February 23, 2017
As with any relationship, business or otherwise, open communication is a key to longevity. But not all business or romantic partnerships are meant to last. Plan ahead and protect you and your project with some ‘pre-nup’ basics.
- A bond like no other. I know I sound like a broken legal recording, but a written contract will ensure the project has the best chance of success even when your relationship doesn’t. When romantic partners are involved in a creative pursuit, they should determine on the front end how the project will continue should the relationship end. Who will ‘own’ the project? Will both partners still be involved or will one bow out? Think of the film like a child. If the relationship suddenly (or not so suddenly) died, who should have custody? I don’t pretend that this is a fun or easy conversation, but it is appropriate to think beyond the relationship. If all parties are truly on the same page, then it shouldn’t be a problem to reduce that understanding to writing. In fact, the lack of a writing can be far more problematic as it can lead to unforeseen mischief. Sometimes it gives spurned lovers creative license to reinvent reality. For example, an aggrieved spouse may try to claim they were offered a co-writing credit, when they never touched Final Draft. There’s less room to create ‘alternative facts’ when a written contract is in place.
- Don’t let the relationship (or the project) be one sided. You love your partner and are willing to do whatever it takes to help them get their passion project made. That’s great – we should all have partners so supportive. It’s only fair, however, that those services be properly recognized. If by the time the picture is locked, you’ve charged $3,000 to your personal credit card (hello, executive producer), helped with a page one rewrite of the script (sounds like a writing credit), or secured and managed the locations (welcome to the team, location manager), then you should be credited (and perhaps compensated) accordingly. Don’t get me wrong, it’s nice see that ‘special thanks’ in the end crawl, but if you did real, substantive work on the project, you deserve real, substantive credit. While this can be an uncomfortable subject to raise (particularly as you may think your partner should have offered it at the outset), have the confidence to speak-up for yourself. If your partner disagrees that the work you did is worthy of such credit, then have an honest conversation about it. However, if you think a co-directing credit is in order and your partner is still on ‘special thanks’, then there may be other issues at play in the relationship that are worthy of attention. Unfortunately, that kind of advice is above my pay grade.
- When the relationship sinks, don’t let the project drown. Hopefully, you’ve followed the above advice and have a written agreement dictating what will happen in such a circumstance. If not, don’t fear, a good lawyer can assist you in extracting yourself from the project or ensuring you do not get unfairly booted. This is where the concept of ‘joint authorship’ under copyright law could come into play. A joint work is a work prepared by two or more individuals, with the intention that their separate contributions be merged into a single work. The individual authors own the work jointly and equally, unless they make an agreement otherwise. Each joint author has the right to exercise any or all of the exclusive rights inherent in the joint work, including: (1) granting third parties permission to use the work on a nonexclusive basis without the consent of the other joint authors; (2) transferring their entire ownership interest to another person without the other joint authors' consent; and (3) updating the work for their own purpose. However, each joint author must account to the other joint authors for any profits received from exploiting the joint work. Working with a copyright attorney is crucial to protecting your rights as relates to joint authorship.
In the age of modern love, I wish all romantically linked creative partners the best of the luck. Remember though, love is love, but business is business.
Stacey Davis is the owner of The Law Firm of Stacey A. Davis, LLC, an entertainment and intellectual property boutique firm, specializing in film, television, music and literary publishing. For more information on the Firm’s services, please visit staceydavislaw.com. You can follow Stacey on Facebook (/staceydavislaw), Twitter (@staceydavislaw) and LinkedIn. You can also reach Stacey at [email protected] and you can find her inside the Seed & Spark Filmmaker Gift Box.
The materials contained in this post are general in nature, were prepared for informational purposes only and should not be considered legal advice. It is always wise to consult with a qualified attorney for your own specific legal issues. Transmission of this information is not intended to create and does not create an attorney-client relationship.
© 2017. The Law Firm of Stacey A. Davis, LLC. All rights reserved.
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