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Don’t let your bespoke video get you in legal trouble

Copyright and IP are widely misunderstood – even by creative professionals – and the upshot of this is bad for everybody. Over the years at Explanimation.net we’ve spent a huge amount of time and resources having to protect the work we’ve done, and in this post I’m going to summarise some of what I’ve learnt.

Bespoke animation is a lot of work. Explaining a complex subject first takes days of research, because you cannot make something seem simple unless you understand it very well yourself.

Then you have to check what materials are out there already, to make sure you don’t accidentally copy someone else’s work. Sometimes I deleiberatly leave this until after the basic ideas are developed – so as to not be influenced by other people’s approaches – but, either way, you have to check before you publish anything.

You have to establish what people ‘typically’ don’t understand about a subject, and create a prioritised bullet-point list of learning objectives. From this you develop a basic narrative structure (what happens in what order) captured in a storyboard. From this you draft a script. This will be whittled and reworked many times for timing, clarity and various nuances as the storyboard develops.

Within the storyboard you have to come up with ways to explain things that ideally, no-one else has done before. Then you test those ideas by showing people sketches and rudimentary animations.

All of that happens and we haven’t even begun to create real visuals yet. I would say in a three-minute animation, physically producing the animation is less than 30% of the overall work.

Anyway – you get the picture. If the animation is good, people will understand something – often for the first time. The way you’ve shown it will often seem ‘obvious’ – that means that you’ve succeeded. You’ve made it look easy.

The final product is the outcome of a process which is (or should be) entirely unique, and an end result that’s entirely dependent on the skills and experience that the team have, and the work they’ve put in. 

Fortunately, the law recognises and protects this effort. If somebody else uses this work as springboard to produce something similar, they are, in effect, stealing the work that has been done. The law protects script, the narrative, visual devices (how we show stuff) & metaphors, artwork and other elements.

The basic premise is that if a judge looks at two pieces of work and says “was piece Y influenced by piece X”, and the answer is yes, then the creators of piece Y (both the end client AND the creative they commissioned) have infringed IP, and will probably be liable for damages and costs.

We’ve had to defend our work 8 or 9 times so far. Although we’ve ultimately won in every case, it’s a tedious, stressful and ultimately a bit soul-destroying process for everybody to go through. 

There’s simply no short cut to doing the work. Don’t get caught out!