Cinema Law: What You Should Know When Working with Someone Else’s Characters
Art Law

Cinema Law: What You Should Know When Working with Someone Else’s Characters

Q: Who owns the copyright to a script when it’s based off someone else’s originally created characters? Should the screenwriter register the screenplay so long as the original creator of the characters is given credit? Well, first I’m going to presume you got permission to use the characters in your screenplay, right? And you got it in writing, correct? Great! Assuming both of you agreed in writing on the use of the characters in the script, here’s what you need to know about copyright ownership. A script based off pre-existing characters that you did not create is what we lawyers call a “derivative work.” The Copyright Act defines a “derivative work” as an adaptation, translation or modification to a pre-existing copyrighted work that becomes its own original copyrightable thing. You see them all the time without even realizing it. A film based on a book, a photograph of a sculpture, a cover of a song, an English translation of a Russian novel, a collage of cat meme pictures… all of these are derivative works. But the tricky thing about derivative works is that, if you author one, you will only own the copyright in the parts of the work […]

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