I was hoping some of you could tell me the rules or laws when selling ambience recordings from train stations, beaches, playing grounds, busy city streets, or anywhere else where we hear people talking to each other, clearly.

  • An important question, Mikkel. Thanks for starting this thread. Commented Oct 26, 2011 at 13:35

3 Answers 3


Are there official, simplified, rules on (specifically) sound recording?

Different laws apply on recording, depending on where you live record.

In the meantime: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Legality_of_recording_by_civilians and http://www.sirimo.co.uk/2009/05/14/uk-photographers-rights-v2/ , and generally treat the topic as hairy (though the photographers' rights are nice, recording in the time-domain is much more complicated)

Privacy is an issue. Additional copyright rules may apply to ringtones, sounds as part of a product (coin-op games), public transport announcements, and so on. Finally, http://www.mediacollege.com/downloads/forms/talent-release.html .


This is obviously a touchy subject, but one of those things that unlike taking a photo, a recorded sound can be totally disassociated with where and when it was recorded when taken out of physical context. So in short, I don't think there's anything to be concerned about as long as you're not purposely stalking or being a voyeur. And when you have many layers of BGz in the edit, its nearly impossible to pick something out.

That said, I have a few rules I like to follow.

I personally make it a point to, as a sort of "sound effects recordist's code of conduct", to scramble or erase any conversation "callouts" which blatantly stand out in a crowd/ambience recording and are of private nature. If I'm recording and somebody notices or asks, I reassure them of the above and all has been fine. When in doubt, remove it. This is why I try to record 15+ minutes in people-heavy locations.

The other is I obliterate all brand names where possible. Rick's book make a valid point on this subject, one of very the few items in his book I actually agree with. Because if a walla track found its way into a film and it had the audible word "I hate this X,Y,Z place" or "z,y,z place sucks", you could be slapped with a defamation lawsuit. Probable? Not likely, but it's best to be safe. This is where I roll up my dialogue editorial sleeves and tweak any callout of this nature that features a brand name and either remove the callout, or tweak it so it says "That pizza" versus "That Dominos pizza" or something of that ilk.

I do the same thing when using cop radios, scramble them all up, because you never know the codes (except I've memorized that a 419 is LVPD for dead body/homicide thanks to CSI). Since every city has it's own codes and such, the last thing you'd want to have happen is during some sort of comedy scene have a code in the background that somebody recognizes as a code for rape in progress.


I found this today and it brought this thread to mind. Especially the bit about the distinction between photographer's rights and the wiretapping laws.


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