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This article is written by Pranjal Shrey who is pursuing an Introductory Course: Legal Writing For Blogging, Paid Internships, Knowledge Management, Research and Editing Jobs from LawSikho.

Introduction

Movie making is a journey full of bumpy rides but it all begins from the script writer’s original work which is further bombarded with multiple write-up notes, creating scenes and dialogues. If you are at a nascent stage of your career getting your work pitched with a production house would be a tedious task that often turns into failure, since the importance of a creative outlet is preferred to an experienced person.

These consultations may often turn into a deterrent for your work getting plagiarized or theft. Therefore a writer must always be aware of the legalities that entail huge relevance for their work. This article enforces the relevance of legal agreement in the light of screenplay agreement. Further, the various intricacies involved in the negotiation of the contract and what should be the way forward for the entertainment industries on these lines.

For starters, one should be aware of what does a screenplay agreement means. In a layman’s language, it can be understood as an agreement between a writer and a second party (producer) who wants to create a movie, television, or video work. This agreement essentially entails fee payment on the subsequent and final draft, attribute to writer credit, and prevention of undue termination. 

Getting your work registered is the quintessential aspect of its protection. This is essential to involve the documentation of the literary piece since in its absence it would not be considered as original work unless it is registered. Copyright under section-14 of the copyright act refers to the exclusive right subject to the provisions of this Act, to do or authorize the doing of any of the following acts in respect of a work or any substantial part.

According to section-17 of the copyright act, the author of the work shall be the first owner of the copyright. Whenever your work gets assigned it may get stuck with a production house where there might occur a financial crunch and shoot hasn’t begun yet or a producer who is unwilling to get diverting towards another production house. This would be resolved through copyright protection where it would deem to expire up to one year from the date of assignment, the assignment in respect of such rights shall be deemed to have lapsed after the expiry of the said period unless otherwise specified in the assignment. also If the period of assignment is not stated, it shall be deemed to be five years from the date of assignment.

Screenplay agreement tends to be arbitrarily drafted which can cause further various disputes. These may vary from fee payment transaction, resignation from the post by writer or onboarding of different other writers according to the scope of the movie, credit rewards to payments of royalty.

This section discusses various clauses which need to be accompanied in a screenplay agreement. The contract must divide the roles and responsibilities at the pre-production, during production, and after-production level.

Roles and responsibilities 

Pre-production

The contract specified the assigning of the intellectual property right to the producer for cinematography, at this stage during both parties must negotiate the purpose which authorizes the writer to commence writing and submit the draft according to the time frame decided, they must get the requirement of the writer to settle during the shooting and post-production work and the producer will bear the cost of the travel and amenities concerning scriptwriting purposes.

During production

This period concerns the onboarding of multiple writers, there might be a possibility that producers and directors want to change the track of the script. This may require them to hire other scriptwriters with the demand of the show. The contract must specify that under these circumstances the co-writer would work along with the writer and he would not be entitled to terminate the contract. The hiring of another co-writer shall not affect any consideration in any circumstances, he would credit first as the writer of the script, these must be agreed by consent of both parties. Although if he/she wants to resign from his position then under these circumstances the script written up to the decided plot must be submitted along with duly payment of the fee. 

Post-production

This part of the contract concerns editing and voiceover scripts to which the writer must comply according to the requirement of the director and producers. The writer must be present at the promotional events of the movie on the mutually agreed dates.

Compensation

For the proceeding of fee installment, the agreed percentage of the amount must be specified in the contract. The compliance of the tax deducted at source (TDS) must be subjected as per the Income Tax Act, 1961 and if further service tax is levied would be paid by the producer. a clause clarifying payment of royalty to the writer in the event of any remake of the Film or the said remake rights of the Film/Script is sold/transferred/assigned to any third party. 

Representation and warranty

the work provided by the writer must be original and not plagiarised until or unless it has been provided by the producer to avoid any copyright or intellectual property dispute. The writer must be best to the knowledge agree that the provided material is not obscene, libelous, blasphemous, inaccurate, or defamatory and not constitute defamation or breach of contract, and or any other right of whatever nature of any third party.

While agreeing the parties must agree that they are not restricted by any law of the land which restricts their capacity to fulfill the contractual obligation. In the performance of their agreement, there should not be any violation or contravention of any provision of any association to which they are associated. The producer must acknowledge that the writer associated are on a non-exclusive basis to the contract.

Credit acknowledgment or publicity

The writer must be credited for his work under the film poster and running along with the director’s name. this would be through a single card through all the positive print of the movie under the heading “written-by” or “screenplay and dialogue, the story”. Where there are multiple writers present, they would be credited “First engaged, first credited” basis irrespective of the acceptance or rejection of his/her work concerning the Script.

The producer must also contain the right to publish, advertise, announce and use the name and biography of the Writer in connection with any exercise by the Producer of its rights for publicity and promotion of the film.

Indemnity 

The writers must be indemnified from and against any claim, loss, liability, or cost of any person, firm, or corporation, including without limitation, reasonable legal fees, arising out of any breach of warranty, representation, or undertaking made by such Party.

Confidentiality

Since the film and movie industry in India has aggressive rivalry among each other due to ferocious competition. Therefore to preserve the confidential information, the writer must affirm to not reveal any information to any third party related to the screenplay, dialogue, and story, since the breach of which would be consequential to the movie due to theft of an idea. Besides this, he should not awry the record information or otherwise relating to the Film or any photographs of persons enacting any of the characters in the Film or any matter or thing connected with the production of the Film.

Termination of contract

For instance, in a situation where the writer and some cases were producers are unable to comply with the material terms and consideration which may also apply to the agreement. Then it would amount to termination of agreement which may be proceeded by a written notice within few reasonable days. These conditions would not be applicable in exceptional circumstances where there is frustration or impossibility of contract. 

Post-termination the writer and producer would stipulate agreement according to the deadline, wherein the writer needs to submit the work which let or the excessive work must be reverted to the writer. the compensation must be settled until the agreement period. 

The writer and producer would be entitled to any and all rights, title, and interest including copyright in the Story and Script and any or all parts of the Story and Script that are completed till the date of termination.

Dispute resolution and governing laws

There can always be a possibility of indifferences that may arise among and which must be resolved through legal recourse. This clause essentially focuses on the alternative dispute mechanism, wherein both parties can resolve their conflict through mutual consensus in front of an unbiased individual, termed as “mediator” this process is known as mediation. Since the constitution grantees the right to every individual, the parties are always welcome to choose litigation which must be subjected to the jurisdictional limit under the agreement. 

Royalty 

The payment of royalty has been debatable under the Indian film industry since there no such substantive law that denotes royalty payment. Under the agreement, the writer consents to waive his right that exploitation of his/her work as per the Copyright Act, via the Copyright Society, to be shared on an equal basis with the Producer for utilization of the Works herein in any form. The Writer acknowledges that no royalty shall be payable in respect of revenues generated from the theatrical exhibition of the Film in a Cinema Hall. 

According to section 14 of the Copyright Act, royalties entitlement to the writer would only be restricted to the work vested to himself and not to the producer. He unconditionally affirms the exploitation of his work by the producer in any form and medium.

Conclusion 

This article was a take on explaining the procedure to draft a screenplay agreement. Since ambiguous situations arise between the employer and employee which can be prevented through a well-drafted contract. Essentially the writer has tried to emphasize the major concern that may connotes the cause of dispute. Even though if in uncertain circumstances disputes arises between them they can always approach the mutual resolution mechanism or litigation procedure to settle down their contention.


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