Whether you are writing a screenplay that you plan to produce or a comic book that you hope to publish, at some point you may decide to collaborate with other writers. Writing partners can be a great way to ease the burden of creating a 120-page screenplay. They help each other through writer’s blocks, share in the actual workload, and bring new and fresh perspectives to each other’s material. But, as with any business relationship, working with a writing partner can create legal problems, especially if certain issues are not dealt with before the partners start writing together.
Problems with collaborators typically occur over issues of screenplay ownership, the sharing of profits and expenses, and how to decide whether to accept offers for the screenplay’s purchase. The best way to prevent these issues from disrupting an otherwise beneficial working relationship is to have the writing relationship governed by a writers’ collaboration agreement, which is a contract that defines the duties and rights of each coauthor as well as the way in which the business of selling or exploiting the screenplay is managed.
Under U.S. copyright law, unless they have a contract that says otherwise, script writers who work together writing parts of the same script can be considered joint authors. Without a writers’ collaboration agreement, copyright law will supply the default provisions that govern the ownership of the script’s copyright. These default provisions often run counter to the expectations of one or more of the writers. For instance, in the absence of a contract that says otherwise, if the screenplay is sold, copyright law assumes that all writers will share equally in the script’s profits and ownership—even if one of the writers originated the idea and did 95% of the work!
THE BOTTOM LINE: Without a written and signed agreement between you and your cowriters, they may own more of the script than you would like and be able to license it without your permission.
Parts of this blog been excerpted from The Pocket Lawyer for Filmmakers.
© 2017 Thomas A. Crowell, Esq.
Thomas A. Crowell, Esq. (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a partner at the law firm of Lane Sash & Larrabee, LLP. He focuses his practice on intellectual property and media law.
NOT LEGAL ADVICE