Lights, Camera… Insurance!

Michael Spanierand by Michael Spanier

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One of the most important aspects of film and television production is the clearance procedure. A little known fact about entertainment lawyers is that we spend much (okay…some… well, precious little actually) of our day in our offices watching movies. Or cartoons. Or television shows. All in the name of “E&O Clearance Procedures.”

The importance of ensuring that a production is clear from an errors and omissions perspective cannot be emphasized enough. From the day a producer acquires the rights to a script, an underlying novel or a real-life story, the E&O journey begins. Every single character’s name in the script must be checked to ensure there isn’t someone out there with that exact name who may think they are being portrayed without their permission. All the proposed signage for stores, institutions and other locations must be researched to ensure the names and logos are not subject to copyright or trademark restrictions. If the characters and locations are real, permission must be granted and consents signed. Only certain phone and license plate numbers may be used.

Once the script is written and production begins, all props on set must be checked to ensure no copyright or trademark infringement exists. Fictional cereal being eaten in the fictional restaurant by the fictional family must be cleared before the box can be put on the table.

A rough version of the finished production is then reviewed to ensure nothing was missed and no golden arches appear in the background of the outdoor shot at an intersection in a busy downtown location. One little known fact is that generally the outside facades of buildings are clear to portray, except the Empire State Building. That is why you often see the Chrysler Building in establishing shots of New York.

Finally, the title is chosen and again, submitted for research. Have any other movies been released recently with the same or similar title? It happens more often than one may think.

And then, with a clear title, the movie or television show can be released to the adoring public without fear (or very little fear, unless you’re Sasha Baron-Cohen and his distributors of course) of a lawsuit being filed alleging breach of privacy, defamation, trademark or copyright infringement.

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