Who Owns the Rights to Raw Footage?

Who Owns the Rights to Raw Footage?

As a videographer, you are sometimes asked by clients if you can give them the raw footage from their shoot. It can be confusing to be asked this for the first time as likely it is not something that you considered before. In this article, I will go over why having a raw footage policy in place is vital as a freelance videographer.


What is raw footage?

Raw footage is the unedited video and audio footage produced by a videographer’s equipment. These files are “straight out-of-camera” and have not been processed or brought into an editing program.


Were you an employee or an independent contractor?

You ability to give raw footage depends on who you work for: if you are an employee of a company when you worked on the project, the company will usually own the raw footage. If you were hired by the client as an independent contractor and there was no written contract where raw footage rights were given to the client, you are the copyright owner of the raw footage are not obligated to hand over raw footage to anyone.


Why you shouldn’t give raw footage away for free

1. It is your unfinished work

As video people, you are often hired to provide a final, edited, color corrected video. Giving clients raw video in any stage before the final version is like a construction crew letting the homeowners move into their home before the roof is finished and the plumbing is installed. It is work that is not ready to be seen or experienced.

2. Your professional integrity is at risk

Once you release the raw footage and rights to your client, they are free to do whatever they want with your creative work, even making a not-so-good video and then telling everyone that it is your work, which wouldn’t be completely false. They might use bad color grading, use bad, shaky takes, and horrible transitions and people will attribute the shoddy work to you. Yikes!

3. You could be losing out on future income

When you give away raw footage, you are also giving away the potential to make further videos from that footage to other people. The client might take the footage you shot and hire another creative to edit it.


The importance of having a clear contract

It is important to protect yourself by setting the record straight with your clients regarding your policies on raw footage, copyright, and data storage. Having clarity on both sides, from start to finish, will ensure a smooth transaction and positive customer experience.

Both sides know what the final deliverables are

Every contract should have clearly defined deliverables, which is often times the final video. If raw footage is not defined in this section of the contract, clients are not entitled to it. However, NOT defining something is simply not enough, and you should still include a clause in your contracts that specifically relate to your raw footage policy, the costs, as well as your Archival policy (I will get to what this means soon).

Your client is clear on your raw footage & copyright policies

Make this a clause in all of your client contracts. State if and how you, the creative, will retain rights to the raw footage after giving it to the client. You can give them rights to privately screen the raw footage at home, but not for public viewing, however, there is no real way to monitor this once the footage leaves your hands.

By retaining copyright of the raw footage, you can retain greater control over how the footage is used and have the legal backing of your contract to protect you.

The client already knows the cost of purchasing the raw footage

If the footage can be purchased by the client , you need to print the exact amount in this clause as well as set the usage rights for the clients, such as, only for private screening. Keep in mind that this cost can include the cost of the hard drive that you will send the raw footage on.


What is an Archival policy?

Raw footage takes up hard drive space; and as months and years go by, this space gets larger and larger, costing you thousands of dollars. Another important clause to include with your raw footage policy in your contract is your Archival Policy and how long you will hold on to raw footage before deleting it to make space for new projects. The Archival policy also frees you from any responsibility of holding onto the footage after a set length of time.

For example, in your contract, you can say that you do not keep raw footage longer than 6 months after the final delivery of the product; in order words: the client can order raw footage up to 6 months after their shoot, after which the footage will be wiped from all hard drives and is no longer your responsibility.

This means that you won’t be spending as much money on new hard drives because you aren’t holding on to raw footage from 5 years ago that you probably won’t ever use again.


How much should I charge for raw footage?

Back in 2012, Ron Dawson of Dare Dreamer Media wrote that he charges clients the greater of $500 or 5% of the total project fee for raw footage and I am inclined to agree with his method, even for video footage in 2018. A percentage-based fee schedule is a good way to scale the price to match a client’s budget. Again, whatever your fee ends up being, make sure to protect yourself and include that number in your contract.


Final Thoughts

Having a raw footage policy in place for your business is a small but important contractual aspect of freelancing as a videographer. It is not just about pleasing the client, but protecting your creative work, your brand, and your career. On top of this, it provides clarity for your client so no surprises pop up down the road.

Have any other thoughts on raw footage? Let me know in the comments!


Valerie is a freelance filmmaker, video editor, and photographer based in Honolulu, Hawaii.

5 Replies to “Who Owns the Rights to Raw Footage?

  1. just curious… i purchase storage unit contents on occasion if i say sold some footage or photos for a profitor used in part to make a larger project what are my liabilities if any to the orginal owner of footage ? being i buy their property from the auction ? this was dome helpfull information about raw footage ownership thanks

  2. What about people like me who take a photo or video once in awhile but post it on the internet in a post or maybe your kids sports for college coaches? Is it important to protect that work?

  3. Awesome! Would it also be safe to assume that having raw footage helps you protect yourself if someone says you didn’t do your job properly etc.?

  4. hi Valerie, great sharing. As a fellow filmmaker, I do agree with all the things you shared about raw footage. In my case, and I guess you also do it, everything is explicitly written in a contract on what happens with the B-roll or raw footage of a certain event that I cover. Most of the time in my case, the raw footage is as per request basis. Usually, clients just care about the final product. For those who need the b-rolls, I just don’t give out the whole plethora of shots taken. What I give are the out-takes in long form. This is probably what you see when Movie outfits share their B-roll outtakes. It is raw yet defined on a certain portion of what me or my team took =) Thanks again for sharing =) Great topic =)

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