When books, movies, television shows or other productions are based on someone’s factual life story, it is important that the writer own or have permission to use those facts, especially if the writing will be used to make a profit.
“Life-story rights” are the rights that an individual or an entity owns in regards to the factual story regarding someone’s life. One of the purposes of obtaining these rights is to protect the writer from the future risk of the owner of those rights bringing a lawsuit against the writer.
Before someone’s life story makes its’ way to a movie or television production, they are often created as stories that are written either as books, scripts, screenplays, or other literary works. The process of how these literary works make it into a visual-arts production is another story, but even before that happens, the writer must either own or have permission to use the facts within the story.
While the facts themselves may not be owned by a particular person, acquiring these life-rights will protect a writer against a person’s claim of invasion of privacy, defamation, misappropriation, and the potential violation of a person’s right to publicity.
When someone else who is not the owner of particular life-story rights desires to create a writing including those facts or stories, the first step for those writers should be to attempt to acquire ownership or permission to use those life-story rights. Although it is not uncommon for these “licenses” or transfers of life-story rights to be done verbally, it is essential that any writer obtain written permission to use the life-story rights to reduce the chance of any problems which may arise in the future. Whether the oral agreement between the writer and owner is valid is another issue, but attempting to prove that you agreed to be able to use someone’s life-story rights is a completely separate issue that can cause many headaches for a writer.
So how does one acquire life-story rights? The best way for both parties to enter into an agreement regarding the sale or license of the life-story rights is through a written contract which outlines the terms of the agreement such as; the rights that are being transferred or licensed, the term of the license, and the compensation to be paid (among many other terms). These agreements often come in the form of options or option-purchase agreements which basically reserve the rights for the writer to use. These contracts tend to range greatly in length and complexity depending on who the parties are. For example, a major motion picture production will likely have a lengthy and complex agreement which allows them to use the life-story rights in any way that can be conceived. On the other hand, a smaller or less-known writer may enter into a short one-page agreement with the life-story rights holder to be able to write a book or short story.
In addition to agreements between the writers and the owners of the life-story rights there are agreements which are entered into between writers and estates or third parties. Once an individual dies, there shouldn’t be a problem writing about them, right? Well, not exactly. In cases of well-known and famous individuals, those individuals may be entitled to a right of publicity to help protect their image. Since those life-story rights are valuable, certain states such as California allow a “successor-in-interest” to be assigned. If that is the case, you should attempt to obtain the rights to be able to write about the deceased from the owner of the posthumous rights.
As you can see, the acquisition of life-story rights is essential to help create a story based on true life stories. Although these rights open up a world of facts and stories that can be used in books, movies, and television productions, these rights can also be the demise of these productions if the rights are not properly acquiring.
For more information on acquiring, selling, or licensing life-story rights, contact Biletsky Law.