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Hugh
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Experience:  20 years experience in performing, studio sessions, producing, composing, entertainment management.
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Hi! My writing partner and I have been hired by a production

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Hi! My writing partner and I have been hired by a production company to write a short film script. We wrote it under a contract that said we would be the owner of the copyright (we haven't copyrighted it yet). The short film got made, was a success, and we are now hired by the same producer under another contract that still claims US as the owners of the copyright for the feature-length script. Two months later, we are close to submitting our 1st draft...the producer sends another contract (Chain of Title) that has all kinds of changes made to it (1) the producer now wants to own the copyright, (2) the pay scale has changed, (3)we have waive our moral rights of authors, etc. He wants us to sign this immediately...but we are hesitant to. If we haven't even copyrighted the feature length script yet, is this Chain of Title necessary? Or is it that he messed up and is trying to fix things? Thx
Submitted: 5 years ago.
Category: Entertainment
Expert:  Hugh replied 5 years ago.
Without having the contract in front of me, It's difficult for me to say what rights you have. Firstly, the work should have been copyrighted before the film went into production. Do you know for a fact, that you own the copyright? Technically (and legally) you do, provided you didn't sign your rights away, however to prove that copyright, you have to file with the Copyright Office, Library of Congress.

Look at it this way. If you didn't copyright the work, then it is wide open for anyone else to. No - it's not moral or legal for that matter - but trying to prove that is another thing. I don't know without seeing the contract. Did you get an entertainment lawyer to look over the contract before it was signed? Did the production company give you the contract, or did you draft it?

In terms of the Chain of Title. That is typical and common in the motion picture industry - however usually more for the distributor. It can consist of a series of "permissions," (documents) that you have obtained, such as location agreements, music sync license agreements, E&O insurance etc Distributors need these to be held harmless in case of copyright infringement. However, what this production company has sent you, sounds like a complete scam and doesn't sound like a Chain of Title (again, really impossible for me to clarify without seeing it).

They can't take your copyright. They may be able to take your "idea" (ideas are not copyrightable), but they can't take your literary work, unless you sign it over to them. So, you may give them the rights to produce it into a movie, but you still keep the copyright. That is your right! Sounds like they are pulling a fast one on you. And...why would they tell you to sign it immediately? I have been in the entertainment business for over 20 years. I've dealt with publishers, record companies, producers etc. No one who is reputable tells you to sign something immediately. You always get an entertainment lawyer to check it out first. I don't know where you live, but there are many e lawyers in large metropolitan cities. I live near Atlanta, for instance, and there are many reputable ones there.

You need to go ahead and copyright your material with the copyright office ASAP! Hopefully, no one beat you to the punch on the first film.

What are they giving you as consideration? (what kind of financial arrangement have you made). That is a biggie right here. Are they offering to buy your work, as a work for hire? This is typically when a party buys your script and you get no credit or copyright but you get paid a lump sum for the script. If you are giving away your copyright, how else would you make money? It won't be from royalties. Signing over your rights would leave you penniless.

I would advise you to get this contract reviewed ASAP by an entertainment lawyer. And, DO NOT give way to their pressure. If they are pressuring you that much, it doesn't sound like they are reputable or even worthy to be working with. And...don't give away your rights!

Edited by Hugh on 10/7/2009 at 4:54 PM EST
Hugh, Composer, Producer and Performer
Category: Entertainment
Satisfied Customers: 59
Experience: 20 years experience in performing, studio sessions, producing, composing, entertainment management.
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Hugh
Hugh
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