TV Documentary about My Family Without My Cooperation – What Are My Rights?

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When a person or family story becomes interesting enough that a news, documentary team or movie writer wants to put it on screen, there are usually options to purchase it. However, when the story displays on screen without anyone contacted or bargained with for buying the rights, the person or family affected may have legal recourse.

Documentaries are available generally through legitimate purchases of the life stories of individuals or families. When the rights bought lead to the actual television footage, either a negative or positive impact is seen by the family or person involved in the situation. In many circumstances, the viewable story by the public needs changes and alterations when the family feels it makes certain members look bad. However, if the rights to the story are no longer held with the group, only possible litigation may keep the filmmaker in line. Unfortunately, sometimes the family does not face a situation where the rights transfer through a purchase. The story airs without any knowledge of the family.

Purchasing the Rights

A filmmaker will determine if purchasing the rights to a family’s life story is important based on the details contained within the story itself. These usually need drama or some form of mystery. The rights purchased often contain a bundle of rights. This includes the protection from instances of defamation, any invasion of privacy and rights to publicity. Cooperation of the person or family is usually part of the package as well. Access to journals, diaries and other written accounts may come with the purchase or cost extra. So, the deal is thought out and carefully considered.

Pursuing a Legal Claim

When the rights to a personal or family story are not part of a purchase deal and still broadcast over the television, the family or person may have a legal claim against the filmmaker. It is even more important if this person causes a case of defamation against the family. Relationships harmed in this manner could end in messy litigation or suits negotiated outside of the courtroom. The right to privacy usually involves a reasonable expectation of privacy from such information in television or radio. The right to protections against publicity are should also remain safeguarded and free from violation. It is only when permission granted for these situations occurs that the filmmaker may proceed.

Complications in pursuing a legal claim arise when the subject is no longer living. Any person that dies before the filmmaker buys the rights is no longer subject to the rights of privacy or publicity. These rights usually do not extend to the estate of the family. While many extended members are still under protections, anyone deceased may become part of television stories. Those seeking to do so need only ensure that defamation does not occur. If it does, the family may still seek legal action against the filmmaker for false statements or information that causes a negative light cast to the family.

Consequences Based on Circumstance

When the target of a television documentary does not provide any consent about his or storying broadcast, he or she may pursue a legal claim against the person or agency. Without any rights of privacy or publicity protected in these incidents, the individual may have a strong claim without gathering any evidence for the event. If a contract has a forged signature, the person may have his or her lawyer add this to the lawsuit against the documentary filmmaker. It is important to ensure that the consequences for these invalid acts occur against the other party so that the individual may remain private or receive his or her just compensation.

With all rights of privacy and publicity violated in this manner, the target has the right to pursue legal action. The negative impact will occur quickly with the filmmaker through the press and online from details about the case. This could cause controversy and end the career of the filmmaker rapidly. It may benefit all parties involved to settle out of court and ensure that no further grievance occurs.

Legal Support against Documentary Filmmaker

It is important to discern if the film created has the permission of the target or if he or she just did not cooperate with the direction of the movie. However, when the rights of the individual do not retain the protections that should exist, it is important to hire a lawyer for possible action. Compensation or another remedy is possible through the courts.


Disclaimer: While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication, it is not intended to provide legal advice as individual situations will differ and should be discussed with an expert and/or lawyer.

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