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Work for Hire Copyright

Discussion in 'Copyright, Trademark, Patent Law' started by theresahartman, Oct 31, 2008.

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  1. theresahartman

    theresahartman Law Topic Starter New Member

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    One of my marketing clients has a situation in which she wrote a script for a producer who is a relative. They spoke about the subject, but he made no concrete contribution to the finished script. They had no written contract, and their verbal agreement was not witnessed by anyone else. He was working on the script with one production company - a partnership in which he was one of the owners, but copyrighted the script as "work for hire" with another company -- his own sole proprietorship. He never paid my client anything, and even though he has been unable to do anything with the script in the two years he's had it, and has in fact changed careers and is now selling used cars, he refuses to give back the script or his rights to it, so the author can market it herself, which she has the ability and desire to do. What are her options? She has also considered re-writing the script (which is a historical piece, so some things are not changeable) and using another name.

    Please advise.
     
  2. Michael Wechsler

    Michael Wechsler Administrator Staff Member

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    Why not challenge the copyright? IMHO, you need an attorney to handle this mess, which might just end up being a demand letter to hand over the script and copyright. My guess is there is something we are missing in this story as well. Rewriting the script could be a serious problem given that a copyright exists for this prior version. I won't get into details but I can't understand the willingness to accept the situation of the registration of the copyright by someone other than the person purporting to be the only proper rights holder.
     
  3. patenmet

    patenmet New Member

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    work for hire must be explicitly written.
    if not, the original creator owns all rights

    this is standard copyright law

    contract work on copyrights can be costly if proper contracts were not made
     
  4. Michael Wechsler

    Michael Wechsler Administrator Staff Member

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    I'm with you and wish it was as simple as just black letter law and the assumption that there is only one creator. This will likely be costly as it would be probably that there are several sides to the story (true or not) about alleged co-authors of the script, etc. No agreements signed, unsure what the copyright is, etc. There is no way to clean up everything cleanly unfortunately.
     
  5. KrunchTime

    KrunchTime New Member

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    I am not a lawyer but I work in the film industry and have produced a movie.

    To this writer / claimant I would ask what evidence do you have to prove that you contributed intellectual property to this script? Best evidence is registration with the Library of Congress, however the date must PRE-date the other guy's evidence. Even if you didn't register the script you are protected by other "fixed" / "tangible" evidence that can be dated, such as a text document on a hard drive (that shows date created, last modified, etc), a publication, writer's guild registration. Was there a check payment that says in the memo "for script writing services" or something like that? Any emails? If you are armed with nothing better than you and all your friend's testimony then you are probably screwed. Judges don't care a rats ass about "he said, she said" in intellectual property cases if that's all you've got because people can simply lie in court.
    Having said all of this there's about a 1 in 700 chance of a movie making it to theaters. Then very few of those actually see a profit. If you sell a script then get paid UP FRONT as much as possible! Not on the back end.
    Your best bet is to simply send them a certified letter documenting your understanding that you previously contributed intellectual property to the script and that you do not authorize them using it. Then if they understand your claim to be true they will probably avoid using your intellectual property.
     

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