Screenwriting : Legal by Brian Knight

Brian Knight

Legal

I am working on a spin-off of a 80's sitcom. From time to time since joining Stage 32; I get asked if I have permission to use the predecessors characters. The way I view it; is that I don't plan on selling the content to anyone; I plan on giving the concept that I developed to the organization that currently owns it and that's it. If they like the concept; they can either buy my scripts; or develop their own based on the concept I gave them. At this point, I look at my development of this series in one of two ways. It is currently nothing more than fan fiction (that will never be published by me); and the other way its just a continuation (to spec) of the original story. Being that I don't plan to publish it outside the channels of those who already own it; and that I don't plan on selling the concept; I don't believe I need to seek permission to write my scripts. Also, if this is, of sorts, a to spec creation; I shouldn't need to seek permission. If that was the case; the screen writers guild would not have requirements that studios accept a percentage of their scripts from outside writers and we would have no one new writing for TV. Am I correct in my interpretations? Any one know.if I still need to receive permissions even if the people I am writing for are the same people who already own the content? Please let me know.

Owen Mowatt

Hi, Brian You keep using variations of the term "the way I see/view it", Ignorance is not a defence, you should just check your legal standings, which I'm pretty sure already suspect will not speak in your favour. If I came up with a unique hit concept, I would hate the idea that any Joe Blow is rewriting my characters, using my world without my/any permission. I don't really care what their intentions were.

Evelien And Dorien Twins

We have to say we agree with Owen on this. Copyright is a very fickle thing and you don't want to step on the wrong people's toes. All in all, "it's a small world, afterall". The law doesn't take "the way I see it into account", so either it's a work of fanfiction which is allowed under certain circomstances (look at CBS who have an outline for fanmade work) or it's original content. If it's original content based on original work, you're best off contacting the right people prior to endevouring to do anything with it. Better safe than sorry. There's very little grey area.

Craig D Griffiths

I am not a lawyer, and anyway I am in Australia which has slightly different legal standing and common law. Having said that. I have listen to numerous "Nerdist Writer's Panel" podcasts (which is now just called the writers panel) and out of the hundreds I would say 70% of writers say that they have all written spec scripts for shows that they didn't work on, as writing samples to get work. Not work on the show they did the 'no permission' spec script about , but some other show. Pretty much any show, they refer to it as a writing sample. They do,it for a show they don't work on to prove they can write in someone's voice and not just their own. These writing samples get sent all over town ( their words not mine). So you are writing something based on a previous work and sending it to the owner of the original work and no one else. The biggest problem I see is that you are doing a huge amount of work, and on a planet of 8 billion people you are limiting your customer base to a single person (or company). Now those odds I don't like.

Evelien And Dorien Twins

Excellent points, Craig!

Wal Friman

Brian, you don't need their permission to write fan fiction and offer it only to them. Your strategy seems like a good way to learn fast, by the way.

Owen Mowatt

Are you suggesting that the copywrite law doesnt apply to you if you're a fan of the work??

Wal Friman

It's a humble and genuine business proposal.

Brian Knight

"The way I see i" Owen, is that copyright still natters. Fox acquired the rights to the characters of the Wonder Years. I am not disputing that. But, the purpose and intent of copyright is so that others can't profit from others work. I am/will not. Wal; from the dozens of articles I have read; in most cases, people don't seek permission to write fan fiction; and in many cases, the copyright owner doesn't care so much; just as long as their copyrighted material is kept in a favorable light; and so long as you don't intend to profit from doing do. That said, copyright does matter. When I used phrases, like, "as I see it"; I mean at this very point in time. At this very point in time, i am doing nothing but writing the thoughts in my head on paper (well, typing on a junky rundown laptop). No one has answered wither that is a crime. I made it clear, that I did not intend to publish what I write, or profit from the concept. Studios, do accept, "to spec" scripts all the time; in fact, I read that they are required to accept a certain number of them in any given season. 20th Century Fox Television already owns the Wonder Years; i am only sending them a "to spec" script of what could be called another chapter in that series. When it is ready. That being said; I also know its hard as hell to get your concepts in from of the right eyes. And that is why, from the beginning, I have been growing my social media contacts, and making contacts with dozens of recognized talents. The goal is, to get someone attached (or a few people attached); so, that I can take it to the two characters of the original show; then with them hopefully in my quiver; I can go to the studio execs. Wither they accept it or not; the primary goal for this project was to write an acceptable ending for my Asperger mind. And with the conclusion of my featurette's script, I will have done that. The spin-off was just a byproduct of doing that. I appreciate all the feedback from those whom have responded. Still would like a definitive answer though. is it copyright infringement if you write a story based, in part, on another show, if you have no intentions of publishing said story or profiting from it? There has to be a few legal types out there, who can answer my question with a simple yes or no. i just want something simple to pass off to those who keep asking the same old questions.

Bill Costantini

Brian - of course it's copyright infringement if you do that. You don't need an attorney to tell you that. + Does that mean Fox is going to come after you if you're just keeping it in your house and showing it to friends with no intention of trying to sell it? Probably not, good fan that you are, but you are still violating the law. + Does that mean Fox is going to come after you if you produce it yourself and put it on Youtube? Probably yes, because you're violating the law and trying to profit off of an IP that they own. + Does that mean any producer, studio or network outside of Fox who might read your script is going to say "but this is owned by Fox...we can't touch this." Probably yes, because you're violating the law. Go ahead and roll the dice, if you must. I know I wouldn't. I hope your submission to Fox leads to a contract offer and a remade Wonder Years. That certainly was a great show. Good luck and Happy Writing! AND MAJOR CONGRATS TO ELENA DELLE DONNE!!!!

Dan Guardino

Brian. The odds are about a hundred to one they won't even read the script so really why bother. If you are that big a fan watch the reruns and write something else original. That is just my opinion. As a screenwriter the only thing I have to sell is my talent and my time which I don't have enough of either to waste on something I don't think has a chance of being profitable.

Brian Knight

From: http://www.templetons.com/brad/copymyths.html #6 (read the last sentence) "If I make up my own stories, but base them on another work, my new work belongs to me." False. U.S. Copyright law is quite explicit that the making of what are called "derivative works" -- works based or derived from another copyrighted work -- is the exclusive province of the owner of the original work. This is true even though the making of these new works is a highly creative process. If you write a story using settings or characters from somebody else's work, you need that author's permission. Yes, that means almost all "fan fiction" is arguably a copyright violation. If you want to publish a story about Jim Kirk and Mr. Spock, you need Paramount's permission, plain and simple. Now, as it turns out, many, but not all holders of popular copyrights turn a blind eye to "fan fiction" or even subtly encourage it because it helps them. Make no mistake, however, that it is entirely up to them whether to do that. There is a major exception -- criticism and parody. The fair use provision says that if you want to make fun of something like Star Trek, you don't need their permission to include Mr. Spock. This is not a loophole; you can't just take a non-parody and claim it is one on a technicality. The way "fair use" works is you get sued for copyright infringement, and you admit you did copy, but that your copying was a fair use. A subjective judgment on, among other things, your goals, is then made. However, it's also worth noting that a court has never ruled on this issue, because fan fiction cases always get settled quickly when the defendant is a fan of limited means sued by a powerful publishing company. Some argue that completely non-commercial fan fiction might be declared a fair use if courts get to decide. Oliver; are you implying that all spec writing is in essence copyright infringement? The definition of spec scripts is that it is a non-commissioned unsolicited screenplay. I can't find the article stating that studios have to accept so many spec scripts per sesson to share with you; but, I did find this statement on the Freelancer. "WGA East Foundation Board member Jenny Lumet told me screenwriters can still benefit even when they’re not members. For example, anyone can go into the guild offices with a spec script and register it. "

Evelien And Dorien Twins

This may sound like a harsh statement; but if your only reason for posting this question is so that you can dispute every single argument people put on the table and declare that as unvalid, then what is the actual point of posting the question? If you enter the right search queries on Google, you will find what you want, how you want it and with however many exceptions you want it at all times Ofcourse there's always the odd exception, ofcourse in the past there have been spec works on fanfiction (I.E. "Fifty Shades of Grey" started of as a fanfiction to "Twilight") that in no way gives way of the fact that copyright is copyright... fact that those few writers are part of the lucky crowd who didn't get a slap on the wrist for it is just their luck, nothing more

Owen Mowatt

/\ Very much this /\

Bill Costantini

My man Bootsy would tear the roof off this mother sucker. MAJOR CONGRATS TO ELENA DELLE DONNE!!!!!!!

Dan Guardino

Brian. You already wasted your time writing a screenplay you can’t even sell or use as a sample of your work, so why are you wasting more of your time discussing the legalities of it? It doesn’t matter if you violated copyright or trademark laws when the script isn’t going to made. Unless screenwriting is strictly a hobby of yours and you have no intention of every making money writing a screenplay, I would write something you can actually sell or use as a sample of your work.

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