Gerald Langiri
May 09 / 2014

I don’t think I have met an actor who does not have a tale of how they “feel” or “think” or “believe” their rights have been infringed by (in most cases than not) a producer or production company. I put the words feel, think or believe in quotes because that is left to personal interpretation and your thinking, feeling and beliefs will probably never ever be the same and guess what, they will also not help you out in case of an infringement if you cannot proof if the infringement happened and if you do not have a contract to show which agreement was broken.

I stumbled upon a very website www.artslaw.com.au whose niche as the url suggests is Art Law, Intellectual Property Law (IP Law) and infringements. There-in I found this article on the importance of a contract really well explained.

A contract is like a promise between people. It is an understanding, a deal between two or more people or organisations to do certain things. Each person or organisation who agrees to do something in a contract is called a party.

An agreement, or a contract, says what you and the other person or organisation have agreed to do. It is a written list of the promises you have made. The best form of contract is written on paper and signed by each party.

An example of a contract is Consent / Release forms: when someone wants your permission to show images of you or your work in public

Why is a contract used?
A contract is used when people or organisations have agreed to do something together. A contract is often used to:

- say what is expected of you

- say what you expect of the other person or organisation

- protect each other’s needs and rights

- make each party more responsible for what that party promises to do

- say what happens if a party does not keep its promise.

What should you do before making a contract?

Before making a contract:

- Make sure you understand what is promised to you and what you are promising. You have the right to ask that a contract is explained to you with simple words before signing it. You could also ask someone you trust to read it and explain it to you.

- The contract and any explanation of its meaning should meet your communication needs. You have the right to ask that a contract is provided in alternative formats, such as:

- Braille, large print, Auslan interpretation,

- Make sure that the contract really protects your interests.

- Only make promises which you can keep.

- Write your contract down and make sure that everyone involved has signed it.

- Get legal advice, to make sure that the contract is a good one for you.

What happens if you or the other person, organisation or party does not follow the contract?

 -If a person, organisation or party does not keep its promise they are in breach of your contract.

 Infringement of your copyright
When someone does not ask or get your permission to do certain things with your work it is called a copyright infringement.

If you think someone has infringed your copyright, you can take action against them. The following steps explain how to do this.

Step 1 – Talk to someone you trust.
Talk to a friend, carer or family member about your concerns. Getting their opinion will help you work out the situation and confirm your feelings. If they agree that there is a problem, seek legal advice. If you are told there is no problem, but things still feel wrong to you, get a second opinion.

Step 2 – Contact the person or organisation you are unhappy with.
Contact the person or organisation you are unhappy with, either by phone or in writing. Explain the situation as you see it. There may be an easy way to fix the problem. Asking someone to help you do this is a good idea.

Step 3 – Seek legal advice.
If you have not been able to fix the problem by talking to the person or organisation you are unhappy with, get legal advice. You must give the facts of the situation, such as:

- your personal and contact details

- what happened

- when it happened.

The person helping you will work out if a copyright infringement has taken place. They will help explain the steps you need to take to protect your rights.

Step 4 – Send a letter of demand for breach of copyright to the person or organisation who has infringed your copyright.
A letter of demand for breach of copyright will show that:

  • you told that person or organisation of your rights
  • you gave the person or organisation a chance to fix the problem.

Usually problems are fixed without going to court, by discussion or negotiation.

Going to court
Step 5 – If the person or organisation has not fixed the problem through discussion, the next step is to take legal action in a court.

If the court agrees that an infringement has occurred, it can make an order saying:

- you must get a public apology

- you must be paid money for the harm caused to you — this is called damages

- the person must stop the infringement — this is called an injunction.

- See more at: http://www.artslaw.com.au/legal/raw-law/taking-action-what-are-the-legal-steps/#sthash.usxh7zUk.dpuf

Is it worth the risk? Let’s face it, most actors are scared of speaking out against infringements done to them let alone going through the legal process of handling these infringements which take time and money. Fear of being blacklisted or to be termed “difficult” to work with looms. There isn’t much work going around in the 1st place and an actor wouldn’t want to be caught up in a law suit saga suing a producer for infringement and you are most probably fighting to get an amount that is dismissible.

An infringement is an infringement however and it is good to know how you can handle such cases and get them resolved for the day you’ll be bold enough to actually SUE SOMEONE for infringement of a contract.

A contract is there to protect both parties and not just the actor but also the producer. There are however producers who’d want to get away with infringement after verbally agreeing on matters. You cannot prove a speech that happened but you can prove a writing that is signed. So in cases where you are not issued with a contract, create your own and make sure the producers sign it before you begin work. Have a contract in place; otherwise you’ll have no one to blame but you in case you do get duped.

By Gerald Langiri

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