Monthly Archives: July 2010

Asked and Answered: Do I need to re-register and register my copyright in other countries?

Q: I am a Canadian who wrote a screenplay and registered it for US copyright.  I have been writing query letters and submitting the screenplay to producers around the world—including to a few producers in another country who expressed interest in reading it.  Since copyright registration of a few years ago, I have made revisions and even changed the title more than once.  However, the original element/story about a cross-cultural relationship remains intact.

1) To what degree would the original copyright protect the latest revision?  Would it depend on how much or materially the story has changed?  If so, is there a guideline to determine the threshold of changes whereby a new registration would be warranted?

2) I chose a US copyright thinking it would protect the world's most lucrative, copyright-protected, movie market.  However, it occured to me, hypothetically speaking, if someone were to take the story and have it made elsewhere in the world and kept it in markets outside of the U.S., essentially I would have no protection.  That is, my U.S. copyright is only good against infringement within the U.S—is that correct?

A: 1)   Copyright protection is independent of the registration.  Revisions are a part of the creative process, so you probably wouldn't  be barred from suing if someone infringes your work.  BUT, if the infringement covers ONLY portions of the work that showed up in revisions AFTER the registration, (such as new scenes, dialogue, etc) you COULD have problems with the suit.   (theoretically, at least.  I'm not aware of any precedent that has actually decided this question).  Still, registering the new version from time-to-time is worthwhile, since it also helps establish the chain of title, which will be required when you sell the property.  This is especially true since the title has been changed.  One of the values of copyright registration is that it provides a way for people to investigate the ownership of  a particular work.  If someone conducts a search for the new title, and can't find it, they may not have enough information on which to search for the earlier title.  Again, given the relatively low cost of registering a copyright, I think it's worthwhile to update it from time to time, just to be safe.  Unfortunately, I can't give you a minimum “threshold”, it's a judgment call you have to make.

2)  No,  Copyright is the subject of an international treaty called the “Berne Convention“.   The U.S. joined the Berne Convention in 1989.  The treaty requires its signatories to recognize the copyright of works of authors from other signatory countries (known as members of the Berne Union) in the same way as it recognises the copyright of its own nationals. For example, French copyright law applies to anything published or performed in France, regardless of where it was originally created.  Most, but not all, countries are signatory to this treaty, (See the map in the wikipedia entry linked above), but for most, the protection afforded by registration in one country is sufficient.

This is intended as general information only and does not establish an attorney-client relationship. It is not a substitute for a private, independent consultation with an attorney selected to advise you after a full investigation of the facts and law relevant to your matter. We will not be responsible for readers’ detrimental reliance upon the information appearing in this feature.


Thinking of Producing it yourself? subscribe to my FREE e-course “6 ways to Finance A Feature Film” by visiting https://firemark.com/minicourse

Asked and Answered: Do I need to clear rights for a historical film set in the 1700s?

Q:   I am currently researching a story that occurred in the 1700s in France. I have used a number of different sources to put together a time-line of  the heroine’s life, from which I have plotted out the story. My question is, do I need to obtain any rights, given that the story occurred more than 200 years ago and I am simply using the research to determine factual events?

Also, once I have written the script, I am hoping to enter it into a screenplay competition. Am I able to describe it as an original work even though it is based on a true story, given that I have come up with the structure and created composite characters and the like?

A:  The short answer is:  “Probably Not”.  Given that the persons depicted in the story have been dead for more than 100 years, it is unlikely that anybody could  succeed in bringing a lawsuit against you for telling the story.  Of course, I'm not familiar with the laws of every jurisdiction, and it's possible that France or some other country has a peculiar law that might give rise to a lawsuit, so it's worth having an attorney research the situation a bit… but, basing your story on a person who lived hundreds of years ago, and with the events corroborated from multiple sources is about as safe as you can get when writing about true people and events.

It's probably appropriate to characterize your work as an original screenplay, but you should also be clear that it's ‘based on the life of…' or ‘based on true events…'.  If you fail to disclose this, you might find yourself disqualified from competition, or worse, refunding the prize if you're later found out.  Full disclosure is usually the best approach.

This is intended as general information only and does not establish an attorney-client relationship. It is not a substitute for a private, independent consultation with an attorney selected to advise you after a full investigation of the facts and law relevant to your matter. We will not be responsible for readers’ detrimental reliance upon the information appearing in this feature.


Thinking of Producing it yourself? subscribe to my FREE e-course “6 ways to Finance A Feature Film” by visiting https://firemark.com/minicourse

Producer Credit in Lieu of Compensation: Trouble in the making?

It's quite frequent in my practice.  My clients are asked to accept less than their usual fee or “quote” for work.  What's offered in exchange for this important concession?  You guessed it, Producer credit.

Well, this is often very attractive to the client, as it helps them climb the showbiz food chain.  In fact, many folks in the entertainment industry view credit as more important than compensation, in the short run.  By taking a ‘higher' credit, they're establishing precedent, so their next job can be at the same, improved credit and they can earn a more appropriate fee.

But accepting a producing credit is not without its perils.  In preparing to teach my Theater Law course, I was reminded of a case in which a party who bargained for “producer credit” and got much more than he bargained for… a lawsuit.

In Redgrave v Stuart Thomson Productions (NY, 1999, unpublished) ,  Actor Corin Redgrave was  injured when exiting the stage in the dark.  He sued the producers and the  ‘General Manager' of the  of the show for damages.

(The General Manager is the producer’s front-line operative in the production of the show.  Responsible for the day-to-day administration  of the production, the GM will, in consultation with the Producer(s),  of course,  supervise  the preparation of a budget for the show, along with the activities of the accountants, press agent, Company Manager, box-office,  advertising, marketing, promotions, contract negotiations, staffing and personnel matters, and any other business matters that may arise.)

You see, Thomson had, in addition to his fees for General Management services, received a co-producer credit for the play as well.     So, in ruling on Thomson's Motion for Summary Judgment, the Court refused to dismiss the case because there was  an issue of fact as to whether  Thomson's credit made him a partner in the production, and therefore liable for Redrgrave's injuries.

So, in evaluating an offer that includes a producer credit in lieu of some or all of the compensation a party would otherwise seek, it's important to consider not just the career benefit, but also the risk involved with being credited as a producer.

Asked and Answered: When are friends and family co-authors?

Q: Writers are encouraged to share their work with friends and family prior to submitting to publishing or film industry professionals. At what point does a family member’s or friend’s contribution considered sufficient to be considered collaboration? In other words, if a family member suggests changes that results in a substantial re-write, is that sufficient… Continue Reading

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