Among the many kinds of works eligible for copyright protection, audiovisual works are arguably the most complex, involving screenwriters, directors, actors, cinematographers, producers, set designers, costume designers, lighting technicians, etc. Some countries expressly recognize which categories of these contributors are entitled to legal protection, but American copyright law does not. Because the complex relationships among these creative professionals are usually governed by contract, there is relatively little case law on issues of authorship in audiovisual works. This is especially true on the question of dramatic performers as authors of audiovisual works.
This Article provides the first in-depth exploration of whether, when, and how actors are authors under American copyright law. After describing how case law, government views, and scholarly commentary support the conclusion that actors are authors, the Article analyzes the strange—and strangely inconclusive—2015 Garcia v. Google litigation. The Article then uses some simple thought experiments to establish how dramatic performers generally meet both the Constitutional and statutory standard for “authorship.” Finally, the Article reviews the various filters that prevent actors-as-authors legal struggles and how, when all else fails, we can consider actors as joint authors of the audiovisual works embodying their dramatic performances.
Hughes, Justin, "Actors as Authors in American Copyright Law" (2019). Connecticut Law Review. 409.