You’ve heard the horror stories: screenwriters who end up with no credit for a produced film, writers who aren’t paid their fair share for sequels and prequels, and screenwriters who are embarrassingly credited for terrible films that barely resemble the script they first wrote. And the stories get worse.
Wondering how to avoid screenwriting copyright problems like these? With proper counsel, it is possible to protect yourself and your creative work, even when working with a writing partner. And if you don’t have an attorney on call, you can heed this advice from attorney Sean Pope at Ramo Law.
Avoid handshake deals on screenwriting credit
Determine who owns the screenplay rights
Consider all screenplay possibilities
Copyright your screenplay
Sean mainly works with producers and production companies on all aspects of legal services, and he has experience representing screenwriters to help negotiate deals that serve them best.
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In this article, Sean goes in-depth on copyright problems that frequently crop up in his line of work, plus how you can easily avoid these issues by taking time to think through what you want for yourself and your screenplay.
Avoid Handshake Deals on Screenwriting Credit
Of course, you want to trust your writing partner. It’s key to being able to collaborate. But having an agreement in writing will prevent future heartache. It could also force you to have difficult conversations about the script, its potential, and what you want to happen to it; consider who you will and won’t sell to, what kind of rewriting you’ll allow, and how you’ll determine writing credits.
Determine Who Owns the Screenplay Rights
Just because you are both working on the screenplay doesn’t mean you’ll both own the rights unless you structure a contract that way, of course. If one person is doing more writing than the other, how will you weigh decisions in the future? Add this to your written agreement. Don’t leave it to chance – or lawyers – to decide for you.
Consider All Screenplay Possibilities
When working through a written agreement with a writing partner or a producer, it’s essential to look beyond screenplay credits and ownership to the many business decisions that will come your way if you sell your script. It’d be wise to think through things such as how you will market the screenplay and to whom, who will decide when to sell or decline, who will own rights to sequels, prequels, and spinoffs, and who will write those spinoffs if one writer on the team isn’t available, and more.
Copyright Your Screenplay
Writers should always copyright their screenplays. Think of WGA registration (or registration with the writing union in your country) as a bonus. Learn more about copyright, its associated costs, and its benefits.
Most screenplay copyright problems are avoidable if you do the hard work upfront; have the tough conversations with your writing partner about how you’ll handle the business side of the screenplay collaboration. After all, the goal is almost always to sell the script, so treat those decisions with the same weight that you give your writing decisions. In the end, everyone has a mutual understanding and agreement that will prevent arguments and steep legal fees in the future.
Are we in agreement?