Terms Of The Life Story Rights Agreement
(1) Extent Of The Rights:
Whether the agreement will include creating remakes, sequels, television series, merchandising, novelization, live-stage rights and radio rights; whether the story is limited to only a particular time period of the individual’s life; and whether the rights worldwide or limited in geography. Typically, the buyer of the rights will want as broad a grant as possible, whereas the seller may insist on retaining or limiting certain rights.
(2) Releases Of Third Parties:
If other individuals are also portrayed in the project, those parties will need to release potential claims as well. These parties may include the subject’s spouse, children, friends and relatives. Many times, these “secondary characters” may have to be fictionalized if releases cannot be obtained.
(3) Assignment Of Rights:
If the buyer of the life story will need to obtain financing, the rights may need to be assigned to a studio, a production company, or a network as part of a financing/distribution agreement.
The life story agreement may be an option/purchase deal or an outright sale, oftentimes with a reversion clause included. A reversion clause means that if the rights are not exploited and the film is not made within a certain number of years, then all rights would revert back to the subject so that he can resell the right to make his or her life story to another producer.
A required element for any contract agreement is the reciprocal bargained for exchange which is known as consideration. This is usually an amount of money, but it can also be anything of value including mutual promises. Courts of law will not make judgement on value so long as it is more than a mere sham. To satisfy the consideration requirement and to establish an exchange of value, contracts usually recite provisions such as “For one dollar and other valuable consideration…” The amount of consideration must actually be paid and have supporting evidence such as a copy of the check for proof of payment. Compensation to the individual for their life story rights may include a flat fee amount, percentage of the projects net profits, additional consulting fees, and other types of negotiated bonuses to be paid as the film is exploited in different markets.
Certain promises must be made in the life story agreement. These are known as the warranties. The seller of the life story must warrant to the buyer that they will not sue for violation of their right of publicity, invasion of privacy, or defamation.
(7) Creative Rights:
The buyer of the life story must have the ability to embellish, fictionalize, dramatize, and adapt the story. This is important so that the filmmaker can attract the audience with an interesting story. Many times the individual granting the life story rights may insist on script approval. However the producer will never agree to granting final approval of the script. Rather, the individual may be allowed to have approval over the treatment or in selecting the writer of the script. The producer may also allow the individual to serve as a creative consultant to the project, even so the director will not be required to accept the individual’s suggestions.
In addition, the time period portrayed of the individual’s life can be strictly limited. The individual may also have the ability to determine if the actual names of characters are used and what the screen notice attached to the project will be, such as whether the film will be billed as a “True Story” or a “Dramatization.”
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