What can I do if I signed a contract and my distributor will not release me from it? 2 Answers as of May 30, 2016

I signed a contract without the advice of a lawyer to distribute my documentary film. The terms of the contract require me to provide releases that I thought I could get and now an individual refuses to sign a release making it impossible for me to provide this to my distributor. The contract is for 5 years and he will not release me from the distribution contract. He states that he will postpone his distribution efforts until I get such releases but will not release me from the contract. He will not meet with me in person. He states he is a non-profit doing business as a for profit.

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Entertainment Law Partners
Entertainment Law Partners | Tifanie Jodeh
Usually, barring extreme reasons otherwise, such as mental incapacity, you will be bound by agreement you sign. Hiring an experienced attorney knowledgeable in the field of entertainment will protect and save you from this type of experience next time.
Answer Applies to: California
Replied: 5/30/2016
Lawyer for Independent Media
Lawyer for Independent Media | Sue Basko
Your question shows the need for getting solid legal help all along in the pre-production and production phases of a film. It is time now for you to contact a good film lawyer and get good legal advice and work out a plan. Better late than never. There may be several possibilities for your film. Let's look at this logically. First, if one film distributor is requiring this particular release, then most likely any competent film distributor will require the same release. Therefore, even if you were to be released from this one distribution contract, you would find the same circumstance if you went to a different distributor. Requiring releases may be a sign of a competent distributor, or one that does not want to be sued. That your distributor is demanding releases says to me that you are dealing with a legally competent distributor, which is a good thing. If you want to recklessly release a film that is going to harm people and get you sued, you will find that even Youtube will remove such a film upon request from the offended party. Legally, there is a difference between a documentary film and actual news footage. For the most part, in news footage, if a person over age 18, who is not injured or in trauma, is in a public place and responds to questions asked on camera, the person is considered to have given consent. The same does not usually hold true for a documentary film. The same may also not hold true today with live streamers and others who use phone cameras or other tiny cameras, such that a person may not realize they are on camera. This is what makes it so important to always give notice to any person you are going to interview that you are holding a camera, that it is live or being recorded or whatever the situation actually is. If the person in your documentary who is refusing to sign the release is a public figure and if the story is newsworthy, it is possible that a release would not be needed, though the case might still end in a lawsuit. If the person is being shown in a false light or a bad light or is being shamed or humiliated in any way, you cannot expect them to sign a release. Doing so would be stupid on their part. - Is the person crucial to the film or can their part be edited out? Can their part be edited out and replaced by someone else? Talk with the person and ask if they would sign if certain changes were made. Can their face be blurred and their voice changed? Would that mask their identity, or would their identity still be known from the circumstances? It is very commonplace in documentaries, and even in news, to blur the faces of people whose privacy might be invaded, those who are under 18, or those who are not actually part of the story. There have been huge long-running lawsuits against filmmakers who did such things as using hidden cameras, using video or voice from an injured person or a person in a hospital or clinic setting. Keep in mind that to for a film to be distributed, it needs to be covered by insurance. The only way to get good insurance coverage is to have the legal work properly done. That includes having proper releases for those in the film, proper licensing for all the music and art used in the film, checking the content of the film for defamation and invasion of privacy and other legal issues, making sure the film credits are accurate and full, and giving catchall legal disclaimers in writing in the film as to the content. If your film does not have insurance coverage, it cannot be entered in most film festivals or shown in most venues. Thus, proper legal work on the film equals insurance coverage equals distribution requirement. All these factors add up to that it is time for you to contact a good film lawyer, have the lawyer view the film and advise you as to how to make this film legally viable, which will involve editing.
Answer Applies to: California
Replied: 5/11/2016
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