A Guide to Screenplay Adaptation Law & Legal Challenges in Adapting Literary Works for Film

A Guide to Screenplay Adaptation Law & Legal Challenges in Adapting Literary Works for Film

Whether you’ve garnered interest in a novel, memoir, article, or some other literary works that you’d like to adapt into a screenplay for a film project. There are bound to be legal challenges involved. In fact, anytime a literary work is to be used as an adaptation for a screenplay the challenges. Particularly those relative to screenplay adaptation law and the use of copyrighted works. Imposed can be overwhelming for someone that’s unfamiliar with the rules. 


At Beverly Boy Productions, we’ve got over two decades of experience in filmmaking, and understand the depth of the potential legal challenges that come with obtaining screenplay adaptation rights. 

What is a Screenplay Adaptation?

A screenplay adaptation represents the use of a pre-existing book, novel, memoir, article or other literary work that is adapted to create a written screenplay that will be used to produce a film.

Screenplay adaptations can arise out of a variety of literary sources. Including but not limited to novels, songs, biographies, short stories, television series, previously distributed films. Or any other type of pre-existing literary work.

Legal Challenges

Screenplay adaptation law, specifically the legal challenges that arise from the use of copyrighted works, is an important consideration for any filmmaker or screenwriter.

To familiarize themselves with in advance of any attempt at adapting written works into screenplays. Unless those written works are their own unique works. And not those that are pre-existing by another author or creator.

Consider This

Keep in mind, also, that an adapted screenplay is not a screenplay that is created from a true story. That the filmmaker researches and produces the screenplay about on their own.

The work must previously be published in order for the screenplay to be considered an adaptation of the work. Thus, in this example of a true story that is produced into a screenplay.

The story must have been historically published in some capacity. Such as in a short story, article, or book format. In order for the screenplay to be considered an adaptation.

Legal Challenges in Adapting Literary Works for Film

As you become familiar with the potential rules and underlying screenplay adaptation laws that apply to your use of a literary work for the purpose of creating a screenplay you might realize that the legal challenges imposed are more than you had previously expected.

However, screenplay adaptation law, primarily those surrounding the use of copyrighted works and acquiring the appropriate licensing, are not incredibly difficult to follow. 

Obtaining Rights

You’re going to need to obtain the option, and or the rights, to the literary work that you wish to produce a screenplay adaptation of.

The option represents a unique agreement made between you and the author of the original work. Which allows you the time to further investigate. Whether or not you will actually produce the adaptation.

Basically, the option puts the written work on hold. Allowing you the right to purchase rights to produce a film on the written work. Provided you execute your purchase right within the term of the original option agreement.

Purchase Agreement

If this all sounds confusing, it’s because filmmakers rarely execute the actual agreement that is involved in a book to film option or similar option agreements. These are generally executed by an entertainment attorney.

Legally speaking, adapting a written work into a screenplay requires first the option. And then, ultimately, a purchase agreement. That allows for the copyrighted work to be produced into a screenplay adaptation and a film.

In Summation

Screenplay adaptation law, as you can see, isn’t really as complicated as you might have thought. But it does require your essential understanding.

In order to ensure you’ve followed all of the important copyright licensing rules. And that you’re legally prepared to create your screenplay adaptation.

BBP Legal Disclaimer

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