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Anything Goes : Seucring script rights to a real-life news story by Brian Shell

Brian Shell

Seucring script rights to a real-life news story

I have a question for all you legal beagles out there. Suppose there's a news story on TV that revolves around a real-life person who goes to trial and is convicted. Are there legal rights I'd need to secure in order to write (and sell) a screenplay revolving around a person found guilty who is now in prison?

Brian Shell

Two examples would be "Phil Spector" and "Jack Kevorkian"... both with Al Pacino

Douglas Eugene Mayfield

I'm not a lawyer but a couple of suggestions for consideration. Anything in a legal proceeding, trial transcript, etc. is public domain. Anything written, for example, a news story in the paper, belongs to someone (or to some entity which paid the writer for 'work for hire'). Depending on what story you want to tell, it would make sense, and possibly give you a boost in selling the script, for you to obtain individual rights. So, for example, assuming he has not sold them, the guy in prison has the rights to his life story. If there were victims of his crime, absent what's recorded in the legal proceedings and again assuming that they have not sold them, they own the rights to their stories. I'd roughly figure out what particular story I wanted to tell, POV of the guy himself, or from the POV of one of more of his victims, or from the POV of the cop(s) who pursued him, or whatever, and then see if the time, effort, etc. to obtain the rights from a particular individual(s) made sense. And I would talk to a lawyer at some point about getting the right documents drawn up, etc. You might find a lawyer who is starting, building, a career in entertainment law who would help you in return for credit/a piece of the action.

Brian Shell

Thanks so much Douglas... excellent advice. I communicated with an entertainment attorney on this, and much of his advice exactly matched your advice. Thank you!

Douglas Eugene Mayfield

You're welcome. Good luck with the script.

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