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Old 03-05-2011, 08:17 PM   #21
TheKeenGuy
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Default Re: Question about copyright

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A specific actual proven example is not "theorizing about it". It clearly happened after the WGA agreement you mentioned.

It showed they could agree to such a concession when they thought it benefited them. As you say they will be far less willing today, but if JR Rowling offered them a new idea but wanted concessions from their standard contract, they'd listen and they'd deal.

Any clause in any contract can be negotiated. You just need to give them a good reason to do so. Same with profit participation. We all know those profits will never materialize but people like Schartzenegger at his peak could get them to agree to a cut of the box office. They agreed to change their standard contract, and in a big way, because they thought it was worth it.
Again, a difference between "could that happen" and "would that happen." Hypothetically, a writer could sell a script to a studio for 51% of their stock. Would that happen? No.

Would a situation analogous to the George Lucas/STAR WARS deal occur again? I doubt that has happened often, if at all, with original properties since the ramifications of that deal became apparent (remember, STAR WARS contributed in many ways to changing the movie industry as we know it). But again, if you can find recent examples, please provide them.
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Old 03-05-2011, 11:43 PM   #22
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Default Re: Question about copyright

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A few comments. For one I would not suggest trying to con a studio that has bought your script. I was asking "How would they know if you had re used an idea, not characters or cut'n'paste scenes, but an idea like my "bank robber robs a Starbucks" idea above from an earlier script. The idea is so broad that it would not be copyrightable in any way. Could a studio take action on such a broad idea?

Secondly everything is negotiable. Many studios have made movies where rights are split, the James Bond franchise for one. If JK Rowling had offered a studio her script for Harry Potter but said "I want to keep the character rights" the studio would have come to an agreement. With Joe Newbie Writer, no way.
If there's one thing the U.S. legal system has taught us, someone can take action on anything they want. You don't have to be right to sue someone. But ideas can't be copyrighted. A studio isn't likely to take action against you if they're not really sure they can win (or at least achieve a specific objective).

And yes, studios have made movies where the rights are not a straight and total acquisition by a studio... split among varied interests for franchise properties (like James Bond) or when they're licensed for motion picture rights in the case of extremely famous literary properties like HARRY POTTER or THE DA VINCI CODE. But those are exceptional circumstances... and all were based on successful properties that previously existed in other media, where the concern was the studio acquiring all right, title and interest to a property that had an existing revenue stream in another form. In my years in this business, I'm not aware of any screenwriter (famous or newbie) who has sold an original screenplay and been able to withhold material rights from the studio.
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Old 03-05-2011, 11:53 PM   #23
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Default Re: Question about copyright

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I know George Lucas took a huge cut in pay to maintain the rights to STAR WARS film that aren't usually retained, which was of course a huge mistake on the part of Fox.

In large part because of that, I doubt you'll find a contemporary analog (rather than just theorizing about it). If you can, let me know.
George Lucas was also a producer and director on STAR WARS, and his company was the production company... which is a significantly different dynamic than a screenwriter selling an original screenplay to a studio for development/production.
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Old 03-06-2011, 08:48 AM   #24
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Default Re: Question about copyright

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In my years in this business, I'm not aware of any screenwriter (famous or newbie) who has sold an original screenplay and been able to withhold material rights from the studio.
The True Romance scenes used in Pulp Fiction example? That would seem to be exactly what the OP was asking about.
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Old 03-06-2011, 10:25 AM   #25
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Default Re: Question about copyright

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The True Romance scenes used in Pulp Fiction example? That would seem to be exactly what the OP was asking about.
Most likely, either it wasn't seen as a copyright violation, or the copyright holder didn't care.

The scenario that you're painting, that this may have been because rights were withheld during the contract negotiations, isn't plausible.
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Old 03-06-2011, 11:56 AM   #26
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Default Re: Question about copyright

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Most likely, either it wasn't seen as a copyright violation, or the copyright holder didn't care.

The scenario that you're painting, that this may have been because rights were withheld during the contract negotiations, isn't plausible.
Since True Romance only made $12m and Pulp Fiction has taken well over $200m at the box office and probably the same again on DVD I think it would be very strange if the producers of True Romance "didn't care" that work they owned had been used in a hugely profitable film.


Whether he specifically negotiated to keep those rights or whether they simply were not in the script he sold, or whether they were rewritten enough to be considered new, one way or another he did exactly what the OP is talking about doing.
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Old 03-06-2011, 12:15 PM   #27
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Default Re: Question about copyright

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Whether he specifically negotiated to keep those rights or whether they simply were not in the script he sold, or whether they were rewritten enough to be considered new, one way or another he did exactly what the OP is talking about doing.
If you have a copy of a contract where a screenwriter was successfully able to withhold material rights from a straight screenplay sale, I'd love to see that agreement and I'll happily admit I was wrong. I've worked in business & legal affairs in the industry for years, and I've never seen the studio give that. So I'm genuinely curious if you have some proof of your first example (i.e. a screenwriter successfully negotiating to keep material rights on his side of the table), or if you're just citing movies and don't actually have the contracts to know for sure.

I don't mean any offense by that, it's just that you're arguing pretty strongly in favor of a screenwriter - at some point in their career - being able to walk into a studio and say, "I'm going to keep these material rights to the characters, etc." and the studio agreeing to that. I have yet to see a studio agree to that, so if you have concrete evidence to the contrary, I'm happy to be proven wrong.
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Old 03-06-2011, 12:43 PM   #28
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Default Re: Question about copyright

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If you have a copy of a contract where a screenwriter was successfully able to withhold material rights from a straight screenplay sale, I'd love to see that agreement and I'll happily admit I was wrong. I've worked in business & legal affairs in the industry for years, and I've never seen the studio give that. So I'm genuinely curious if you have some proof of your first example (i.e. a screenwriter successfully negotiating to keep material rights on his side of the table), or if you're just citing movies and don't actually have the contracts to know for sure.

I don't mean any offense by that, it's just that you're arguing pretty strongly in favor of a screenwriter - at some point in their career - being able to walk into a studio and say, "I'm going to keep these material rights to the characters, etc." and the studio agreeing to that. I have yet to see a studio agree to that, so if you have concrete evidence to the contrary, I'm happy to be proven wrong.
Isn't that exactly what happened with Star Wars? The "all drafts" clause would clearly have included the sequel rights and yet the studio agreed to let him keep those rights, either on signing the contract or later.

Lucas was the screenwriter. He kept the sequel rights, the plot of which were in early drafts of the Star Wars script.

You can argue that "It wouldn't happen now", but it clearly happened then.
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Old 03-06-2011, 12:56 PM   #29
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Default Re: Question about copyright

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Isn't that exactly what happened with Star Wars? The "all drafts" clause would clearly have included the sequel rights and yet the studio agreed to let him keep those rights, either on signing the contract or later.

Lucas was the screenwriter. He kept the sequel rights, the plot of which were in early drafts of the Star Wars script.

You can argue that "It wouldn't happen now", but it clearly happened then.
Yes, the Lucas example is a reason why it's incredibly less likely to occur now. So please provide a modern example, because without that, the case you're making is at a dead end.
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Old 03-06-2011, 01:05 PM   #30
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Default Re: Question about copyright

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Yes, the Lucas example is a reason why it's incredibly less likely to occur now. So please provide a modern example, because without that, the case you're making is at a dead end.
You said you had "never" seen a studio do that. I posted an example.

I also posted the far more modern True Romance example which is exactly what the OP was asking about and clearly, somehow, they managed to do that without the TR producers suing.

Also, I never suggested a writer asking to keep rights to characters, sequel rights etc. (though Lucas managed that) We are talking about the True Romance/Pulp Fiction scenario where a writer wants to reuse scenes that he has taken out of a script he sells. That example, if true (and I've seen it elsewhere) proves it can be done.
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