble? Yes.
The hardest part of any project --beyond making a good film -- is clearing
rights and there are people who assist in this process for a fair fee.
If this person wants a distributor and film festival exposure, she might want
to make the film first and if there is interest, then she or the
distributor/television buyer can clear the rights. OR she can clear the
rights to the film clips that are fairly reasonable and find substitutes for
those too expensive. There are also many articles about the use of footage in
"The Independent" magazine over the past two years which she might want to
She should also see the most ingenious non-use of copyrighted material, Tony
Buba's "Lightning over Braddock" (Zeitgeist Films) and the Jumping Jack Flash
accordion scene. It is the blueprint for imagination, style and social
conscience in an independent, low-budget film.
Milestone Film & Video
PO Box 128
Harrington Park, NJ 07640
Phone: (201) 767-3117 or in the US (800) 603-1104
Fax: (201) 767-3035