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In response to their willingness to consider spec scripts, I sent mine, which has done well in a number of contests, to Acorn Productions.
In response, they've asked me to sign a Release, part of which appears to say that if an employee of theirs or another party has written and submitted a script, some or all of which is similar, or even identical to mine, then I won't make an issue of it, either financially or legally.
I've heard of such verbiage before. Is this standard in such situations, and do writers generally roll the dice and take a chance, rather than pass up what might very well be a good opportunity from a reputable outfit?
My instinct is to adjust the wording to provide myself with some very simple, basic protection by making an exception for a situation in which their copyright or registration of a substantially similar script post-dates the submission of my script to them.
That seems to me to be eminently fair to all concerned (it still protects them even if their script has a later copyright than mine, as long as it isn't copyrighted AFTER they receive my script).
But would that be a deal-breaker to them?
I too have seen this verbage before and have signed the release. With so many ideas out there(and it sounds like they have wannabe screenwriters on their staff), they need to protect themselves. So this was no surprise to me.
Many of the writers here protect themselves by both registering it with the WGA, and copyrighting it before they send it out. A detailed record of it is also logged. Some have also sent it requiring a signature- another record.
I'm no lawyer but I would not waste time in trying to change their wording in their release agreement. Don't be surprised if their respone is, "If you don't like it, don't sign it." Remember, this is only an agreement giving them permission to read and consider the script and not a sale.
How about THIS language?
"For good and valuable consideration, including your reading, listening to and/or considering the Material, I hereby grant to you, upon the terms and conditions as herein set forth, the non-exclusive right, but not the obligation, to use any or all of the Material for any and all purposes in perpetuity."
That's in the first clause, and, in an of itself, it kind of makes me wonder if I should run away screaming, or just run away. But wait, it does say, "upon the terms and conditions as herein set forth..."
And, further down, there's another clause, which I quote in its entirety, "As used herein in this Agreement, ''Protected Material'' means any part of the Material which is protected as literary property under applicable copyright law. You may use without obligation to me any material which is not Protected Material. I hereby grant to you the exclusive right to such use of such Material for any and all purposes. If you use any of the Protected Material, you shall pay me the reasonable value of such right to such use of material and I agree to accept such sum as payment in full for such use. The ''reasonable value'' as used herein shall be determined as of the date of this submission and shall be an amount comparable to the compensation normally paid to a first-time writer for similar material or an amount equal to the fair market value, but in no event shall the reasonable value exceed the minimum compensation which would be payable as of this date under the Writers Guild of America Basic Agreement if you employed me to write the Protected Material pursuant to such agreement."
So this part is saying that if the producer *does* use the material, he has to pay me up to the amount of WGA scale. This helps me calm down a bit. I figure that's for a low-budget picture (less than $5 Mil. budget), so we're looking at, probably, about 75% of a first-time writer's minimum scale for "screenplay, without treatment." That's a sum of $29,119 * .75, or $21,839.25.
The point is, the whole contract (I know, it's a release form, but it's still a contractual agreement) has to be considered, and probably should be run by an entertainment attorney to resolve any serious doubts. Harvey, I thought you were worked in a law-related field; don't you have some friendly lawyers you could tap to give you a little advice?
Yes, Ron, I work as a dept. manager in a law firm that does insurance defense, and they can certainly advise me as to general contractual matters, but they aren't familiar with custom and practice in the entertainment field.
What they, as lawyers, might see as my dangerously agreeing in advance not to enforce my copyrights, might in fact be merely routine and acceptable in the film production industry --- a method by which companies willing to consider spec scripts protect themselves from frivolous lawsuits by writers who feel that any script bearing an even casual resemblance to theirs is a violation of their copyright.
So I wanted to see what others more knowledgeable than me as to how such things are handled in the industry can tell me about this.
Harvey, you're right about the reasons for the language in the forms, and some variant of what you quote seems to be in all the forms used to bandy around screenplays in the entertainment industry. Ron Suppa's book, "This Business of Screenwriting" includes a sample release forms, option forms, etc.
Let me once again cite Mark Litwak's site as a potentially helpful reference. For instance, he has a page devoted to protecting your stories:
If you search the site, or even just Google the web, perhaps using a phrase from the release you've been given, you might find more specific information.
His site also has a web page of some good books which you might even find locally, for the sake of expediency:
He also has a link to an external site where wample legal forms for many occasions are for sale:
These forms are downloadable and vary in price, running about $12 to $22.
Excuse me, "sample," not "wample," forms!
These release forms are completely standard. With so many of the same ideas floating around this town, the company wants to protect itself from some writer coming back with a lawsuit because their script used a plague spread by monkeys, and the company just made a movie using a plague spread by monkeys.
You'll run into this release form time and time again. Here's my advice:
1. Register your script. Have some legal evidence that says when you wrote it.
2. Research if it's a reputable company. A company with a reputation on the line is much less likely to plagiarize.
3. Send it in.
4. Be confident in your writing. Know this up front - Your concept has already been written. Many times. Be confident that you've approached this concept in a way that's unique to you. Be confident that you have the best approach to "plague spread by monkeys" or "Noah's Ark in DC suburbs" or "snakes on a plane."
I get a pang of anxiety every time I send my script anywhere, but it's the only way.
Remember when WGA low-budget picture meant $2M and under? Now it's $5M.
I have to say that it's been an extremely LONGGGGGGGGGG time since anyone's asked me to sign a Release Form.
I've been told several times that it's a piece of paper that has no standing in a court of law.
Ten years ago, when Phoenix Pictures asked me to send them a screenplay, I asked if they needed a signed Release Form. I was told, "No. It's just an unnecessary piece of paper that actually means nothing."
So, in order to get your script read, I'd say, "Sign it and send it in."
Unfortunately, should you ever come across something on screen that you recognize as yours, I still wouldn't sue. I've been in that position a few times. Once where a Manager had a meeting with a Studio and left them my and my partner's TV Pilot script, then we made a deal with another Studio and, as soon as we were to shoot the Pilot, the previous Studio announced THEIR Pilot (that became a series) for the new season--with the only change being the name of the series, the age of the lead character and he lived with roommates rather than being a father with a family.
My Partner and I had personally known several Screenwriters who sued. And where are their careers now? They don't have any. They were actually successful before they sued. But since their court cases, they haven't sold a damn thing. No one will even look at their stuff.
One constantly wrote for one of THEE TOP AWARD-WINNING ACTORS/DIRECTORS/PRODUCES in the Biz. The guy dropped him like a hot potato. Won't even return his calls.
It doesn't matter if you're in the right or in the wrong--your career will go down the toilet.
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