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Old 03-06-2020, 03:21 AM   #1
SundownInRetreat
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Default Writing copyrighted material

So we all know that writing spec scripts based on existing franchises/IP should be avoided as the idea is to display creativity rather than riffing on existing ideas but is there any actual downside to it? I know there's no risk of litigation for writing such material and sending it out as a calling card but ever since the Marvin Gaye 'rewrite for free' thread it's something I've been pondering.

I mean, it's going to be a lot easier for the rights holders to Elvis Presley and Freddy Krueger to steal your script and claim 'coincidence' and 'unavoidable' overlapping of plot - due to their pre-existing history and character of historical figures and existing fictional franchises - than if you sent in an original story of your own creation. Even if prodcos want to do right by you and invite you to discus further, they could still take your ideas without recompense if they ultimately decide to go a different path. And it's not like you can shop your script to other prodcos if things don't go well with the rights holders as there'll probably still be too many recognisable (ie: protected) aspects to your script.

It seems to me that your only hope is to find honest, virtuous prodcos who will reward you fairly if they like what you write and that seems riskier than moonlight skinny-dipping in Amity. But on the flip side, if you have a good concept to bring someone's life story to the screen or, better yet, to rescue an ailing franchise then that to me seems a great incentive and - if you can get it in the hands of those that matter - seems a better prospect for success than creating something totally unique and hoping to sell it as the non-existent IP that it is and if you're lucky, you can change enough elements so it's unrecognisable from the existing IP you originally wrote it for. It should also quicken the creative process as a lot of the heavy-lifting has already been established for you.

Thoughts?

Last edited by SundownInRetreat : 03-06-2020 at 03:33 AM.
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Old 03-06-2020, 03:32 AM   #2
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Default Re: Writing copyrighted material

TL; DR

Original content:
Pros: if truly unique, you have 'some' protection against theft
Cons: new IP is too risky, these days

Pre-existing content:
Pros: universe and characters already exist = easier creative process; if good then more likely to grab attention of decision-makers and lead to success
Cons: theft is harder to prove as universe, history and idiosyncrasies have already been established; no legal claim to characters/biographies owned by others

Thoughts?
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Old 03-06-2020, 09:31 AM   #3
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Default Re: Writing copyrighted material

Do not do this. Ever. Reps want to see original work and the producers you would want to read your adaptation are the absolute last ones who would read it. It's a legal nightmare.

Write an original so good that every producer in town wants to hire you to adapt the IP they control. Writing your Batman adaptation (for example) does not make you look like the writer who is going to save the DC franchise, it makes you look like a crazy fanboy.
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Old 03-06-2020, 11:39 AM   #4
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Default Re: Writing copyrighted material

Unless it's a sui generis thing like Saving Mr. Banks where the owner of the underlying IP feels compelled to buy it for production, writing anything based on existing IP that the writer doesn't have permission for is probably just a waste of time. At worst (and 99% of them are worst) it just comes off as bad fan-fic, which reflects doubly poor on the writer.
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Old 03-06-2020, 12:55 PM   #5
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Default Re: Writing copyrighted material

Quote:
Originally Posted by JoeBanks View Post
Unless it's a sui generis thing like Saving Mr. Banks where the owner of the underlying IP feels compelled to buy it for production, writing anything based on existing IP that the writer doesn't have permission for is probably just a waste of time. At worst (and 99% of them are worst) it just comes off as bad fan-fic, which reflects doubly poor on the writer.
Assuming the writer has talent, though?

No one - and I mean no one - is going to take legal action because someone used their IP as a calling card. They'll understand the reasoning and that there's no attempt to profit externally. And if it's good, all they'll care about is 'what could be'. Same applies to including songs and brand names in scripts - only clueless amateurs who adhere to the myths of screenwriting worry about litigation and legal quandries.

Like I said, just wonderin'. Likewise if I had an idea about Elvis time-travelling to save the world then I'm going to write it and pitch it for the calling card that it is, and not worry about irrational fears that his estate is going to come after me (ditto re: song and brand inclusion).
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Old 03-06-2020, 02:55 PM   #6
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Default Re: Writing copyrighted material

Quote:
Originally Posted by SundownInRetreat View Post
Assuming the writer has talent, though?

No one - and I mean no one - is going to take legal action because someone used their IP as a calling card. They'll understand the reasoning and that there's no attempt to profit externally. And if it's good, all they'll care about is 'what could be'. Same applies to including songs and brand names in scripts - only clueless amateurs who adhere to the myths of screenwriting worry about litigation and legal quandries.
The reason nobody would take legal action against a random writer speccing their IP is that an unauthorized spec script (technically infringing under the Copyright Act though it may be) has no impact on the existing protected IP in that form. From the corporate owners' standpoint, who gives a ****?

But that's still not the reason not to do it. Writing something the writer doesn't own reflects poorly on the writer for (1) stealing, creatively and proprietarily; and (2) possibly not even doing that well if it's a bad take on the material.
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Old 03-06-2020, 03:01 PM   #7
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Default Re: Writing copyrighted material

But if the writer is good?

Sure, a good writer can make up their own stuff but what's bad about them writing a fab script for existing IP?

Whereas writing the next Elm Street installment is 'stealing' and showing little creativity, what about biopic'ing Margaret Thatcher's life - showing skill in condensing 75 years into 2 hours, apinting a three-dimensional character. demonstrating pacing, tension, levity and pathos at the required times whilst showing an innate ear for dialogue and set pieces?
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Old 03-06-2020, 04:29 PM   #8
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Default Re: Writing copyrighted material

Quote:
Originally Posted by SundownInRetreat View Post
Whereas writing the next Elm Street installment is 'stealing' and showing little creativity, what about biopic'ing Margaret Thatcher's life - showing skill in condensing 75 years into 2 hours, painting a three-dimensional character. demonstrating pacing, tension, levity and pathos at the required times whilst showing an innate ear for dialogue and set pieces?
Not to overly simply legal stuff but...

If you write something based on someone's life then that isn't really copyrighted material or IP, if you will. IP is actual "property" protected by law - a film, a TV show, a video game, a board game, a comic book, a novella, etc. In other words, something one can register a copyright for.

If it's a historical figure like Thatcher, there isn't much she can do about it unless it's libelous and defaming. Young Il Kim -- a member of these forums -- got attention for his RODHAM script about Hillary Clinton. I don't recall him getting rights to anything. He just researched her life from various sources.

I think it's fairly safe to say, unless you are basing your script on a biography or autobiography by some author(s), you should be okay. Be a bit careful where you get all your info from still since if you clearly get it from one source (article, video, doc) they will almost surely come after you since that would be, as with basing on a book, taking from a protected IP. That's why Bio pics are so often based on books companies option or buy the rights to.

Now to protect yourself fully, one could look at trying to obtain life rights from a person or their estate, but that could open up a can of worms for you and cost. If you are writing something for the fun of it and/or as a writing sample based on a historical figure or well-known event you should be okay to do that.

If the writer is great, who knows what could happen?
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Old 03-07-2020, 09:53 AM   #9
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Default Re: Writing copyrighted material

Quote:
Originally Posted by SundownInRetreat View Post
But if the writer is good?
I have some strong opinions on this topic.

How does being a "good writer" in any way justify it, or make it easier to accept? If you want to use someone's IP to write a sample to advance yourself, why isn't the first step to ask the copyright holder for permission?

Could it be because the original artist might say no?

If an unknown writer wrote a Harry Potter feature and sent it around as a sample do you think that JK Rowling's legal team wouldn't jump down their throat immediately? Or that the studio that owns the copyright wouldn't be on them like flies on ****? Do you think anyone in the industry would request that script from you?

And it doesn't matter which IP a writer would be hijacking, the principal is the same.

What you're suggesting is that a writer wants to deliberately exploit copyrighted material to advance their own career, to profit off someone else's creation. That is copyright infringement.

Quote:
Sure, a good writer can make up their own stuff but what's bad about them writing a fab script for existing IP?
If a writer sends out a sample of a feature based on someone else's IP the assumption IS NOT that they can make stuff up themselves. The assumption is that they CANNOT.

You're scenario of plundering another writer's IP somehow assumes it's EASY for a "good writer" to write a "fab script." That the plundering writer's craft is somehow superior to the original artist that the new script would just "command" attention.

How many sequels are better than the original? It happens, but it's rare.

It doesn't make the writer appear as a superior writer, but rather the opposite-- they are a weaker writer that cannot stand on their own merit.

Think of how long it took to get a Bladerunner sequel made. Or How long it has taken for an I Am Legend reboot (still in development). Or how long it took for Mad Max: Fury Road to be written. There's a reason it takes a long time-- because it ain't easy.

No one wants to open themselves up to a liable suit.
Quote:
Whereas writing the next Elm Street installment is 'stealing' and showing little creativity, what about biopic'ing Margaret Thatcher's life - showing skill in condensing 75 years into 2 hours, apinting a three-dimensional character. demonstrating pacing, tension, levity and pathos at the required times whilst showing an innate ear for dialogue and set pieces?
Writing a biopic about a celebrity's life or a political figure's life is not the same as using someone's fictional copyright protected IP without their permission.

How would you feel if someone took your Johnny Lightening world, used the setting and all your characters and wrote a feature film and was sending it around town as a sample of what a clever writer they are? And what if they got hired to write a feature because of the sample based off your IP with a seven figure payday?

Are you telling me you would be okay with that?

NOTE: I'm not sure if you're just proposing a scenario for debate, or if you're considering this as an actual path for yourself, I tried to be as general as possible in my response.
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Old 03-07-2020, 12:26 PM   #10
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Default Re: Writing copyrighted material

I did this a couple years ago. Couldn't get this compelling figure out of my mind. Read a book on the company she started. Wanted to write the biopic. Saw that many, many of the other sources I sought out to "second source" everything, were actually attributed to the book I had read.

Said eff it, I'm doing it anyway. Did it.

Got one prodco to say they'd read it, because according to them if they liked it they'd just "buy" the IP. That creative exec then went to a different company before getting back to me.

Had interest at a few other places, but ALL DECLINED to read it when they found I didn't own the IP. (I told people up front, I had used this book for the progression of events and some dialogue).

So, it didn't work out for me. But I didn't feel stupid or terrible or like I was an idiot for trying, though. Because I had wanted to write it. So I did.

Flash forward two years -- a biopic of the woman's story is on the Black List (list, not site) from some other writer that more than likely found a way to do it without the rights. Perhaps that writer had reps to guide him a little better than I did, being rep-less? Not sure.

My advice? Don't do it. Too much of a headache. Waste of your time. Blah, blah, blah. Or, do whatever you want. Only you can answer this question.
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