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  • toby wray

Video Tips For Marketeers #13 Legal Stuff Part 1 Filming People


In the UK, generally speaking, you are allowed to film in a public place without permission, including the people in that location. You don’t need a release form/permission to film people on the street or passers-by as long as your camera is not concealed.

If you are shooting in a public space where it is likely that strangers might appear in your shots, you could consider putting up signs that say:

“By entering this space, you are granting permission for your likeness to be included in the project

“__(YOUR PROJECT NAME)__” made by “__(YOUR GROUP NAME)__”

There are, however, some restrictions which you need to be sensitive to; you will need release forms for people who are identifiable in sensitive places, even if they are not speaking (e.g. hospital waiting rooms, night clubs, law court corridors). See below for further information.


Filming actors and interviews

Anyone considered important to your video project will need to give you legal permission to use their image in case at some stage they decide to withhold that permission. It is best to gain this before filming. You will be legally obligated to have signed release forms for all the people that appear in your project. This is especially important if you are interested in sending your finished work on to be shown at festival screenings, broadcast on TV, available on the Internet etc. A release form is a legal document that you and another person sign. It shows that you have their permission to include them, their property or their creative work in your project.

If you are making a documentary, every person you include should sign a release (unless, as above, they are a passer-by in a public space). This is important, even if the person you are filming is a close friend, as:

  • The signed release is a document that may be required by a broadcaster, festival, distributor etc.

  • The signed form protects you because it proves that the person gave you permission to include them/their work in your film. For example, you might be making a documentary about a controversial issue affecting your community, and interviewing the head of a corporation involved in the issue. They may decide later that they don’t feel comfortable about what was said or how they were portrayed. Without a signed release, they could demand that you remove them from your film, and maybe even sue you. However, with a signed release, you have the legal right to use the material. You should be sure that each person has given his or her ‘informed consent’. This means that you must be honest about the content/angle of your project and that they understand the language you are speaking sufficiently and are of sound mind. Someone who is drunk, mentally unwell or in distress could be argued not to have been able to give informed consent. It is possible to use an ‘on camera’ release – where you record instructing the interviewee and getting their agreement on video, but some broadcasters may still require a signed form. It is a good idea to get both an ‘on camera’ agreement as well as a signed form in case problems arise with one of them later on.

Filming children Children are a sensitive subject and people are becoming more prone to preventing their being filmed. If you focus on a child at all I recommend you gain permission from their legal guardian. Children under 16 must have a release form signed by a parent. Make sure they both understand the issues involved in your project fully beforehand in case any sensitivity may arise. These considerations apply to filming with vulnerable adults, e.g. those with mental disabilities. People over the age of 16 are generally felt to be sufficiently adult to sign their own forms; but bear in mind some young people may lie about their age to avoid involving their parents, so double check their date of birth.

Children’s working hours are governed by legislation which is important for you to be aware of.

Working hours for children can be complex – there are certain licences/police clearances they may need depending on if they would normally be at school, whether they have a chaperone, tutor, any special needs or disabilities etc. When filming with a group of children e.g. in a school, parents must be informed in advance and have the opportunity to withdraw their child from the filming. Children may be the subject of custody cases or other situations which you may be unaware of. Most educational authorities require several weeks notice prior to filming. It is your responsibility to find out more and seek appropriate advice usually covered by local councils.


Location permissions

There are exceptions to the right to film in public which are fairly common sense; sensitive areas like government buildings and schools fall into this category.

When you are shooting in public places such as the street, in a park or in public transportation, you should do some research to find out who you may need to sign a location release – contact your local city/town council or relevant Screen Agency in order to figure out which signature(s) you need. Remember to allow enough time for your filming request to be processed. If the location that you are shooting is not recognisable, then getting a release may not be necessary, but, as with anything related to the law, it is better to be safe than sorry. Some apparently public places are not, pavement in front of a restaurant may actually belong to them or example.

It may be important to find out who actually has control of the location and can actually sign the release. For example, if you are filming in a rented flat, it may be wise to get both the occupant’s and the building owner’s permission.

Location releases are important not only because you may need them if you want to distribute your film all, but also because they function as permits while you are actually in production. If you are shooting on the street and a police officer questions you about your activity, showing them a signed location release will usually put you in the clear.


Causing a nuisance or obstruction

The police may move you on if you cause a nuisance or obstruction. Don’t block paths with your tripod!

  • Police – It may be a good idea to give adequate notice in writing to the local police force about any filming activity in its jurisdiction – you will need to do this if you are causing an obstruction. Again, the Screen Agencies can advise you of the relevant contact. You will need the full co-operation of the police if you plan to film on the public highway, use special effects, explosions, gunfire or guns (including imitations – the use of firearms requires the services of an armourer), stage a crime, or if your actors are wearing police uniforms or driving marked police cars. Impersonation of a police officer is an offence.

  • Filming on Public Roads – Filming on public roads requires careful planning and monitoring. Meetings should be arranged on site with the local police and the local authority’s Highways Department to discuss filming plans. The police and highways officers will want to be sure that what you plan to do is safe and that no road-user will be harmed (e.g. by the glare of bright lights).

Next week - Considering both sides of a story.

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