Viewer Question:

Thanks for maintaining your blog: I’m new to screenwriting and have been fascinated by your articles and your readers’ contributions.

I have a question about entering a script into a competition run by [Party A] and [Party B], one that has specific rules about assignment of rights.

1) “You acknowledge that the screenplay you are submitting may contain characters, concepts and other material similar to characters, concepts and other material which the judges of the competition or their companies or [Party A] are currently developing/producing or are considering developing/producing.”

2) “You agree that in consideration for their reviewing and perhaps discussing the submitted screenplay with you, you will not at any time assert or attempt any claim against [Party A] or [Party B] or any of the judges of the competition with respect to any use of similar material in any project which is developed, produced, distributed, licensed or sold by all the above mentioned parties.”

3) “All entrants acknowledge that the final winner will be expected to make a standard form of assignment of all rights in the finished work to [Party A] and [Party B] and provide a waiver of so called ‘moral rights'”.

Do these clauses give the competition organizers carte blanche to adapt and produce outstanding submissions (but not prize-winners) without crediting or compensating the original scriptwriter?

I guess that the scriptwriter is also barred from adapting any submitted characters and plot for other scripts and submissions?

Is this a neat opportunity to give the competition organizers some free inspiration?

(I had a look for similar questions, so please accept my apologies if you have already dealt with this type of question.)

I know I’ve asked a lot, but would welcome your input.

Thanks so much !! With best wishes, AK, London, England

I’ll answer, but first the disclaimers. (1) While I am an entertainment attorney (on occasion) in addition to being a screenwriter, nothing on this website is legal advice nor should it substitute for you checking with your own attorney, and (2) I don’t know much about British law so my answers relate to basic U.S. law.

Here’s the deal on release language. Most contests require you to agree to similar provisions. You can imagine that it would be hard to get professional judges for these competitions if they had to worry about being sued. Many similar ideas float around all the time and are being produced at the same time.

The good news is the release does not mean they can take any script submitted to them and produce it without buying it from the screenwriter. The bad news is, the language of the release is so broad, it’s hard to tell exactly where the line is.

Without getting too technical, copyright law protects your screenplay and the release is not a transfer of copyright (unless you actually win the contest). However, copyright only protects “the expression of ideas”, not the ideas themselves. That means, once you sign the release, the producers have a pretty good argument that you cannot sue them for doing a giant robot attacking an oilrig movie just like the basic idea of the script you submitted. Who would win that argument, I can’t tell you. I can say, the more detail they use from your script, the weaker their argument that the release bars your claim, but it may require that they use a huge amount of your detail for you to win.

The other thing about contests is that if you actually win, usually you have just sold your script to the sponsor for very little money. That’s right. The “prize” for winning is that you get paid next to nothing for your script. (Check the rules of the particular contest.) Of course, if you are out of town and trying to get noticed, it might not be a bad trade off, provided the contest has some credibility.

As to your final question, no the release does not mean that you can’t use these characters in other scripts if you do not win the contest. In fact, if you don’t with the contest, the script is yours to do with as you will. The release language does not prevent you from doing anything except suing the sponsors and judges and their companies.

My advice (not in a legal sense, just thoughts on a weblog):

1. Submission releases are common requirements for accepting scripts from unrepresented writers. Get used to it.

2. Check out each contest before you submit to see if anyone has really heard of it. The more reputable the contest, the less likely you will get something stolen. Some contests are quite well known and bring a great deal of notice to the winners. Others are just moneymaking schemes for the sponsors (who charge an entry/reading fee).

3. Accept the fact that as an emerging writer, you do need to share your writing and it is subject to having its ideas used by others, whether you sign releases or not. To get some ideas on how to protect yourself, check out this post.

Good luck with the contest.

2 thoughts on “SHOULD I SIGN THE RELEASE?”

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