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Kevin Spahr January 8th, 2012 11:21 AM

Ownership Question
Thought I'd throw this out for comment:
If you inheirt a diary from a dead family member would that give you clear title to its contents/story for a movie? This was not a "known" person or known historical event.

Any thoughts?

I would get a legal opinion if I would decide to follow up on this story.

Jonathan Levin January 8th, 2012 12:32 PM

Re: Ownership Question
The first thing I'd ask is this one of YOUR family members? That might make things easier. If not then probably securing written permission of some sort from the estate of that person would be something I'd look into. Either way it might be wise to get stuff in writing with your intentions clearly spelled out.

If you play it out right, see if you can get the surviing family members to "participate" in some form to make them feel they are a part of this project, and offer them a credit.


Pete Bauer January 8th, 2012 03:49 PM

Re: Ownership Question
Interesting question and I'd be interested to learn how an IP attorney's opinion on this might vary from our lay person suppositions.

My lay person supposition is that if the diary was probated to you, yes, you own the both physical object and the intellectual content therein so would have rights to publish it and produce derivative works (novels, analyses, movies). I suspect it would not, however, necessarily give you exclusivity in relating past events that might also be separately known or written about by others -- a dispute of that nature could well end up being decided by a court.

And I'd be almost sure that you would remain fully liable for any libels, defamations, dilutions and such that might appear in your derivative works. Maybe more so, because you weren't there and can't defend any claims based on anything more than a deceased person's opinion.

All that worry aside, if the diary contains lots of fun, interesting anecdotes that could end up as the basis of a good story -- while not be hurtful to anyone living -- you could end up with a fine script.

If you do get a legal opinion, please do share!

Allan Black January 8th, 2012 04:41 PM

Re: Ownership Question
I'd say it depends on what and how the diary material is notarised.

A huge quantity of 'new' ideas/scripts/lyrics etc. are inspired by previous works.

Sorry about your loss .. yes let's know what transpires.


Kevin Spahr January 12th, 2012 11:50 AM

Re: Ownership Question
Well, it wasn't my loss, this diary belongs to a friend of mine. I'm just completing the distribution deal for my last doc and I'm looking around for another project.

This is a dairy of a woman that journeyed through the western US in the mid 1800s and it is an unfiltered account of daily events. I really like the encounters with indians - each tribe was very different, some were very poor and begging for food, some tribes were involved commerce, and even a war party that were waving fresh scalps around! I don't know yet if I want to do anything with this story but I see possibilities...

I plan to bring it up next time I talk to my attorney but I will have to verify the details of how he acquired it. I think it was one of those "boxes of junk" no one else wanted and I'm pretty sure that is not what you can call a clear title to ownership.

I'll let you all know what I find out.

Pete Bauer January 12th, 2012 01:16 PM

Re: Ownership Question
Wow, that sounds like an awesome opportunity. If you decide not to pursue it, please introduce me to your friend!

Chris Medico January 12th, 2012 01:33 PM

Re: Ownership Question
I suspect you are in the clear. As I understand copyright its good for 70yrs past the death of the author. If you were inside this range the matter could be more complicated with the rights possibly being claimed by a close relative.

Since the writings due to their age are outside any possible copyright they would be considered public domain and usable by anyone.

Strictly my uneducated opinion.

Allan Black January 12th, 2012 05:12 PM

Re: Ownership Question
Yep as you've detailed it there, sounds like a great idea.

Mmmm needs a good reason why she's undertaking that journey tho. See you've started us thinking already. One day there'll be web based script writing groups, maybe there are now?

At least if nothing's done with that diary, your local historical society would love it.


Kevin Spahr January 28th, 2012 08:33 PM

Re: Ownership Question
I brought this up at the meeting and my lawyer said that getting a clear title would just require tracking the diary's transfer through the family. It might also require getting some people to sign off on it.

He didn't think it would be much of a problem.

Allan, she was making the trip with her husband who was a captain of a steamer traveling to Benton, ND.

Another interesting detail was fuel for the steamers, they would get about a mile of upstream travel per cord of wood.

I wonder how many diaries from this period exist...

Allan Black January 29th, 2012 01:47 AM

Re: Ownership Question
LOL Kevin, not to offend your legal eagle (if he's reading this) but you know what they say about lawyers. I think tracing the diary back through time
could evolve into a nice ongoing job for someone.

Probably be a few historic family diaries stowed away around the world, and you have access to one :)

Mmmm, 'Captain of steamer travelling to Benton' eh, I love it already.

'A cord of wood' beautiful term.

Given that you don't want to advertise your work is actually fiction, couldn't you rework it?

Or maybe too many of your people know of your basic idea?


Kevin Spahr January 29th, 2012 03:15 PM

Re: Ownership Question
My friend has quite an archive of his ancestors and their many steamers. He had one guy that had nothing but bad luck - boats sinking, burning, wrecked, and if I remember correctly captured by the confederate army. Actually one of this guy's mishaps was recounted by Mark Twain in one of his books - I'll have to look it up so I don't get it wrong.

I'm the one that is concerned about a clear title - i think it would be a bad idea to proceed with any project without a clear title to your story.

Kevin Spahr January 29th, 2012 03:30 PM

Re: Ownership Question
This is from Mark Twain "Life On The Mississippi":

"We had the Kentucky Bend country in the early morning—scene of a strange and tragic accident in the old times. Captain Poe had a small stern-wheel boat, for years the home of himself and his wife. One night the boat struck a snag in the head of Kentucky Bend, and sank with astonishing suddenness; water already well above the cabin floor when the captain got aft. So he cut into his wife's stateroom from above with an axe; she was asleep in the upper berth, the roof a flimsier one than was supposed; the first blow crashed down through the rotten boards and clove her skull."

She died of course - Talk about bad luck!!!

Kevin Spahr January 29th, 2012 03:38 PM

Re: Ownership Question
Allan, a cord of wood is a pile 4' high by 4' wide by 8' long - 4' is 1.2 meters

Doug Bailey February 6th, 2012 09:18 AM

Re: Ownership Question
Fascinating thread.

"the first blow crashed down through the rotten boards and clove her skull."

Wot rotten luck! What did she have to say about it?


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