Video Script Writing and Copyright

Q: I wrote a script training video as a freelancer. The video production company have recently told me that the project was shelved in favour of a more urgent project. They promised to pay only 50% of the agreed payment in the memorandum of agreement, but said that the material I have submitted will still be used by them and will be “worked on further” by their head office’s in-house editor.

Is ownership of the script still theirs when they were the ones who broke the original MOA in the first place, or should I push for ownership of that script? Is this acceptable in standard industry practice?

Please advise me soon. Thank you!

Scriptwriter

A: Scriptwriter … I’m afraid I can’t really help you on this. I’m not a copyright lawyer, so my opinion is legally worthless.

What I do know is that freelancers who sue producers tend to get a bad name. This may be blatantly unfair, but it’s the way many producers will think.

Producers, like any one else these days, are wary of hiring people with a reputation for litigation and suing employers. So whatever you do I don’t think it will help to publicise it in a blog or whatever, unless you’re really determined to make your point regardless of any potential consequences – whether fair or unfair.

Another point: If your text is amended by another editor by a certain percentage, then it’s very difficult to prove copyright.

For example, amending a script to, say, 60% changes is fairly easy to do. It just requires some writing skill. Then copyright is much tougher to prove. This doesn’t mean it can’t be proved. It’s just more difficult, which means it might well cost more money to bring a case to court.

On the other hand, I heard of a case recently where a training company were prepared to sue for breach of script copyright, because certain key phrases and examples they’d “invented” were copied by a third party. Because the phrases and examples were so specific, the third party backed off feeling there was a case. In point of fact it never reached the lawyers.

Hope this helps

Thank you for your question on script and copyright breach.
© Studio Rossiter 2007

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