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Filmmaking / Directing : Screenplay Rights by Dena Barnett

Screenplay Rights

Hi I want to develop screenplays for two true stories USA/UK but I don't have the rights. I need some legal advice from anyone who has been in this position before. They are both of a sensitive nature and I have not approached either of the families for permission - until I know what I am doing legally. If anyone can help me in this matter, I would be very grateful. Both events go back to the 1980's.

Jean-Pierre Chapoteau

You don't need permission to write and publish a story about anyone in America. Very strange, but it's true. But I'm sure you want their respect. But you don't need it.

Dena Barnett

Hi Jean-Pierre Thank you very much for your comment. I assume you mean I don't need permission to write the screenplay or release it as a film? Yes, I would prefer their 'respect'.

Jean-Pierre Chapoteau

Yes, you could write it and release it as a film without even their knowledge. It really does suck, but it's the truth.

Dave McCrea

are you sure about that? I always thought you could write about public figures, but not about just some person you know or they could sue you and would win.

Jean-Pierre Chapoteau

What makes a public figure though?

Jean-Pierre Chapoteau

I thought you could write about your neighbor and everything would be okay. I did learn all this from Wikipedia though,lol. So maybe I am incorrect.

Dena Barnett

Guys I am going to ask a UK media Lawyer tomorrow and hopefully confirm this and as for the USA side; I will probably call up President Obama, (the lawyer) who no doubt will have a biopic made about him when he leaves the White House. PS I am a fan of his, so no sarcasm intended. I appreciate your thoughts and let you know what I find.

Vasco Phillip de Sousa

You probably need someone's permission. There are privacy rights (for private figures), defamation lawsuits (if you can't prove its true, anyone can sue), rights of publicity (for known people who might otherwise profit from their name being used). And yes, these all apply in the United States of America. In addition to national rights, different states have rights. Check any book on entertainment law. Also, note that Joe Esterhaus had a character with a similar name to his ex-boss. The studio lawyers discovered this similarity, and they changed the name of the character in the film in order to avoid a lawsuit. If you're writing about a criminal, and base it all on fact, you may not need permission. But, there's a reason why TV channels can pay a lot of money for the rights to some people's life stories. You know that bit at the end of the film saying "not based on any individual, living or dead?" There are good reasons for that.

Jean-Pierre Chapoteau

You have a point, I have seen those disclaimers. So how can people get away with writing biographies about Oprah without her consent, or celebrities getting a movie made about their lives when they ask not to. That's really weird.

Vasco Phillip de Sousa

If it's considered in the public interest, and you can verify that your film doesn't harm anyone's rights, then you should have no problems in most markets. Also, it's easier to say what you want with books than with films. Books are cheaper to make, so it's just the author that normally gets into trouble. And, the subject of your story is not obligated to sue. (That said, Richard Branson did sue his biographer, and quite a few people have sued newspapers.) You don't always need consent, especially if you're talking about a politician or you're not saying anything that could upset anyone. But, even if you don't need the subject's consent, your telling of the story needs to be original enough for copyright clearance. (If your story is based too much on a newspaper article or non-fiction book, that could still be copyright infringement. It's best to have many sources so that an original story will emerge, including interviews and original research.) Check out some books on writing docudrama, and entertainment law. Too much to say here, really.

Dena Barnett

Thank you guys Happy Christmas to you

Douglas Eugene Mayfield

Since I'm not a lawyer, you should check it out, but anything in the US which is in the record of a legal or court proceeding is public domain. So if your story material is in a trial transcript, you can use it. (I know nothing about the laws in the UK.) That said, I would still make an effort to get the rights from any principals involved and from their family members since that helps you lock up the story.

Dena Barnett

Thank you Douglas

Alejandra Alyse Guzman

i believe if it is a public figure or historical figure you dont need permission but if it is about somebody close to you or a neighbor i think you do it could fall under like a privacy law or something

Dena Barnett

Thank you Alejandra. Much appreciated

Allison Miles

Have you gone to the WGA?

Bev Oliver

If the story is part public domain and part personal, how much should a writer/producer offer for the film rights? I'm speaking about a US story. All comments welcome.

Bev Oliver

Dena, I hope you don't mind my piggyback question.

Douglas Eugene Mayfield

Bev - To be glib about it I'd answer your question 'As little as possible'. :) Seriously, it's hard to know what to suggest because film rights for the personal part could vary wildly depending on whose rights you mean. Unless there is a strong reason not to do so, or the situation is complex (involving celebs or someone who doesn't want their story told), I'd start by contacting those whose rights you want to buy and see what they say.

Dena Barnett

Thanks Guys.

LindaAnn Loschiavo

Dena Barnett: my full-length stage play "COURTING MAE WEST" is based on true events when Mae West was arrested and jailed for writing plays about homosexuals. Mae's trials were extensively covered in the press. NO permission was necessary. It was a matter of public record. If a murder or rape was involved, however, you may want to alter the names.

Bev Oliver

Thanks Douglas!

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