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Film Rights

Discussion in 'Copyright, Trademark, Patent Law' started by nycfilmmaker, Nov 20, 2008.

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  1. nycfilmmaker

    nycfilmmaker Law Topic Starter New Member

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    Contracts for Film Rights to Screenplay

    My jurisdiction is: New York County (Manhattan), NY

    Hi all. I am just starting out as a new filmmaker, and am getting ready to produce my first indie project -- a short. I'm hoping someone here experienced in dealing with screenplay contracts can help me.

    This will be the first time I will produce something I did not write myself. There is a writer who has agreed to let me use his screenplay for free. It is based on his own previously published novella, and he has told me that he holds the copyright (but I will have him sign a Certificate of Ownership). I do not intend to hire the writer for rewrites -- I just want the film rights to the property.

    I've been doing some research and I am aware that I need to obtain the film rights to the underlying original story as well as the screenplay derived from it. In order to save myself money, I want to draw up the contract(s) myself and then have an attorney look at it, and I've got a very good book that explains deal points for filmmakers. However, before I proceed, I am a bit confused about the types of contracts I need.

    Since I already know I won't be paying cash for the rights, I don't see the need for an Option Agreement -- but can I use a Screenplay Purchase Agreement even though there is no cash as "valuable consideration?" If so, could I just write that he has agreed to this in exchange for my efforts to produce the film as consideration? Or does there have to be the usual token amount of $1.00 that so many people have told me is necessary to make a contract enforceable? I know such an agreement would have to be accompanied by the Short Form Copyright Assignment to file with the gov't.

    BUT instead of a Purchase Agreement, could I just have a simple Exclusive License to Copyright agreement between me and the writer? If I use an Exclusive License, would I need any other kinds of contracts? Would an Exclusive License mean that I wouldn't have to bother with a Copyright Assignment?

    In either case, whether I use a Purchase Agreement [for $0.00] or an Exclusive License, would I need one for the novella and one for the screenplay he wrote, or can I cover both properties in one agreement?

    I am hoping to get this paperwork done asap. The writer is expecting to receive the contracts for his signature this week. Thanks in advance for any insight you can offer!
     
    Last edited: Nov 20, 2008
  2. nycfilmmaker

    nycfilmmaker Law Topic Starter New Member

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    Stilll looking for advice

    Bumping this up...

    Anyone with experience drafting writer-producer contracts or transferring rights to literary properties want to weigh in??
     
  3. Michael Wechsler

    Michael Wechsler Administrator Staff Member

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    Why not use the screen actors guild? Are you a member?

    http://www.sag.org/

    There is a lot more at stake here, including issues of derivative works and you probably want to make sure everything is done properly. It pays to invest in an entertainment lawyer who can give you the best advice in this area than it does in better lighting. It's a necessary cost of doing business if you're putting serious time and effort into your project.
     
  4. nycfilmmaker

    nycfilmmaker Law Topic Starter New Member

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    Not a SAG member (also don't want the BS of being a SAG signatory).

    Unable to consult a lawyer yet -- please note this will be my first short film and I have not formed a production company yet.

    My question is simple, really -- if a writer is allowing me to use their story for free, can an exclusive limited license be enough to obtain film rights? I just don't see why a purchase agreement would be needed if there is no purchase.

    I am drafting a license agreement now. When I have finished, can I post it here (minus identifying elements) for some opinions? I promise not to construe any feedback as legal advice!


     
    Last edited: Nov 29, 2008
  5. Michael Wechsler

    Michael Wechsler Administrator Staff Member

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    There are all different kinds of situations with regard to the arts. Your best bet is to hire a lawyer the first time through to deal with all your needs and get it done properly. I'm not saying we aren't knowledgeable in a forum but it's just not the proper place to get good legal advice for something as important as your bread and butter - and which likely will involve many questions you haven't even realized should be asked.

    For "consideration" you need some amount of value - even $1 - to make a "contract" valid. A contract requires 3 things - an offer, an acceptance, and "consideration" or an exchange of value. Even if it's "peppercorn" or a one dollar, that's fine.

    I'm not sure what you're looking at. Exclusivity is merely a part of a license - it can be exclusive or non-exclusive. A purchase agreement sounds like the purchase of a copyright and is different than a license of a copyright.
     
  6. nycfilmmaker

    nycfilmmaker Law Topic Starter New Member

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    Is this good enough consideration for a limited license agreement?

    Here is my "consideration" clause. Is it sufficient to make a contract legal?
    -----
    5. Consideration. Author acknowledges that all rights granted in this Agreement are in consideration for Licensee's efforts to produce the Project, and for attribution as Author of the Works subject to Clause 9 of this Agreement, and shall require no monetary compensation. Furthermore, Author acknowledges that if the Project is produced and completed within six (6) years from the date of this Agreement, Licensee will provide the Author with two (2) copies of the Project on DVD or other similar type of video disk by the date six (6) years from the date of this Agreement.
    -----
    I would love to hear from an entertainment lawyer on this, one who deals with this kind of contract all the time, if any visit this forum.

    Thanks!



     
  7. Michael Wechsler

    Michael Wechsler Administrator Staff Member

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    From my understanding and unless there is some specific regulation with regard to your work requiring actual money (of which I am not aware), the consideration is perfectly valid provided that there is value provided by the other party. Agreements are made all the time with each half providing services. Is there a reason why you think the consideration section is not valid?
     
  8. nycfilmmaker

    nycfilmmaker Law Topic Starter New Member

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    The value provided by the other party is his story!

    Well, I thought I was clear in my earlier questions...

    I am being granted the motion picture rights to a short story for free. I will adapt the story into a screenplay and produce a movie. In my research on various message boards for filmmakers, everyone says, "there has to be some kind of exchange for a contract to be valid, put $1.00 in there as consideration." I don't really want to do that -- the writer has already agreed to give me the rights for no money. Although I don't really understand why two people cannot just write up an agreement without any exchange at all, I wrote up this clause and wanted to make sure the "consideration" I've cited here is enough to be legally deemed a valid exchange. Some writers on a writer's message board have told me that the "efforts to produce" are just what's expected of a filmmaker, but I have found option agreements which cite such as consideration.

    Basically, the writer really only wants copies and credit. So this is an okay clause?
     

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