When working on a film, who owns the raw recordings that were made for that film? Since the answer to every question is "well that depends" then I will pre-emptively ask how common is it for the recordist to retain ownership versus the employer? In what situations would it be one over the other?
Also, who has ownership of sounds specifically designed for a film? What if those sounds were made from library sounds, does that effect ownership or limit use? What contractual language would you suggest using to cover the above?


That all depends upon the contract.

Most sound facilities retain ownership of the sound effects developed for a film (often called "units"). The client pays them simply for the mix and stems. The units are never released to them. This can often be a grey area unless settled in writing to begin with; especially if the client is paying for a sound effects recording session.

If you buy a commercial sound effects library, you are simply purchasing a license to use those sounds, not the copyright. So those sounds aren't yours to release anyway. Even if you alter them IMHO.


Aaron Mark's book on Game Audio goes into a lot of detail on ownership of audio, in terms of licensing or retaining ancillary rights and things like that. Although it's about game audio, there's a lot of information that applies to both games and film about the legal ins and outs of music AND sound ownership.

Well worth picking up a copy.

This is the book I'm talking about:



Great question. I would argue that, if you are a sound recordist hired exclusively for the purpose of recording sounds for a specific film, then all data generated from those sessions is the property of whoever hired you, be it a production company, studio, or sound supervisor. If you are working on a film and a member of a crew, and you all decide to go out and gather sounds either together or independently, then I believe that you retain ownership of whatever you personally contribute.

  • Ok, scenario for you: What if you worked on Jurassic Park and gathered sounds independently and created on your own the T-Rex sound which became famous, and technically you "owned the rights to that T-Rex sound". Could you then use that same design you created for Jurassic Park for another movie with a T-Rex in it and sleep well at night knowing you had done that? If it were you, would you try to re-invent the wheel to keep the T-Rex you created for Jurassic Park legit?
    – Utopia
    Oct 29 '10 at 4:20
  • When gathered (or created) sounds go from a raw state into a finished work, I think that even though the designer has created the design it really belongs to the filmmaker and shouldn't be used again in someone else's work, especially in the case of such an iconic sound. Who really "owns" it could be debatable, but I'd err on the side of the studio or production company since the sound designer is still a contract worker hired to provide a service. Oct 29 '10 at 8:48

When I worked for myself I always had it written in my contract that I retain ownership of the individual sounds but the company who paid me retained copyright of the finished mix. It's a stipulation I have always used and have never had a issue with from anyone.

I was able to build a library of my own sounds as I needed them and be able to reuse my work in the future. As I was hired to give them a finished soundtrack there was never any interest or mention from these companies that they wanted any of my recordings.

That said I was only ever employed by production companies, never a sound facility so what Jay said wouldn't have applied in my case.



As a person who hires sound designers and recordist from time to time plus works with inhouse people here are our basic rules. Anything created by an inhouse employee on company time or company equipment belongs to the company. For Sound desingers, the final assets and any delivered iterations belong to the company unless specifically stated otherwise in the contract. For recordist - and here we are generally talking about car recordings - we usually have a deal where we licence the recordings for one product, but the recordist retains all the rights to the sound. But here I am talking about games - not sure how true this is in films.

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