Filmmaking / Directing : Selling co-authorship rights by Anna-Marie Butler

Anna-Marie Butler

Selling co-authorship rights

Hi All, I've been working with a composer for the past 20 months, developing the skeleton of a story he had into a full-blown screenplay with written storyboard and script. He had a selection of songs he wanted woven into the plot, and we've co-written a further 3 songs for it. The agreement has always been that we co-own the story 50% (his idea, turned into something tangible by me), and the co-written songs are 75% his and 25% mine (as I only worked on the lyrics with him and not the music). During the 20 months, I've also recorded demos, researched artists and agents, acted as production consultant on a live action video of one of the songs, and completed marketing for the project. Investing my time and skills with the long-term prospects in mind. He now wants to buy me out and move the project forward on his own, and has offered me what I believe to be a very small sum to sign over my IP rights to him. What would you consider reasonable payment (given that this has been my primary job for the past year)? Would you insist on still receiving writing credits after signing over ownership? What is the usual protocol here? For reasons irrelevant to this forum, our working relationship has disintegrated over the past few months, but we both wish to resolve this amicably and quickly. I have no issue stepping away from the work for the right price, but absolutely believe in its viability as both a musical animation and a stage musical. All advice would be gratefully received!

Regina Lee

No one wants to give bad advice for such a sensitive, important topic. Generally speaking, there's no "usual protocol." Often if you have to "settle" a disagreement, you settle at 50%. Here are 2 polarized examples, simply to use as examples. Do not take these too literally. Philosophy 1: Life's too short. Take the money and run. A bird in the hand is worth 200 in the bush. -Figure out a reasonable fee based on how much your participation was worth at fair market value, and get paid as much as possible immediately. Be done with it. Get on with your life. Chalk it up to a life lesson. -Use your previous writer quotes and revenues as the basis for coming up with fair market value. For example, your previous play made $50,000 in London theater, and therefore, you can argue well that your 50% is worth $25k. Philosophy 2: Deal with the bad relationship over time and refuse to be bought out. -Get paid back 50% of expenses now for which you have receipts for, e.g. 50% of $500 demo-recording cost. -Become a silent minority partner. We call this "passive" partner. -Since he's the active partner, and you're passive, he gets to make all future decisions. But let's say you get to keep 40% of future fees under xyz circumstances. Just examples. Depending on this relationship, you may both want to get a lawyer to paper the settlement deal.

Anna-Marie Butler

Thanks Regina. We're keen to keep it amicable. Just time for us to go our separate ways. We'll definitely use solicitors to finalise the paperwork. Many thanks for taking the time to comment and advise. x

Chaand Chazelle

Yes I think -it's a good idea to know a good entertainment lawyer. Any one want to support me?

Anna-Marie Butler

Thanks both! Researching lawyers already. :)

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