Filmmakers: Know Your Rights, Use Your Voice

Image featuring: Bill Borden and Ruth Vitale | Photo credit: Mark Leibowitz



The filmmaker David Lynch thinks "ideas are like fish"—you bait the hook, you wait, and if you are lucky, or patient enough, you just might catch a great one. Of course, this idea about ideas creates a number of questions to consider because it too is an interesting idea. Where are the fish? Whose fish are they? If you catch one, is it yours?  Maybe you prefer a different metaphor—or a different filmmaker—but one thing is certain: if you grab a fish from someone else’s hook, you are neither fishing, nor are you a fisherman.

The same holds true with films and filmmakers. We live in an extremely volatile world for working creatives. It can sometimes feel as if every other week there is yet another “disruption” hatched somewhere in Silicon Valley that will eventually affect you and your work in small or large ways. This is why it is necessary for the filmmaking community to understand exactly how to capitalise on all of the new digital distribution platforms that allow expanded access to your work, while protecting that work from theft at the same time. If this sounds impossible, it’s not. If this sounds difficult, it is.

At CreativeFuture, we support the continued development of new technologies and business models that provide audiences high-quality, reliable, and convenient access to creative works, while protecting the fundamental right of all creatives to determine how their works are distributed. We also believe in strong copyright law, designed for the 21st century that protects creatives from the for-profit digital theft of their works.

As we push back against the forces that aim to rob filmmakers of their work and their livelihoods, we are also empowering the creative community to speak with a collective voice—advancing a positive, dynamic vision of a digital future that best serves audiences and artists alike. We might not ever be able to stamp out piracy entirely, but with a well-informed and mobilised creative community, we can turn the tables and make piracy more trouble than it’s worth.

But what can you do as a filmmaker to get your work seen widely without having it grabbed right from your fishhook? A good place to start is by understanding your rights and how to exercise them. But maybe you’re on the fence and still wondering why you should even care about copyright.

There are numerous oppositional forces that would like you to believe copyright is some nefarious blockade that does nothing less than impede the progress of humankind itself. And that’s not an exaggeration. Spend some time reading the fever dreams of “free and open” internet front groups like Public Knowledge and you might be led to believe copyright is a weapon instead of a protection. The fact is, copyright is the last thing standing between creatives and the unemployment line and it is being fiercely attacked and undermined by the likes of, well, Public Knowledge and its army of unwitting message—board scrawling foot soldiers.

Lest you consider this to be hyperbole as well, but from “the other side,” look no further than Google’s unwillingness to fix “notice and takedown”—a system put in place in the early days of the internet that allowed copyright holders to notify platforms that their work was being stolen. Once notified, platforms would be required to remove the offending material. However, two decades later, this system is archaic and unmanageable. In one month in 2016, Google alone received 75 million takedown notices—meaning that Google (just one of many platforms) receives roughly 900 MILLION every year. Creatives who should be writing books, recording music, or filming movies simply cannot spend their days defending their work from being stolen online in an endless game of Whack-A-Mole.

The rights designed to keep your works protected are quite literally being dismantled bit by bit, slowly and deliberately, so that you might not notice. We’ve noticed. And we must work together to stop it.

This is why we need your voice. Your creative contribution to the very fabric of our society is being threatened by those who seek to capitalise on your hard work without your cooperation or fair compensation. If you would like to give away your work for free, that is entirely up to you. But that decision is, and always will be, the fundamental right of the individual that created the particular work.

This is why we are asking you to join us. We will never ask you for a dime, just your voice. As a CreativeFuture member, you will be kept up to speed with the issues that matter to you most and that empower you with the knowledge necessary to navigate your way through the digital landscape in a way that benefits you and your work.

Our Creativity Toolkit includes a search engine that helps you to find pirated copies of your work online, as well as resources that walk you through the steps necessary to have those unauthorised works taken down, the basics of copyright protection, and how to register a copyright. We listen to our members’ concerns and will continually add more resources that meet the needs of creatives in all disciplines.

Most importantly, becoming a CreativeFuture member gives you a seat at a table where the ongoing discussion is about how we all can do more to raise awareness about the value of creativity and what can be done to combat the forces that seek to devalue what you do. The more voices we have, the more we can get done. You are the creative community and our strength is in our numbers. 

CreativeFuture is an organisation of over 170,000 individuals and 525 companies and organisations, that care deeply about the rights of creatives. Over 5.5 million Americans, and millions more worldwide, depend on copyright protections to pay their bills, send their kids to school, and put food on the table. Stealing their work and taking money out of their pockets is plain wrong.

To learn more about what YOU can do to help, join us by visiting

Follow CreativeFuture on Facebook, Twitter (@CreativeFuture), and Instagram (@CreativeFuture1). #StandCreative

Follow I AM FILM on Instagram (iamfilmofficial) #IAMFILM and Join our list to receive news and views by the Masters of Film.

[Image by Mark Leibowitz: Bill Corden, Producer, featured with Ruth Vitale, as part of CreativeFuture's #StandCreative campaign]


About the Author


Ruth Vitale


Ruth Vitale has been at the forefront of independent film production and distribution for more than three decades, including as Founder and Co-President of Paramount Classics and as President of Fine Line Features.

During her tenure at these companies, she launched the careers of many successful filmmakers such as Paul Greengrass, Sofia Coppola, Scott Hicks, John Hillcoat, and Craig Brewer. She has also worked with established talent such as Sam Raimi, Roger Michell, Jonathan Demme, Paul W.S. Anderson, Patrice Leconte, and Barbet Schroeder. Her films have won three Oscars® and received 16 nominations as well as 18 Golden Globe® nominations and two wins.

At Paramount Classics, she released such award-winning films as The Virgin Suicides, Sunshine, You Can Count on Me, Sidewalks of New York, Bloody Sunday, Mostly Martha, The Singing Detective, Enduring Love, The Machinist, Mad Hot Ballroom, and Hustle & Flow.

Fine Line produced and distributed such highlights of independent film as the Academy Award®-winning Shine; The Sweet Hereafter; Love! Valour! Compassion!; Twelfth Night; Gummo; and The Winter Guest.

Ruth also served as President of UBU Productions’ feature film division from 1988 to 1991. Among other positions, she was Senior Vice President of Production for United Artists, where she oversaw production on Child’s Play, I’m Gonna Git You Sucka, and Roadhouse. As President of Production for Vestron Pictures, she broke ground with the highest-grossing independent film of the time, Dirty Dancing. She was also Director of Acquisitions for The Movie Channel. Most recently, Ruth was President of First Look Pictures and the owner of The Film Collective, a consultancy business that helps financiers and companies with the strategic planning for their films in the worldwide marketplace from development and production through distribution.

She is a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences and Special Projects Mentor for The Peter Stark Producing Program, USC School of Cinematic Arts, University of Southern California.