A Filmmaker’s Guide to Legal Issues of Film Adaptation

A Filmmaker’s Guide to Legal Issues of Film Adaptation

There’s no doubt that filmmakers draw inspiration from a variety of sources, books and novels. As well as other forms of intellectual property often forming the basis. Upon which a script or screenplay is written. Some might even say that literature and film. Although worlds apart in so many ways, are actually like family closely intertwined with one another. Especially when we’re talking about the world of film adaptation. And, as a filmmaker, you must be prepared to understand the potential legal issues of film adaptation. And the challenges you might face as you seek to acquire the rights to produce your favorite literary work in film.

contract agreement

Derivative Works

Let’s face it. If you’re looking for the right to produce a film adaptation of your favorite book or some other written work? The first major point to consider is the fact that the story is NOT YOURS.

You are asking for rights to create a derivative work from the existing work that another author or creator has produced. Thus, to some degree, the work that you create based on the original document will be intertwined.

And will carry many of the same attributes that were set forth by the original creator. In short, you’re going to need to establish a working relationship with the original creator. In order to secure the rights to create derivative works.

Original Copyright Holders

A derivative work is any type of creative work that is derived from another’s work. Thus, when we look at the potential legal issues of film adaptation.

One of the key areas of importance is for filmmakers to understand derivative works and the rights that the original copyright holder possesses. 

According to U.S. Copyright Law, the original copyright holder holds rights to any derivative works. Which may be produced or otherwise created from the original work. This means, if you’re going to produce a film adaptation?

The original copyright owner is going to have to grant you that permission. And there’s a chance that they might not want to do that. Or that they will but only under certain circumstances. Or with very distinct parameters involved. 

The Risks

The potential legal issues of film adaptation which may arise out of the derivative works clause are plentiful. Primarily, since the film is an adaptation of a book or other work.

There is the risk that some confusion might arise later. As to what elements of the film are original to the film and what elements are part of the original copyrighted work.

For example, a character that was featured in a book to film adaptation might belong to the original copyrighted book. But when a new character is created for the film itself, could the book author later incorporate that character into a future story of theirs?

Considerations like these should be made during the coordination of a book to film adaptation and steps taken. To ensure protections are in place for the appropriate creators. In this case, the filmmaker would be the creator of the new character.

Collaboration Agreements

It’s possible that you, the filmmaker, could form a collaboration agreement with the author of the book or original work that you wish to adapt for film.

In fact, joining forces with the original copyright holder might get you in a better place when it comes to adapting a book for film. Because you’ll be working closely with the one who knows the characters and the setting of the story firsthand. The one who created them. 

Consider This

Entering into a collaboration agreement is a wonderful idea for some. But it could bring up some complex legal issues of film adaptation along the way. For starters, if a collaboration agreement is made.

Then it will be absolutely vital for all of the key details of the agreement to be outlined in writing within a contract that is signed by all parties involved.

This means that not only should working agreements be dictated in the contract but also that the details of how to handle disagreements, changes in roles, and things like future payouts from distribution or success of the film. 

Be Specific

The workload should be clearly specified in the collaborative agreement as should any compensation splits or potential issues that may arise. Barring any future complications.

The collaboration agreement can actually help to reduce the potential for legal issues in film adaptation. Making for a more productive, less argumentative process between the collaborators.

As long as careful consideration as to the potential challenges of adaptation are considered as the contract is created. Talk with an entertainment attorney in advance to ensure all angles and potential hurdles are covered upfront.

Option Rights & Purchase Agreements

In the event that a collaboration agreement isn’t really what’s on the original author’s radar when it comes to producing a book into a movie the filmmaker can always request option rights from the original copyright holder.

The option provides the filmmaker with a legally quantifiable period of time, such as 18 months, upon which they can purchase the rights to produce the film adaptation. 

The legal issues of film adaptation which may arise at this stage of the process are particularly focused on the two parties coming to an agreed upon rate for which the book rights can be purchased and the film adaptation produced. 

If you’re purely interested in writing a screenplay based on someone’s novel or other intellectual property. Such as a published article or short story. Reaching out to the original copyright holder to ask for the option rights should be at the top of your list of things to do.

Purchasing Rights

The original copyright holder may sell the option rights for their written work to you for any rate they wish. Since you probably don’t have a ton of money to spend here. It’s important for you to prepare to negotiate with the author or copyright holder.

So that you can get the best deal. Acquiring option rights basically means that you have the right to purchase the exclusive right to sell a screenplay adaptation of the original story. 

If you’re serious about a film adaptation, you’re going to want the option prior to creating any part of the screenplay. Without the option, there’s no guarantee that the original author will sell the rights to you.

Which means if you begin writing the screenplay on false hope that you will acquire rights you could be wasting your time. Always seek the option rights before you begin writing the screenplay – always!

In Summary

Optioning a book or novel represents the starting point for you. In which you may begin the process of producing your film. But there are bound to be several legal issues of film adaptation.

Which will potentially require the support of an entertainment attorney to ensure you get the appropriate permissions and rights required for your production.

Before you move forward with any book to film adaptation project, be sure to contact an entertainment attorney. So that you can discuss your needs and expectations with them. And so that you will have an advocate on your side.

BBP Legal Disclaimer

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *