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What Can You Do If Someone Uses Your Life Story Without Your Permission in a Film

What Can You Do If Someone Uses Your Life Story Without Your Permission in a Film?

As you already know, filmmaking inspiration can come from any one of a variety of different sources. Some filmmakers or screenwriters will find inspiration in their own life’s stories or situations from their past. Others find inspiration from novels or other copyrighted works. But what if that source of inspiration is your life? What can you do if someone uses your life story without your permission in a film? Is it even possible for someone to make a film about your life, legally, without asking for your consent first?

You might be surprised to hear that, in short, the answer to the above questions is YES! Someone, in some cases, may be able to produce a film that intertwines along the story of your life without having ever actually summoned permission from you in the first place.

There are several situations in which it is acceptable, from a legal standpoint, to create a film that is 100% inspired by an individual’s life, without asking them for permission first.

Documentary Filmmaking

Probably the greatest challenge you’ll face if you’re trying to figure out what you can do if someone uses your life story without your permission in a film is if the filmmaker is producing a documentary.

Documentary filmmaking has different rules and responsibilities in regards to seeking permission.

And in many situations, the documentary filmmaker has the legal right to fair use of copyrighted material as well as to other forms of content. Such as your life story.

If Your Story’s Copyrighted

A documentary filmmaker producing a docudrama or a full documentary might have some rights to utilize the details of your life in a film under certain circumstances.

But this only applies IF you’ve already copyrighted your “life story”. Such as in written form of a novel or other tangible work. If you’ve not copyrighted your story, the rules differ substantially. 

You Don’t Own Your Life Story

If you haven’t written your life story out, and copyrighted it, then you don’t own it! You might think that you would own the rights to your life story. It is YOUR life after all.

But the reality is, anyone can produce a story or biography about you without asking.

Permission is not required to portray a real person in a work of art such as a film, book, or other media format. 

The Reality of it

So, what can you do if someone uses your life story without your permission in a film? The reality is, you have little recourse without first writing your life story or creating a film about your life story and copyrighting the work.

Therefore, IF you believe your life story is something that others might opt to create a film from, you might consider taking steps to protect your story NOW, rather than later!

Acquiring Life Rights

video production proposal

While there may be little protection to your life story if you haven’t already copyrighted it, there is a renewed energy around an argument to “life rights” which basically states that some projects should consider acquiring life right prior to their production or creation.

If not for the protection of the creator, for the satisfaction of the individual for which the content is about.

Life rights represent real life thoughts, observations, reactions, memories, and experiences arising out of or surrounding events, incidents, experiences and the situations that make up a person’s life.

For Non-Public Events

So, as you look into what you can do if someone uses your life story without your permission in a film. It’s important to consider whether you might require life rights in order to share the non-public events of an individual’s life.

Which could have additional protections beyond the standard protections or lack of protections offered to the individual’s life story as a whole.

Should someone make a film about your life, life rights would be required under the following circumstances:

  • If the film includes intimate details.
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  • Whether the story is told from your perspective.
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  • If your daily experiences are captured on camera, such as a reality television show.
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  • Should your life be outlined in a screenplay, book, magazine, short story, stage play, or other copyrighted document.

What can you do if someone uses your life story without your permission in a film under any of the circumstances listed above? You’ll certainly have some recourse for these situations. Especially if the filmmaker did not seek “life rights” to your story in advance. 

Permission is Usually Best

If you’re wondering what you can do if someone uses your life story without your permission? The answer is – they really shouldn’t do that! In fact, permission is also almost always the best policy for a filmmaker.

There are very clear benefits to seeking the life rights from a subject in advance of creating a film about the individual. Rather than waiting until after a film has been created. And then facing that individual in court when they file a lawsuit. 

Consult Legal Counsel

If you’re wondering what to do if someone has used your life story in a film? You might want to speak with a Copyright attorney. Or a local attorney that understands filmmaking law.

In doing so, they will be able to help you determine whether the use of your life story in a film constitutes any form of illegal action against you. And whether the filmmaker should have first sought life rights to your story before they created a film about it.

Circumstances vary. But for filmmakers, permission in advance of the production is almost always encouraged over the potential of being sued later.

If you find that someone has used your life story, and you’re wondering what you can do if someone uses your life story without your permission in a film…

Consider contacting the filmmaker to discuss life rights and to negotiate the following terms:

  • A purchase price for your life rights.
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  • Details on contingent compensation.
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  • Which rights or derivative and alteration of rights would be acceptable. 
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  • What kind of cooperation you wish to have in regards to your story.
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  • How your story will be portrayed and whether any changes are to be made. 

Potential Courses of Action

Naturally, the filmmaker should seek all of these negotiations in advance of their filmmaking.

But in the event that a film is made about your life story. Without your permission or without the filmmaker seeking life rights form you.

The only real recourse might be to ask the filmmaker to take the film down, to negotiate the life rights after the fact, or otherwise to see the filmmaker in a court. 

BBP Legal Disclaimer

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