I have written a true story screenplay based on my life. WGA registered only. I brought in a co-writer to help polish. He wants to use a WGA Writer's Collaboration Agreement. Neither of us are WGA members. If there is a resulting dispute, will the WGA mediate? If the other writer buys me out of the 50/50 agreement, will he still have to purchase my life story rights? Thank you.
Answer by Brandon Blake, Entertainment Lawyer:
Thanks for contacting us. A couple of great questions here about the WGA Writer's Collaboration Agreement, rights in screenplays, and life story rights.
First of all, I will briefly respond to the issue of WGA registration. Unless you are a WGA member, registration with the WGA is not required, and in fact unless you renew regularly it expires after a period of years. I do not find the WGA application any easier than the United State copyright application, and it always surprises me how often writers opt for WGA registration when it is also possible to file a copyright online.
I do not discourage the WGA registration, and any evidence regarding the creation and ownership of a screenplay is valuable, but WGA registration does not allow for statutory damages and before any litigation, the US copyright registration will need to be completed. Given that the registration lasts for the life of the copyright, it makes a lot of sense to invest the time in a real copyright filing.
Regarding WGA arbitration, the production would need to be subject to the WGA Theatrical and Television Basic Agreement (MBA) in order for WGA arbitration to apply. If the production company is a signatory with the WGA, then WGA arbitration would apply, and if either writers are WGA members then the production company would have to become a signatory with WGA.
Regarding a buyout under the WGA Writer's Collaboration Agreement, the terms of such a buyout would be determined entirely by the way that the agreement was amended and completed before signing. If the underlying life story rights were made part of the WGA Writer's Collaboration Agreement, then it is conceivable that any buyout could deal with both the underlying rights and also the screenplay rights.
However, typically a WGA Writer's Collaboration Agreement would not deal with all of the rights and approval issues that come up in a life story license. Life story rights are generally dealt with like any other underlying rights to a project, meaning that they are kept separate from the rights of the screenplay and are acquired directly from the underlying rights holder. From a producer’s standpoint, it would not be advisable to rely on the typical rights acquisition language in a WGA Writer's Collaboration Agreement to also acquire life rights.
As with any legal matter, please do not make a decision about complex matters without consulting an experienced entertainment lawyer first. I have been representing feature film projects and television series for more than 16 years. Please feel free to contact my office about a quote.
- By Brandon Blake, Entertainment Lawyer