Movie-Making Partnerships

Often when filmmakers begin their first movie, it is with a partner. It might be a film school classmate or a friend with a similar vision. If you’re in this situation, be sure you understand what you’re getting into.

A partnership is legally very similar to a marriage, except that no one has to pronounce you partners. Because partnerships don’t require any government filings or certification, people working together are sometimes surprised to learn they in fact have a legally binding general partnership. Some of the legal implications of partnership are:
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© Keith E. Cooper. All rights reserved. You may freely link to this post, but please do not copy (in whole or in part) without permission of the copyright owner.

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Common Myths of “Fair Use”

Most people have heard the term “fair use” in the context of copyright, but it seems that very few really understand it. They seem to think it gives them the right to use someone else’s work under certain conditions.

First of all, fair use is not a “right” at all, it is an “affirmative defense.” That means two things: (1) it is decided by a court, and (2) it might be an excuse where a person has been determined to have infringed someone else’s copyright. In real terms, this means that no one can tell you in advance for certain whether your use will be considered fair use.
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© Keith E. Cooper. All rights reserved. You may freely link to this post, but please do not copy (in whole or in part) without permission of the copyright owner.

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Why Form A Production Company?

For many filmmakers, the first step in the production process is to create a business entity. There are several reasons to do this. The most obvious, of course, is to be able to raise money. But there are other reasons.

Types of Entities

The types of business entities that are most commonly used for film productions are: corporation, limited liability company (LLC), or limited partnership (LP). All of these allow the owners to limit their liability to the amount they have invested in the company. Continue reading Why Form A Production Company? →

© Keith E. Cooper. All rights reserved. You may freely link to this post, but please do not copy (in whole or in part) without permission of the copyright owner.

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Entertainment Contracts: Part Two–Clauses to Include

In my last blog article, I wrote about the basics of every contract. But there are a few other clauses that should be in every entertainment contract, although these are sometimes overlooked.

Here is a brief (and I emphasize the word brief) description of some of those paragraphs that should be included. As always, for a more thorough discussion of entertainment contracts, please refer to Volume 4 of the DVD series, “What Every Filmmaker Needs to Know About the Law.”
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© Keith E. Cooper. All rights reserved. You may freely link to this post, but please do not copy (in whole or in part) without permission of the copyright owner.

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Entertainment Contracts: Part One–the Basics

People often come to me with contracts they have cut and pasted from samples they have seen in a book or borrowed from a friend. Later they’ve gotten into trouble because the contract does not reflect what the parties intended.

When people ask me whether they can use form contracts found in books or on the Internet or borrowed from a friend, I say “no.”

Form contracts, especially those in books, are not meant to be used by anyone. They are samples of fictitious ideal transactions which never took place. These samples are meant to show the types of things that go into an agreement, but not necessarily your agreement. Continue reading Entertainment Contracts: Part One–the Basics →

© Keith E. Cooper. All rights reserved. You may freely link to this post, but please do not copy (in whole or in part) without permission of the copyright owner.

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Employees, Independent Contractors, and Interns

Often in the production of a film, the discussion turns to whether to hire crew members as employees or independent contractors. However, this is not really up to the producers, it is determined by government regulations.

Misclassification of a worker as an independent contractor can lead to significant penalties on both the federal and state levels, including fines and criminal prosecution. Regulatory agencies seem to focus on certain industries, and entertainment companies are among those most frequently examined.

This should not be surprising considering the manner in which entertainment companies typically hire their workers. Continue reading Employees, Independent Contractors, and Interns →

© Keith E. Cooper. All rights reserved. You may freely link to this post, but please do not copy (in whole or in part) without permission of the copyright owner.

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Understanding Entertainment Contracts: Deliverables

When you’re reviewing your contract with a distributor, be sure to pay special attention to the Deliverables attachment before you sign the agreement. It can be a minefield for the unwary filmmaker, and one that is often overlooked. Sometimes, the distributor will not even provide its list of deliverables with the first draft. Ask for it.

What Are Deliverables?

In the context of a distribution agreement, deliverables are the materials that a distributor needs in order to release the film. It might include a negative from which to make prints for theatrical release, or it might be a color corrected video version for television broadcast or DVD release. It may specify the particular format for the soundtrack or versions with and without subtitles. Continue reading Understanding Entertainment Contracts: Deliverables →

© Keith E. Cooper. All rights reserved. You may freely link to this post, but please do not copy (in whole or in part) without permission of the copyright owner.

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Depicting Real Persons in Screenplays

I had a question recently from a screenwriter client who wanted to know what rights are needed for a screenplay about an historic person. In this case, a celebrity who is dead.

As with most legal issues, to give a reliable answer to this question, an attorney needs to know exactly who is being depicted and the gist of the story being told. After my client gave me the facts, I was able to give guidelines for keeping the script out of litigation.

Knowing that I was able to help someone else doesn’t help you, I realize, but I can share a few general principles for screenwriters and producers dealing with material about real people.

Two main areas to be concerned about are right of publicity and right of privacy.
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© Keith E. Cooper. All rights reserved. You may freely link to this post, but please do not copy (in whole or in part) without permission of the copyright owner.

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5 Myths About Copyright

There are a number of popular myths about copyright protection that deserve to be dispelled.  Even as the average writer or filmmaker has become more sophisticated, certain silly myths still survive.  In this article, I’ll be talking about five of them; this is not a complete list.

There is much more about these myths in “Volume 2 – Rights” of the What Every Filmmaker Needs to Know About the Law series.

1)  Copyright isn’t effective until it’s registered

Many people believe that copyright is not effective until it is registered with the Library of Congress.  That’s not true.
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© Keith E. Cooper. All rights reserved. You may freely link to this post, but please do not copy (in whole or in part) without permission of the copyright owner.

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Options in the Motion Picture and Television Industries

You often hear the word “option” tossed around in the motion picture industry. A producer says he’s got the option on a certain book or script. A screenwriter is excited that a studio optioned her screenplay. But what are they talking about?

In the What Every Filmmaker Needs to Know About the Law books and videos, I spend a fair amount of time on options, and I encourage you to get this set and review the material. While you’re waiting for it to arrive, here’s a very brief, down-and-dirty overview of options.

Types Of Options

In the financial industries, there are two broad types of options (which Black’s Law Dictionary defines generally as “the right of election to exercise a privilege”). One is the right to buy something in the future at a price you fix today, Continue reading Options in the Motion Picture and Television Industries →

© Keith E. Cooper. All rights reserved. You may freely link to this post, but please do not copy (in whole or in part) without permission of the copyright owner.

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