View Full Version : Verbal contracts

matt black biker man
12-07-2004, 12:20 PM
Back in May 2003, I had a number of meetings with a production company in the UK who were interested in developing a movie adaptation of a novel I was in the process of writing.

At the final meeting, various matters were discussed including the fact that someone else would write the treatment and the screenplay (based on my own treatment for the novel) and that a first draft of this would be delivered by the end of December 2003 at the latest. In return for allowing them to have these rights at no cost, I would be given various credits, a reasonable % of the shooting budget and a third of any producer profits. Given the fact that this same company were already working on an adaptation of one of my existing books and that I had a stack of work to complete myself, both my agent and I were happy with all of this. However for various reasons no contract was ever written up and no time limit was agreed upon.

It has now been 15 months since this final meeting and there has been no sign of any development taking place let alone a script being written. Furthermore, for reasons too complicated to go in to, the novel remains unfinished. However, rather than let the story lay dormant I am keen to get it moving by writing the screenplay myself with funding from another company. My problem is, having spoken to the original production company they are adamant that our agreement is binding and that they will begin development in the very near future.

So my question is this, what is my position with regard to ownership of the rights to my own story? And how long is a verbal agreement binding for if indeed it is actually binding?

12-07-2004, 04:08 PM
Doesn't your agent know the answers? No self-respecting agent would paper a deal as bad as that, but I'd have hoped they would only go along with the 'oral contract' chock full of promises if they *knew* it wasn't enforceable. :) Especially considering that film rights are among the most lucrative part of a book deal these days. What on earth were they thinking?

The production company believes that you have transferred your ownership of the film rights exclusively to them?

Ask a solicitor whether here in the UK such a copyright licence has to be in writing and signed by the copyright owner for it to be valid.

Also check what time limits are imposed on oral contracts in the UK, both on the time before the contract commences and the time it takes to fully perform the contract.

In the United States, at least, both the exclusive licence of copyright and contracts that are not fully performable within one year need to be in writing and signed to be valid. I think the same is true here, but I am not certain.

Sounds like this contract will be commencing over one year hence and was probably not fully performable within a year at the get-go. (This contract gives consideration in the form of producers' profits? -- I doubt that it was reasonable for them to expect to be able to develop and release this project within 12 months.)

Also, were the various and as yet unfulfilled promises adequate consideration to make it a valid contract?

12-07-2004, 06:50 PM
Basically, make sure the lawyer or solitictor who you ask these questions is someone experienced in the business.

Basically, it's just their word against yours that you agreed to anything. I'd recommend you have no further contact with the production company and that you say nothing else to them until you've contacted an entertainment lawyer or whatever else you call them in the UK.

12-08-2004, 12:36 AM
what happened to the work they were doing with your other book? has any cash ever exchanged hands?

matt black biker man
12-08-2004, 03:10 AM
The other project is due to start shooting in the spring and yes, money has changed hands. Lots of it in fact!

This, in part, was why I was happy to go with the 'verbal' deal because I do have faith in the other parties involved. However, I also know that this new project has potential hence my desire to get it moving.

12-13-2004, 06:27 AM
Matt, let me know what happens. I think it's likely they have come a cropper on at least one of these points and the oral contract will not be valid, but interested to know for sure what the law is in the UK if you have checked with someone.

12-21-2004, 12:43 PM
I guess that was too much to ask.

matt black biker man
12-22-2004, 11:11 AM
sorry my good man, I've been away. I will do my best to let you know how I get on when I know how I've got on!!!