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I have been making an independent film as a passion project

for more than 6 years...
I have been making an independent film as a passion project for more than 6 years and about 2 years ago an angel stepped forward and wired some cash to us without any paperwork or expected returns. He just wanted to make it happen and there were no offers of return or promises it would be making any money at all. We ran out of money about a year ago and the project stalled but recently from other angels got enough to cut the film as it was just needing some last funds to get a first cut. We are doing that now. But the initial angel has suddenly attempted to kick me the writer/producer off the project and retain the editor and put in a person he wants to do the film, citing delays mainly as the issue for such demands. The editor is being bullied using money offered to have him cut the film without me. What steps should I take to protect my film, which has received donations from many other people and who expect the film to be made by me. It will be available to privately screen in August. I am concerned about legal actions by the initial angel, who did give the most, and is now trying to make copies of all the media on our computers. Thank you and any advise would be greatly appreciated.
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Answered in 2 minutes by:
6/23/2013
Chris T., JD
Chris T., JD, Attorney
Category: Legal
Satisfied Customers: 4,829
Experience: Experienced in both state and federal court.
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TexLawyer :

Hello. I'll be assisting you with your question.

Customer:

Hi, thank you

TexLawyer :

Just so I understand you correctly, the first person gave you cash, without any written agreement, or verbal requirements on the money, correct?

Customer:

Yes

TexLawyer :

Could you explain what he is trying to do now?

Customer:

Nothing written but we did put together a budget that we expected would be enough to finish but films notoriously a difficult to gauge

Customer:

and shared that with him.

Customer:

Yet he asked for no written agreements and we offered no returns or expected payments back to him.

Customer:

Okay, yes I will explain.

Customer:

Last week in Los Angeles while working with my editor on the film he stopped in to help out and then when I left he began to intimidate my editor into working with him WITHOUT ME

Customer:

yet I am the writer and producer for over 6 years

Customer:

and he wants to copy all the external drives with the media

Customer:

and take them home to find somebody else to produce the film.

TexLawyer :

OK. Is your editor receptive to him?

Customer:

the editor is my best friend and sharing what he is saying to him behind my back and we have a good relationship but I live in Vermont. I want to fly out this week and remove all the media from the editor's studio and bring it home

Customer:

he is okay with that but afraid of what the angel will do

Customer:

i have already backed up the media and have it here but i want to take the original tapes and drives too

TexLawyer :

You can't stop the angel from speaking to your editor, but you can potentially take action against the angel doing something with the film, should he get his hands on it.

Customer:

what legal recourse does he have and what legal protection can i take

Customer:

but what if he cannot get his hands on the film?

Customer:

that I can prevent right now

TexLawyer :

The angel has no legal recourse. He has no contract and no right to any part of the film.

Customer:

so i just need to take the media and keep it out of his hands

Customer:

?

TexLawyer :

If he did get his hands on the film, you could sue him for an injunction and prevent him from distributing it, but you can't stop him from bothering your editor about it.

Customer:

the editor is worried and wants to get out from in the middle

Customer:

so to be clear....

Customer:

even if he gave us money he has no right to take control?

Customer:

second...

TexLawyer :

Correct.

Customer:

if i take the film media now the editor will not be liable

Customer:

the editor is an artist and does not understand business

TexLawyer :

Correct.

Customer:

he is confused and does need money so he is really caught in between

Customer:

i worry he might take an offer if it is big enough and destroy hour 30 year friendship

TexLawyer :

Legal rights are not conferred just by giving someone money. There must be some kind of "meeting of the minds" regarding the purpose of the transfer of funds.

Customer:

'meeting of the minds' we had only in that we all wanted my passion project to get done

TexLawyer :

If that happens, you may have a cause of action against the angel for tortious interference with a business relationship.

Customer:

but nothing beyond that in terms of implied or expressed return or payback etc. He even said that he does not want his money back intially if the film made any money

Customer:

okay, tortious interfference'

Customer:

interference'

Customer:

so should I send a certified letter threatening that kind of legal action"?

Customer:

if his behavior continues

Customer:

he has a lot of money

Customer:

i have none

TexLawyer :

yes, that is if he is able to come in and pay your editor to do something different with the film than you wanted. Of course, you should review the film before it is finalized, so it would seem unlikely that he could alter it and distribute it without your blessing, correct?

Customer:

not sure I understand the last statement

Customer:

i am now editing the first cut and have taken control of it and will have it done in August

Customer:

my editor will later get a final cut going and I pay him for it.

TexLawyer :

You are worried about the angel paying your editor and having him edit the film his way, correct?

Customer:

yes, but also it is my film --- the angel wants me completely removed from the film and make it his way. My name off etc. We don't really understand why he is doing this it seems disproportionate and we have tried to dialogue

TexLawyer :

He has zero legal rights to do what he wants to do, so I'm not even sure how he's going about accomplishing that.

TexLawyer :

To put it bluntly, he has the same legal right to the film as I do.

Customer:

He is simply intimidating the editor and I am on the East Coast

TexLawyer :

That may be true, but the editor has no legal right to take you off or put someone else's name on the film.

Customer:

they are on West Coast and I don't trust the editor/friend to stand up to him thus I am flying there to remove the drives and boxes of tapes

Customer:

the editor would not do that the angel would

Customer:

the angel wants to take complete control behind my back

Customer:

so i think you have given me some great advice

Customer:

any other thoughts?

Customer:

do you have entertainment law experience?

Customer:

could you give me some more details about your expertise?

Customer:

your experience?

TexLawyer :

I understand your concern, but there is no way for the angel to do that. If he did, you could sue him. A letter from your attorney to that effect may help make that clear. However, at this point, I don't think you have a huge concern.

TexLawyer :

I've handled several theft of intellectual property cases in the past.

Customer:

ok, great

TexLawyer :

But, this is not as much an entertainment law question as it is a basic contract law question.

Customer:

any last words of advice?

TexLawyer :

There is NO CONTRACT here. Therefore, the angel has no contractual rights. As I said earlier, simply giving someone money does not create an ownership right without a contract.

Customer:

the editor also has already been paid by me and owes me a month of editing based on my storyboard script which is copyrighted so he is exposed to me potentially violating our agreement

TexLawyer :

OK. You may have a cause of action against the editor, but that is something you have to decide if you want to pursue, and at what cost.

Customer:

right, for now I am getting the media away from them both and the editor is okay with that until things calm down. He has other projects to work on meanwhile.

Customer:

I will cut the film and revisit the editor relationship later in the summer for the final cut, which he owes me now.

Customer:

am i being charged by the minute?

Customer:

I dont have much money

Customer:

i paid $50 deposit to get you online with me.

TexLawyer :

No, you are being charged by the question. Once you rate my answer, you will be charged the $50. That's all.

Customer:

the initial question?

TexLawyer :

Yes. It is a single fee, not by the minute.

Customer:

okay, thank you for your advice.

TexLawyer :

Glad to help.

TexLawyer :

If there isn't anything else I can do for you, please remember to "Rate" my answer. Good luck!

TexLawyer :

Also, if you have any questions in the future, you can direct them to me by posting them directly to my profile, here: http://www.justanswer.com/law/expert-texlawyer/

Customer:

I will rate it --- should I get second opinion?

Customer:

you were excellent

Customer:

so to be sure, he cannot go to a court and get a court order to seize the media?

TexLawyer :

I don't think you need a second opinion, but if it would make you feel more comfortable, feel free to do so. No, he cannot.

TexLawyer :

The rating process is completed by using the set of faces.

Chris T., JD
Chris T., JD, Attorney
Category: Legal
Satisfied Customers: 4,829
Experience: Experienced in both state and federal court.
Verified
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Chris T., JD
Chris T., JD
Chris T., JD, Attorney
Category: Legal
Satisfied Customers: 4,829
4,829 Satisfied Customers
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