Who Owns What? Answers Lie in Your Chain of Title
A strong chain of title is just as important for filmmaking as a strong story line. If you can’t prove you own the intellectual property in your film, your brilliant story line will become a minefield of lawsuit risks.
The threat of a weak title chain can be seen in a recent lawsuit. In May 2016, Showtime aired the documentary Iverson on its network. This came as a real shock to Mark Brown, who claims to own it. As the producer of the film, he negotiated the right to create the film and hired the crew, including director Zatella Beatty.
As the article explains, Brown eventually scuttled the project due to financial reasons. When he later learned it had been sold to Showtime, Brown filed a lawsuit against Beatty, claiming she sold rights she didn’t own.
Although ownership of a film is never a simple matter, a lawsuit like this demonstrates how it can be stronger or weaker based on how well the project’s chain of title has been maintained.
Why Your Ownership Is Only as Strong as the Weakest Chain of Title Link
A film is a collection of the work done by many individuals, each having ownership of their work. As they sign releases and relinquish that ownership, it creates a “chain of title” indicating how possession of ownership passed from creator to the film producer or company. Owning a film means having ownership of each individual piece of intellectual property, and your ownership is only as strong as your chain of title.
Managing this paper trail requires constant attention at each step in the production. Chain of title documentation is needed for any transfers or assignments of ownership in intellectual property related to the project, including contributions by crew, talent, and the production team in addition to agreements related to the script, copyright registrations, and financial documents.
Each piece of documentation needs to clearly state what rights are being assigned, from whom, to whom, and for how long. The overall strength of ownership for a film is dependent on how complete and clear the constituent parts of the chain are.
How a Chain of Title Affects Your Distribution Opportunities
A muddy chain of title creates a host of problems for your finished film. Distributors and buyers will not be willing to take on financial or legal risk without being certain they have the rights they need. Even if they do (as in the case of Iverson), you’re still open to lawsuits.
Since film ownership involves the transfer of many individual pieces of intellectual property, it’s important to acquire a Chain of Title Review. This report will review the validity of the film’s chain of title, and the strength of the ownership claim.
Think of a chain of title as a river, which is fed by numerous, smaller streams and springs. If each of those streams has clear water, the river will be clear. But when the water from a feeder stream is muddy, it clouds the river. The more streams there are without clear water, the muddier the river becomes.
How Your Chain of Title Affects Your Film’s Future
Without a strong chain of title, lawsuits can ensue from offended parties once your film is a success. Certainly, the success of Iverson on Showtime has invigorated both parties to maintain their ownership in the film.
As successful projects become bogged down by competing claims of ownership (or even partial ownership), the ability of the film to continue building distribution deals can be compromised.
On the other hand, a clear chain of title that has been vetted gives the filmmaker not only financial protection but also the legal flexibility to continue driving sales and viewership for years to come.
Consider how solid your film’s legal standing is. A Chain of Title Review and Opinion will help uncover potential pitfalls before you land in court.