Chain Of Title
For Screenwriters

By Elliot Grove

From his book: WRITE AND SELL THE HOT SCRIPT

Write and Sell the HOT Script by Elliot Grove

I am not a lawyer. Nothing in this chapter should be construed as legal advice and is presented for educational purposes only. Please see a lawyer.

Proving ownership

 

However, there is an additional piece of administrative detail, which you must attend to in order to back up the birth certificate. Should you ever go to court in a copyright dispute with another writer, or with a producer who you suspect of using your script with permission, you need to prove that you are the one who registered the screenplay. In property transaction, this is called chain of title, where your solicitor will looks at the deeds of the house you are buying and trace all the previous owners back in time to make sure that the title has no unpaid mortgages, liens for city taxes and so on. Screenplays are classed as intellectual property, and the laws governing the trading of intellectual property are similar to those governing real estate transaction.

Screenwriters also need to prove chain of title, although it is less formal than in property dealing. You have to keep a formal record of everyone you speak to about your screenplay.

Chain of Title

Each time you meet someone and discuss your screenplay, make sure you obtain their business card or contact details and send them the following letter:
 
Letter:
 
To: Elliot Grove
Raindance
81 Berwick Street
London W1F 8TW
 
Dd/mm/yy
 
Dear Elliot,
 
It was a pleasure meeting you at the cinema last night, and I enjoyed discussing with you my forthcoming screenplay ‘Top Title.”
 
I look forward to working with you.
 
Yours sincerely,

Your name
 
Mail a copy to the person you met. That person will probably toss your letter into the bin whilst muttering ‘Nutbar…I never agreed to work with that writer!’
 
But what you have established is the start of written contact with that person. By their silence, they have given tacit approval to your letter, and the start of a written contact is born. Later, if you discover that this person is making a movie without you, then you can get you attorney or solicitor to write them a letter stating in effect:
 
Letter:
 
To: Elliot Grove
Raindance
81 Berwick Street
London W1F 8TW
 
Dd/mm/yy
 
Dear Elliot,

After my client spoke to you on dd/mm/yy. I am surprised to hear that you are making a film based on their idea without them.
 
I look forward to hearing from you.
 
Yours sincerely,
 
Your attorney’s name
 
A producer or director faced with a letter like this will have to immediately deal with you claim to ownership or risk losing their investors with the threat of expensive litigation.
 
Sometimes, in situations like this, you will get a response like ‘Isn’t it amazing about the common currency of ideas in circulation? Our idea is similar, but not identical to yours. Please go away.’ Or Pass!’
Now you are going totally paranoid. I know it! Persons know you have somehow stolen your idea and are ripping you off before they have seen your screenplay.
 
Writers must be prepared for this, and it is not as outlandish as it seems. The film executive who tells you this has probably heard a thousand pitches. Even if he or she can’t quite remember whether they have heard your pitch before, they will pass even if they think it sounds like another idea they have heard. They do this because they are very concerted about litigious writers pressing a claim for ownership. Life is too short to contemplate litigation.
 
As I mentioned above, the entire world’s copyright laws are based on the concept that ideas are free and can be accessed by anyone. Indeed, copyright law contemplates the likelihood that more than one person can have the same idea at the same time.
 
Remember, it is the expression of the idea that is copyrightable.

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About Elliot Grove

Elliot GroveElliot Grove founded Raindance Film Festival in 1993, the British Independent Film Awards in 1998, and Raindance.TV in 2007.

He has produced over 150 short films, and 5 feature films. He has written eight scripts, one of which is currently in pre-production. His first feature film, TABLE 5 was shot on 35mm and completed for a total of £278.38. He teaches writers and producers in the UK, Europe. Japan and America.

He has written three books which have become industry standards: RAINDANCE WRITERS LAB 2nd Edition (Focal Press 2008),  RAINDANCE PRODUCERS LAB (Focal Press 2004) and 130 PROJECTS TO GET YOU INTO FILMMAKING (Barrons 2009). His first novel THE BANDIT QUEEN is scheduled for publication next year.

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Chain of Title for Screenwriters