Challenges in Rights Management in the Film Industry


High complexity and hours of Excel




The film industry is facing unprecedented changes in market dynamics. Netflix, long seen as just a technical streaming provider, catapulted itself in the olymp of film production, winning its first “Best Picture” Academy Award in 2019 with “Roma”. Meanwhile, TV film production is going to see radical changes starting in early 2020 with Jeffrey Katzenberg’s Quibi raising billions of dollars to produce bite-sized mini series. Furthermore, the overnight occurrence of TikTok earlier this year, both in Asia and the West, is bound to shake advertising film up even more than Instagram has already done.

These market dynamics create new challenges for film production companies to capture copyrights and their ownership metadata correctly. At the same time, available technology like machine learning and artificial intelligence promise to free companies from manual administrative tasks. To assess how both effects – changing market dynamics and technological advancements – are represented in current software solutions, Eleven performed a market study in early 2019.


Problem Definition


Besides production and post-production of film, production companies spend a significant amount of time gathering and maintaining information about who contributed to their works and who owns certain rights. Furthermore, many administrative tasks are of similar nature but need to be repeated and data is required to be copied all over again for each piece of content.

This information is not only relevant to credit the contributors – such as cast, directors, DOP, and post-production –, but is important for correct registrations at collecting societies (e.g. VAM, VGF). The new European copyright directives, Article 15 &17, are demanding fair remuneration and accurate metadata, therefore leading to increased legal risk for film production companies neglecting this topic. Particularly small- and medium-sized companies with limited legal resources will be affected by this development.

Furthermore, film production companies are struggling to gain an overview of all contracts they have signed related to their productions. For example, licensed music, voice-overs, or stock footage usually have an expiration date. To ensure the continuity of licenses and avoid legal litigation, a production company’s personnel needs to ensure licenses do not expire unwillingly. This task is often performed manually and on an ad-hoc basis, causing operational inefficiencies, delays with renewals, and costly mistakes.


Current Solutions


To assess which solutions are used for the topics of copyright metadata and contract management, Eleven has interviewed selected industry professionals about the software solutions currently deployed within their film production companies.

The results of the interview show that an overwhelming majority of 71.4% use Microsoft Excel to keep track of copyright metadata and contracts, while 14.1% rely on a self-built databases, and 14.5% on a Filemaker system.

The popularity of Excel in the film production industry is not surprising due to the ready availability of the software package on most computers and its competitive price point. However, it comes with numerous fundamental shortcomings:

  1. Limited collaboration: Although Excel’s latest version allows multiple users to work in the same file, most companies still use a version allowing only one user to work in the spreadsheet file at the same time, leading to operational delays and versioning conflicts.

  2. No native reminders: Excel does not provide reminders to dates in spreadsheets. Alas, receiving reminders when contractual dates occur, e.g. when the license for film music expires, is a crucial missing feature for film production companies when using Excel for contract management.

  3. Burdensome mobile interface: The structure and design of spreadsheets is suboptimal for mobile usage, therefore restricting users of it to add new information on the go, for example when new information is gathered on the set.

  4. Low data quality: Even the most diligently maintained spreadsheets are extremely vulnerable to mistakes, misspellings, and other forms of human error.

  5. Basic viewing and editing rights: While it is theoretically possible to completely hide certain content with a password, it is impractical not to grant the user of a spreadsheet full viewing and editing rights, let alone even more granular rights hierarchies.

The other two options, self-built databases and Filemaker systems, address some of the above-stated shortcomings of MS Excel, but have other inherent disadvantages. Development costs, implementation, and maintenance are usually significantly higher than with MS Excel. Also, they normally come with substantial indirect expenses for training personnel.

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Conclusion & Outlook


Firstly, production companies are dealing with an increasing amount of contracts and copyright and ownership data, leading their personnel to spend a lot of time on administrative tasks, hence, distracting them from their core business of producing content. Secondly, changing regulation poses an increased legal risk, especially for small- to medium-sized companies. Thirdly, currently available software solutions do often no provide transparency and make it hard to gain a clear overview of rights, ownership, and expiration dates.

It is Eleven’s belief that to offer the film production industry a solution, which prepares them for the future, the software should contain the following features:

  • Fully-automated registration at copyright offices, collecting societies (e.g. VAM, VGF) and other relevant platforms.

  • Artificial-intelligence-assisted data gathering technology to reduce data input and duplication.

  • Transparent overview of everyone who contributed to the content, e.g. cast, directors, DOP, and post-production.

  • Concise overview of ownership, rights, and licensed content, like third party footage, voice-overs, or music, including native reminders when the license expires.