Don’t Give Away Your Raw Footage or Negatives

Raw footage of a mountain climber swinging on a rope in Yosemite is worth more than b-roll of an employee typing in an office.

Yesterday I wrote about the value of licensing your photos or videos for more money when the audience is larger. This is something you need to address in your contract with your clients. But don’t stop there.

Your contract should specify not only how broad the license is, but whether or not the client gets the raw footage or negatives. Again, my photography brethren have more experience in this area than my fellow film/video peeps. Photogs have always had to deal with whether or not a client gets the “negatives.” In the days of film it was actual film negatives. In today’s digital age, it’s raw image files.

Videographers have dealt with this to an extent, but I don’t know how savvy they have been in getting fairly compensated for their raw footage.  Remember, you’re hired for the edit, not the footage. If you’re hired to produce a 3-minute promo video, then that’s what you’re entitled to deliver.

There are three primary reasons you should charge for raw footage or negatives:

  1. Empowerment. When you hand over the raw footage or negatives  you empower your clients to make future videos (or future prints) whenever and however they want, with or without your input. That means you can lose future earnings from your creativity and sweat. If you’re going to give up that revenue potential, you’re entitled to be paid for it.
  2. Protecting your brand. When you hand over the power of a client to do whatever they want with the footage/negatives, that means they have the power to make a crappy video/prints from videos/photos you created. That means you and your work could be associated with or connected to a final product that looks bad, exposing you to “guilt by association” critique. Imagine if a wedding client edits your footage terribly, a friend sees that video, asks who shot it, and guess what the answer is. YOU. If you are going to have work that you shot out on the interwebs, or on people’s devices, you should be compensated for the chance you could be associated with work below your quality standards. That is one of the reasons why Steve Jobs did away with Mac clones when he regained power after his exile. Those clones sucked and he didn’t want Mac software associated with a crappy computer experience. One area where this is not a huge deal is if you strictly shoot for other studios. In cases like that, your brand is not about the finished, edited product.
  3. It’s worth it. Last but certainly not least, if they client wants it, that means they’re willing to pay for it. Why do you pay $4 for a cup of coffee that cost Starbucks 40 cents to make? Because you want it. You don’t NEED it. You WANT it. And you’re willing to pay $4 to $5 to get it. Your raw footage is no different. If your client wants it, they’ll pay for it. If they’re willing to pay for it, you can charge for it. Simple as that.

How Much to Charge?

Didn’t you ask me this yesterday? The answer is the same. Whatever the client will bear. There are many factors which will go into how much you’ll charge:

  • how much footage there is
  • the potential for the client to make additional videos from that footage
  • the scarcity or abundance of additional videographers/photographers in the client’s area
  • the production quality of the original footage (e.g. was it shot on a RED? Did you have a lot of crane and dolly shots? Do you have very clean green screen? etc.)
  • the location of the footage (e.g. b-roll of an expedition to the south pole or wandering the streets of Paris may be worth ten times than b-roll of a client or customer in an office environment you could film anywhere)

I put into my contracts now a clause in the copyrights paragraph granting clients rights to the final video, but stipulating up front that the raw footage will cost the greater of $500 or 5% of the total fee. (I will change or even remove this clause on a case by case basis, depending on the job).

Don’t be shy about charging for this footage. It’s worth it. Your craft is worth it. So charge for it.

7 thoughts on “Don’t Give Away Your Raw Footage or Negatives

  1. Great post Ron, many clients assume they are entitled to the raw footage and its best to address it in the contract .. I have been involved in more than a few disputes over this, and began addressing it in my contracts years ago. I have even had clients request their raw footage “mid-edit” when post prod charges were increasing. “Just give us our tapes and we will go elsewhere”. This brings up another issue.. Managing footage on the clients behalf. I usually archive footage that I feel is of value, but I have had clients come back to me years later asking for a change or new edit and I no longer had the footage. Now that most of us are tapeless, it’s an even bigger issue. I have tried charging for this service but most of my clients won’t pay for it, but as you know, managing large amounts of HD footage can get costly. So, I usually try to keep the footage that I feel has a chance of making me more money in the future..

    1. Thanks for sharing Tony. Great point about archiving footage. I think one way one could handle both raw footage and archiving costs is just to charge more up front. I know some wedding photogs do that. They charge enough for their shooting fee that it’s no big deal to give the clients the negatives/RAW files. No reason filmmakers and videographers can’t do the same.

  2. Ron,

    Back in the day I can remember entering a bride’s home and discovering a 24×30 portrait hanging over the fireplace. The problem came into focus immediately. It was our image but not our print. A check of the records showed that the client had purchased an 5×7 and had it blown up by a local, dishonest retailer. One of the Great programs that Kodak had for professional photographers was to constantly harp on the retailers who sold imaging services. Your Kinkos (Now Fedex Office), Costco, Sam’s club. Etc. Back in the day if you were asking for prints from an “obviously commercial” image you had to get a written release from the copyright owner, namely the studio. (all of our negative sales came with a copyright release letter.) And Kodak defended professional photographers with all the force of the 800 lb. gorrilla that they were. Times have changed. Sad.

    And as to that client with the dark, contrasty blurry family portrait? Well let’s just say we didn’t go the extra mile to create any of their wedding images…

  3. Good Article. I find a few clients who think you should actually charge LESS for just the Raw footage. I’m sure we all heard, “That post production cost is outside our budget… how much for you to just shoot it and give us the film?” o_O With today’s technology now giving clients more ways to deliver content, it’s even more important that you specify who owns, holds, and gives permission on the rights to anything shot. Had a humdinger of an issue with this for the past High School Football season team videographer.

    @Tony – I’ve had no problem working in archiving costs since I started using Amazon Glacier for “cold” data storage. $0.01 per GB …Yea the retrieval costs can be high for a large double or triple digit GB archive file…but if you know how to work it and spread the retrieval over a couple days its sensible and if I do I just build it into the cost of the re-edit.

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