Obtaining rights to make a film based on a book

Region: Ontario Answer # 164

Anyone can attempt to negotiate and obtain the legal right to produce a film based on a book, article or other published work. The author or copyright owner of the written work, for example, may not have the expertise needed to develop a film or write a screenplay and may be happy to sit by the sidelines and let someone else do it… for a fee.

Before obtaining the film rights to a work, you must determine several factors. First, does the author of the published work own all of the copyrights associated with the work? If not, your negotiations will be more complex and involve other parties.

Second, does anyone else own the rights to the story that the writer has based his or her work on? If so, your attempt to obtain rights may be muddied by other claims to the story or published work.

It is important to realize that no film production or distribution company will want to be involved in any project where all the rights have not been secured in advance.

It is also important to ensure the writer of the published work has secured all rights to underlying material used in the publication. For example, a writer who uses or repeats the content of personal letters in the story may have copyright permission to use them in the published work, but not in any other work.

A work may also be public domain if the author’s copyright has expired. In Canada, this occurs 50 years after the death of the author. In this case, you will not normally need to negotiate film rights with anyone.

An alternative to securing the full film rights is negotiating what’s called an “option” on the film rights. This allows you to pay a lesser amount for the right to be the first to have the opportunity to buy the full rights.

For more information about intellectual property law, contact the Canadian Intellectual Property Office (CIPO). If you require legal advice and assistance, you should consult a lawyer.




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