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Taking Care of Business
The pen and paper aspects of DV -- put it in writing!


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Old June 27th, 2011, 09:06 AM   #1
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Claim to copyright

Ok, for the sake of discussion I would like to present my situation. I would also like to say that if this goes any farther I know and will use a copyright attorney. However what I would really like to do is get this train back on track and finish this movie. So here is the short of it.

I meet a couple a few years ago that wanted me to help them make a movie. I produce commercials for a living and stay fairly busy. I own all my own equipment. At first they wanted me to just be the DP. But as the project proceeded it became clear that I was the only one on the set that had a clue about how to produce a movie. At one point I started to walk out on the whole thing because it was just so frustrating, time consuming, and costly. But the director begged me to stay on and I really thought we had something if we could pull together as a team and shoot this movie. We did. After shooting the director and producer decided to make me a full partner to use my facility and ability to do the post production.

Here is where the big mistake happened on a handshake we decided to be partners. I made it clear that I have to produce to make a living and that this movie would always have to take the back seat to paying work. This was understood from the beginning. So a year goes by and the movie is almost done I have worked on it in all my “SPARE TIME”. The producer gets really excited about the product loves what has been produced. The director and producer decide to go to film festival. I tell them that there is no way we can make it in time with a finished movie. They really want to go I tell them I think it is impossible, but will try. (There is a lot more to this story) The deadline comes and goes missing the dead line the director throws a tantrum and says I should pay them back the entrance fees for the festival. I say absolutely not, I told you from the beginning we could not make it. So thru a series of emails and phone messages they say (in short) that they own the movie and that they will pick up my hard drive and finish the movie with out me. In no uncertain terms I say no. I say that we made an agreement between friends that I own one third of this movie and I will not be cut out. Now I insist that if this is no longer an agreement between friends then it is a business agreement and should be in writing. That writing should be drawn up by an attorney. They refuse and say they have full ownership.

My position is that I produced all the video with my equipment and skill. I edited the feature in my facility using my edit bay and skill and that I own the copyright to the original footage and my creative work. I do not want to take anything away from them I only want what we agreed to and that is to be a third partner with all its benefits.

You do not need to tell me how stupid I was to go into this without a contract that is painfully clear.

Please comment on what you think about my claim to copyright.
Please give your opinion on what steps you would take next.
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Old June 27th, 2011, 01:43 PM   #2
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Re: Claim to copyright

Ugh, whattta mess...

Well, posession being 9/10ths of the law as the old saying goes, I'd put the HDD in a safe deposit box somewhere... really, in case anyone gets "ideas" about "recovering" "their" project.

THEN, if they won't put things in writing, let THEM come up with the $$$$$ (which they don't likely have from your description) to hire an attorney to "fix" the mess - the attorney fees will rapidly exceed any possible value of the finished product (unless it truly is a masterpiece), and nobody wins... lessons learned.

It would be worth it IMO to have your attorney draft a letter ASAP, explain your contentions as to your rights, and give them a draft contract to sign - get a paper trail in place showing you are attempting to resolve this amicably and within the oral terms already agreed.

Alternatively, you may want to determine the monetary value of your "free" time, and present a buyout proposal - if they actually have any resources, maybe you'll get a nice summer vacation out of the deal anyway... but I doubt it.

As for that festival/event, I've found the hard way that the enthusiasm of a "novice" often overrules the sound advice of the party who actually has to meet the deadline <painful memories, ouch>.
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Old June 27th, 2011, 03:13 PM   #3
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Re: Claim to copyright

I suspect this is more common than we think. When projects come up, very often the people who dream up the ideas have no idea how to actually handle the mechanical elements of production, so they ask the experts. Here is the dilemma. Are we actually partners in the entire project, or just the production person.

I guess the real issue is to do with the actual idea itself. Who wrote the script, engaged actors, worked out the shooting script - not who shot it, or edited it, or did the grading etc. This is where conflict arises. It's generally accepted that the creatives own the product that the production team work on. There are obviously exceptions, but unless these are documented before you start - there is a precedent that your 'title' sets your place in the heirachy. The fact that the editor is of course a creative, rarely gives them any real ownership - that's probably the producer who found the finance and the director who had the vision.

You'll have to prove your intellectual component - can you do it? No doubt you own the hard drive, but it may be deemed to contain somebody else's material. No doubt the lawyers will love this one proving owenership is going to be very expensive, and it's complex stuff that we can't determine, not having access to the facts as seen by both parties.

Best of luck.
paul
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Old June 27th, 2011, 05:00 PM   #4
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Re: Claim to copyright

Try to work it out amicably with them first, and get the contract drawn up before anything else happens. The verbal agreement should be honored, as it was for this reason that you worked on the project (lending your time and personal equipment).

If they dont agree to a contract then work out how many hours you spent on the project and send them a bill (making it clear that you will release the footage once you have been reimbursed for your hours, and the rental of your equipment).

The contract will be the better deal for everyone involved.
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Old June 27th, 2011, 05:24 PM   #5
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Re: Claim to copyright

We don't have all the information - it IS a mess. There's all sorts of legal precedent for who owns the script vs who owns the footage.

No one here is or SHOULD give you legal advice. There are a couple of attorney's who might be kind enough to weigh in with their thoughts - but honestly the best thing to do right now - TODAY is to decide what you want.

What's the single most important thing for you, involving this project? Is it money for the time invested? Is it involvement in the future of the project? Do you want your name on it? Do you want these people living inside your head for the next several years while the litigation drags on?

Be honest with yourself - what do YOU want? Do you just want them to acknowledge your contribution - the hard hours and goodwill? Do you feel there's a specific dollar ammount that would be worth it to you to hand over the drive and say "Adios" ?

Being clear on what you need, will help you understand the strategy for meeting it.
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Old June 27th, 2011, 06:12 PM   #6
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Re: Claim to copyright

Well put Richard, and to the point...

OP needs to decide what he wants and whether it is worth it... unfortunately the raft has already drifted well down river and there's a roaring in the background getting louder...

Obviously OP would need an attorney at some point if the situation cannot be brought back under more agreeable circumstances, and without the whole story, we can only give our best "offhand" advice, worth exactly what we're charging for it <wink>! Maybe a genteel conversation over beers and pizza and it'll all resolve (write a contract on the nearest napkin though!), or maybe it's too far gone, we just can't know

I've resolved many conflicts over the years, litigation is the absolute last resort, and in all likelyhood only a couple people will "make" anything, and they will be the ones with the BAR cards...

I still say, that if possible draft up a written contract (with professional help if not confident or qualified), to align with the verbal one, present it nicely, mash up whatever needs to be to get everyone "more or less happy" and smooth out the completion of the project, and if that fails, a "buyout" amount should be in the back pocket, so you can move on ASAP.
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Old June 28th, 2011, 08:11 AM   #7
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Re: Claim to copyright

One thing I forgot to mention is that they have a copy of the raw files.
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Old June 28th, 2011, 01:29 PM   #8
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Re: Claim to copyright

Well there goes the "9/10ths"...

As Richard noted, you'll need to decide how much this is worth to you, if the relationships can't be "salvaged".

If it turns out they have a blockbuster of some sort with huge returns, save the HDD with your work and use it for evidence later - no need to hurry... if it's a no return thing, be glad you didn't have to work on it anymore and move on.
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Old June 28th, 2011, 02:14 PM   #9
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Re: Claim to copyright

Thanks for your time guys I appreciate your input.
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Old June 30th, 2011, 07:47 AM   #10
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Re: Claim to copyright

I talked to an attorney yesterday. I do not want to say what we are doing just in case the other side reads this forum. But he has a game plan. It will likely be some time before this is resolved.

I do want to thank everyone that responded you helped me make the decision to move on.
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