Film rights for different works on the same subject
February 23, 2015 4:26 PM   Subscribe

Does each individual nonfiction work (books, documentaries, etc) on the same topic (a particular event, for example, or a historical life story) have its own separate set of film rights to be bought?

I know living people's life rights are a one-time thing. But what about dead folks, or events?

Two books on the same specific thing - say a famous forest fire, or a Civil War general's life story - is that two separate sets of (fictional) film rights? Meaning potentially two movies on the exact same thing down the line?
posted by gottabefunky to Media & Arts (6 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
Yes. Assuming no plagiarism, each work is an independent one with an independent copyright. It doesn't matter if they cover the same material; the copyright isn't on the subject, it's on the expression.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 4:49 PM on February 23, 2015 [2 favorites]


There are two separate things that you might be talking about - there is a separate right of publicity (owned by the famous person themselves) and a copyright (owned by each individual author).
posted by mercredi at 5:07 PM on February 23, 2015 [1 favorite]


So, dumb question possibly, but copyright = film rights? 1:1?
posted by gottabefunky at 5:50 PM on February 23, 2015


In addition to protecting the original work, Copyright protects what are known as "derivative works", which are works which take the original work and modify it.

A copyright owner can sell (or lease) the right to produce certain derivative works. A film is one form of derivative work. If the original work is a book, another form of derivative work would be an audio file where one person or a group read the book out loud. If someone wanted to turn a book into a graphic novel, that would be a derivative work. A translation into another language is also a derivative work.

Film rights (permission to create a film) as such are not special or distinctive in any way; it's just the same as all those others.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 6:03 PM on February 23, 2015 [4 favorites]


Just to add that facts themselves are not subject to copyright, so you can have multiple, unrelated biographies/biopics of the same person. It’s the expression in the work that is copyright (ignoring any separate copyrighted works that might get used in the biography — quotes from "I have a dream…”, photos etc. — which may or may not be fair use…).

If you start from scratch you don’t need to buy the rights because they are unrelated works; if you base your film on a previous work you need the rights because it is derivative.
posted by Quinbus Flestrin at 6:32 PM on February 23, 2015 [2 favorites]


So, dumb question possibly, but copyright = film rights? 1:1? Two books on the same specific thing - say a famous forest fire, or a Civil War general's life story - is that two separate sets of (fictional) film rights? Meaning potentially two movies on the exact same thing down the line?

Yes. As an example, there are several Frida Kahlo biographies, among them Hayden Herrera's Frida and Andrea Kettenmann's Kahlo. The film Frida is based on the Herrera biography, which was optioned for the film. Someone else could (and probably has) optioned the Kettenmann biography to make a different film about Kahlo.
posted by DarlingBri at 8:41 PM on February 23, 2015 [1 favorite]


« Older How much should I chew?   |   System for categorizing, tagging, and rating... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.