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-   -   Shooting Someone's House (http://www.dvinfo.net/forum/taking-care-business/5375-shooting-someones-house.html)

Mark Moore December 9th, 2002 12:11 AM

Shooting Someone's House
I hope I'm posting in the right place.

For example - if I were to shoot someone's home that is decorated for Christmas - as either a documentary short or narrative short - do I need their permission? I wouldn't be in their yard (film from the street) and I need no audio from the owners/renters.

I would shoot either the entire house or;
Close-ups of their decorations (but the house may or may not be recognizable);
Or anything in between or in combinations of those two shots?

Had an idea for a short, but didn't have a clue to the answer to this question!

Thanks in advance.

John Locke December 9th, 2002 01:48 AM


Yep...there are releases for just about everything. What you need is a location release.

Rob Lohman December 9th, 2002 08:23 AM

Wasn't it so that if it is not recognizable that you do not need
a permit? (not sure about this). You be better off safe than sorry
anyway so get one. I have a location release sample form from
a book if you need one.

Good luck!

Mike Avery December 9th, 2002 03:53 PM

We've always worked under the guideline that if it's viewable from public property (the sidewalk, road, etc.), it's fair game without a release.

Mike Avery

Mark Moore December 9th, 2002 04:25 PM

Would that be an accurate statement - that if it is fair game if viewable from public property (sidewalk/street) or if the house is not "recognizable" (ie: close ups)?

Or is the definitive answer that regardless of how I shoot it, I need a release?

As you could easily figure, I don't want to shoot a dozen decorated houses, then ask for releases from individuals whom I don't know and would probably "give me the business" anyway! I'm not even sure which houses I'm shooting, just planned on riding around and finding "the right ones".

Thanks all for the input.

Robert Knecht Schmidt December 9th, 2002 06:10 PM

Rock & Roll Hall of Fame + Museum case
I think the "fair game" policy is accurate under Title 17, Section 120 of US Code (http://www4.law.cornell.edu/uscode/17/120.html). A notable counterexample is the famous Rock & Roll Hall of Fame case, in which the Rock Hall received an injunction to block the sale of local photographer Charles Gentile's postcards and posters bearing his image of the Rock Hall. The Rock Hall claimed that the distinctive facade of its I. M. Pei-designed building, though in plain public view, was a work of art protected by trademark. The Rock Hall had registered the name of the building and its design as trademarks with the US PTO. (Incidentally, the photographer reversed the ruling on appeal, but it probably still cost him a pretty penny in legal fees.)

There have been similar challenges involving the the pyramid-shaped Transamerica Tower in San Francisco, the Chrysler Building in New York City, and Daytona Beach. The Dallas skyline may have even been claimed trademark by the Dallas Chamber of Commerce!

So copyright law should protect you the videographer, but trademark law may be another story. Take heart, however: one web page states that fewer than 100 buildings in the United States are registered trademarks. So you should be all right so long as you don't go around shooting famous buildings.

Jason Wood December 9th, 2002 06:27 PM

The "if it's visible from public property it's fair game" thought sounds pretty logical.

I mean...I doubt TV shows like Cops, etc...have to clear every house the camera op gets in frame as they drive through suburban neighbor hoods looking for suspects and I doubt news crews have to get permission to stand in the street and tape a location where a murder took place. I know your situation differs, but as long as you're not doing anything slanderous...or making porn or anything like that...I can't see you getting in to any trouble.

But what do I know?

In the end it's probably best to consult with an entertainment attorney.

Jeff Donald December 9th, 2002 08:06 PM

Cops operates from a different point of law. Journalism is protected (hard to call Cops journalism, but it is reality based) and they operate from a different point. Documentaries don't usually share the same protection.

My approach would be to tape the homes. Return with a release and a VHS copy of their home and ask them to sign the release in return for the tape. The compensation (VHS tape) will make the release more of a contract. I've found that if you're up front about your intentions most people would be honored to have their home included.


Mark Moore December 9th, 2002 10:35 PM

Thanks for all the input. Just to be clear (or less clear) - in my original post, I suggested this would be a documentary or narrative short.

I had a loose idea in my head about a guy who was pi**ed off at his wife, got in his car to cool down and drove around trying to get into the Christmas sprirt by looking at decorations - but ended up making rude comments at them. I have some pretty decent lines sketched out, and a beginning and an end, but didn't want to shoot this and 'do the wrong thing'!

I'm still unclear as to what to do. I doubt people, that I don't know would be willing to give me permission to make fun of their decorations - and in fact, there are probably some that would consider my idea sacreligous, but it's really just another comedy. Therefore, I'm not sure how honored the homeowners would be.

That is one reason I wondered if I shot this in a way that the decorations were visible, tied into the comments, but the house was not really indentifiable, would I be relatively safe?

It's all speculation right now, but if I do this, I need to do it in two weeks or so, or I don't have any decorations to shoot!

The verdict (based on responses) is 3 to 3. I'll assume RKS' response is correct since he quoted law (or made it up to sound good), unless someone can tell me otherwise.

This may be a moot issue anyway, as if I shoot it, I still have to edit, make it into something. Then if it never gets accepted to festival, and no one sees it, who cares, anyway!?!?

Thanks again for the help.

Jeff Donald December 9th, 2002 10:44 PM

Well, your probably up a creek legally. Ridiculing, or subjecting ones personal property and the owner to embarrassment would make you liable. If it is the least bit of a recognizable image, your in trouble. If the owner was a public figure or the property was public property, you might get by calling it satire. But as you describe it, I think you're at risk.


Robert Knecht Schmidt December 9th, 2002 11:50 PM

"Ridiculing, or subjecting ones personal property and the owner to embarrassment would make you liable."

Are you sure about this, Jeff? Can ridicule really be considered libel? I think a lawyer would have a hard time convincing a jury of anguish, distress, loss of earnings, etc. because of a movie making fun of publicly displayed holiday ornamentation. I thought making fun of our neighbors is our Constitution-given right--First Amendment, baby.

Jeff Donald December 10th, 2002 06:22 AM

Well let's remember that we are talking a film that might never see the light of day. But, if it did, and viewers could recognize the house, I believe there could be a case, depending on what was said. But basically what you have is slander. Someones spoken words (recorded on tape) that defame you and your property. It could cause a loss of property value and subject you (the owner) to public ridicule. This is now a matter for lawyers, which I am not. I also do not give legal advise.


Mark Moore December 10th, 2002 07:58 AM

Again, thanks for the input. You're right - this may not see the light of day - mainly an exercise for me and practice, but it could have some funny lines and if everything fell into place, might make a decent little short. However, it was never my intention to hold anyone to public ridicule - that's why I asked the questions in the manner I did. Besides, it's not so much the house that would be the target of the script, but the decoration(s) themselves (and ultimately the actor is the target of his own abuse - taking it out on the decorations).

I know a criminal defense attorney and I will email him and see if he can answer this question. If he has an opinion, I'll forward it here.

All in all, I may still do it. If I can shoot the images I 'have in mind' to match the lines I have written, without anyone being able to say - "Hey, that's Bob's house he's talking about", then I will. If not, then at least I've learned something!

On the other hand - as a separate project - it might make a nice little documentary short to find a few houses in the area that decorate 'to the nines', do a little interview, find out why, how long, etc., and get some holiday footage. Could be interesting . . . or not! Then I would not mind obtaining releases and could probably easily get them.

Might be able to sell/give it to local news or something. If not money, then at least exposure!

Peter Wiley December 10th, 2002 08:44 AM

If one decorates one's house for Christmas one intends for it to be seen by the public and the public includes people taking pictures or videos. Why else would one decorate one's lawn except to be seen? There is no expectation of privacy here that any judge is going to spend more than a second thinking about. The homeowner is extending the invitation to look.

On the slander/libel issue. If I understand what's planned, Mark is planning pretend slander as part of a dramatic work. That's not real slander and no one would think so and clearly it's no part of his intent (which is the part of the burden of proof for slander and is very hard to prove even when it's real). Artistic expression is protected speech under most circumstances.

Now there might be a copyright issue re the design or arrangement of the decorations in the yard, but then the homeowner would have to go down to Wal-Mart and get one of those new light rope copyright symbol decoration kits to put in his yard were he to have a case . . . ;)

Jeff Donald December 10th, 2002 08:48 AM

If you want to call it art (decorating the house) then it is copyrighted when it is created and it would be a violation to copy it without the owners permission. He is inviting you to look but not copy or reproduce. My advice is don't make it recognizable.


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