Do I have to buy the rights?

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  12 December 2004
Question Do I have to buy the rights?

Hi there.

I ask for some help on this problem I´m facing.
I want to make a short film, based on a short story from a fantasy writer. Well, the writer is dead and I don´t have a clue where to ask permission to make that short.

So my question is can I make the short anyway or I have to look who has the copyrights over the story and ask permission to he/she/them to make the short?

I´m not looking make any money whit it, is just selfpromotion.

Make myself clear?

Thanks to all....

  12 December 2004
For how long has he been dead for? More than seventy years? Then (at least in Germany) you can go ahead.

Otherwise you should ask for permission. This doesn't necessarily mean that you have to buy rights. You might as well be granted them fro free, but you should aks nevertheless. The publisher of his books might be a good starting point.

  12 December 2004
Miguel, yes, you need to secure permission from the estate that owns the rights or from the representative of that estate. If the work you want to base your project on is, as marcboy mentioned, less than seventy years old, the rights are probably being protected by someone.

Even if you don't plan to make money off of your project, the folks who have the rights to the work are very protective of every manifestation of the idea. Even if the manifestation is in the form of your personal project. The fact is, the work belongs to them.

EDIT: Also, you usually can't "buy the rights" from the author or his/her representatives. You secure a license to use the work in a limited fashion (i.e., first print run for a certain territory, etc.).

Buying the rights outright are highly improbable unless you pay an enormous amount of money. That is, unless the work you want to use is by an obscure author, and the work is not very good...

Last edited by DigiLusionist : 12 December 2004 at 04:14 PM.
  12 December 2004
Originally Posted by DigiLusionist: If the work you want to base your project on is less than seventy years old
It's seventy years after the death of the author, not after the creation of the work. Well, at least in Germany. Fot the US, I think it's the same for works created after 1978. Looking up the "Sony Bono Act" or "Mickey Mouse Act" in Google will provide for an interesting read on the subject of copyright duration.

Originally Posted by DigiLusionist: the folks who have the rights to the work are very protective of every manifestation of the idea
Actually, in Germany ideas cannot be protected, but only their manifestation in "works". If I told you at a party "Here's a great idea for a film..." and, a year later, saw that you made a film based on the idea - well, there's nothing I can do about it. I like this concept, because it protect those who do instead of those who just dream.

So Miguel could probably try and loosely base his own story on the idea (e.g. "teenagers getting killed by a psychopath...") but not copy the actual story (e.g. "there's this guy with a leather face and a chainsaw...").

  12 December 2004

Thanks to answer so fast and clear. A lot of light has been pour into my brain in regards of this matter.

This author died in the 70´s, so I will begin my search of the owners of the rights.

Already send a e-mail to the publishers, any other source you maybe be aware of?

Well, to my search go.....

marcboy , DigiLusionist: THANK YOU.

  12 December 2004
Miguel, my suggestion is to not bother with any published work. Particularly if it is British or from the U.S.
Unless you happen to stumble upon an author like Stephen King who is known to have given away some rights to some of his short stories for u$1 to film students, chances are the money you will need to secure the rights to the project is beyond your budget.
Publishers and agents will in general tend to ignore your letters, email, etc. unless they know you are a reputable source of income to them.

Theoretically, you can still create a film based on another work without asking the author for permission. Some (amateur) films have been made that way where the film is finished and only then the author is seeked for approval. Chances are that you will not be sued for doing so, as there would be little or no gain for the author. But still obtaining a clearance for your film should be a priority, as the author might still want to pursue you legally if he sees you butchered his work and your film becomes popular, thou.
Note, however, that even if nothing happens, not having the author's approval is still risky for your self-promotion. For one, no decent film festival or short film compilation will legally be able to exhibit your work unless you have a clearance from the author. So forget about winning any prizes for it. And, btw, this also goes for any MUSIC you use in the film.

My suggestion: create your own idea or license one from someone you can afford (try film students in your local university, or local Argentinian authors, etc). If no ideas, try asking your librarian or some knowledgeable book store owner if they know of any short piece that would perhaps make a good film. Also, people will be much more impressed if your piece is your original creation rather than an adaptation of a published work. As others have said, you can also use the author's work for inspiration, but not as a copy. For example, George Lucas created Star Wars after he was unsuccessful in securing the rights to Flash Gordon.
Gonzalo Garramuño
  12 December 2004
gga: You have been quite clear. I suppose that I must burn my brain and create some original idea. If the reality is that as you raise it, right now I am changing the course of my actions. I thank you for answer in such way, thank you very much and a question, you are from here, Argentina. I say, because Clemente. =)

  12 December 2004
marcboy> Yup seventy years after death. But if he wants to use a published work within seventy years of creation, he still has to secure the rights, right? No contradiction.

Sure in Germany there may be no copyright on ideas. But he was talking about doing something based on a published work, not an idea.

Either way, gga is giving good advice. It's best to do an original idea since Miguel probably doesn't have the deep pockets needed to secure rights for an existing work.
  12 December 2004

Yeah, I've been wanting to do a H.P. Lovecraft story, so publishing copyright issues have been interesting to me as well. This graph at the University of North Carolina might be helpful:
  12 December 2004
DigiLusionist: Yes, my pockets aren´t deep enough like I want to. But, some friends have friends in the world of storytelling, so I guess I´ll go that way. Maybe something come up.

pollywoggles: nice graph, interesting.
  12 December 2004
Originally Posted by pollywoggles: Hey,

Yeah, I've been wanting to do a H.P. Lovecraft story, so publishing copyright issues have been interesting to me as well. This graph at the University of North Carolina might be helpful:

this rocks
so if the story was published before 1923 it means it is "in public domain" now
you just made my day
Sergio Aris ROSA

Disclaimer: My opinions are not those of my employer
  12 December 2004
You know, a little while back i had a project where i had to pick a book, find a scene that is described, and a character, and model them for a video game. I chose the book 'Ice Station' by Matthew Reilly, and e-mailed him about it. He wrote back saying, and i paraphrase .. "That's awesome man! here's my address, you should send me a DVD of your clip when it's done!"

Heh, so yeah.. it's worth contacting them at least.
  12 December 2004
"I see dead people"

sorry, I couldn't resist...
Sergio Aris ROSA

Disclaimer: My opinions are not those of my employer
  12 December 2004
The Library of Congress has a rather informative article called 'How to Investigate the Copyright Status of a Work' up on its site.

- K
  12 December 2004
I remember reading David Gerrold's autobiographical The Trouble With Tribbles (describing the travails of a screenwriter ...), when the research department at Desilu decided that his story might be in conflict with a similar story idea by Robert Heinlein.

Yes, they had an entire department that was paid to look at such things. And the entire project stopped dead in its tracks until Mr. Heinlein could be contacted and he pleasantly said (on the record) that no, he didn't think that there was any conflict, and yes, he'd love to see a finished copy of the script. I suppose they gave it to him embossed with gold lettering.

Copyright violation, or even the hint of it, is no laughing matter. Don't go there. You should exercise due diligence and you should keep written documentation, e.g. in the form of a diary, of exactly whom you contacted and when. Use the post, if possible, rather than e-mail, and keep a written file of all replies.
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