Title Chains That Cut the Ties That Bind
When an author creates a piece of intellectual property, a link is formed. Between the creator and his or her work, there’s a binding tie. Unless rights are waived, transferred or otherwise disposed of, a novel, music score, or film script is inextricably bound to its creator.
To feature another’s work in your film, you must cut the ownership ties between the contributor and their work on the film. This is a key component to a solid title chain.
According to Investopedia, a chain of title “traces historical title transfers from the current owner back to the original owner.”
Without these safeguards, your film is at risk. Ignoring title chains could create decades of legal battles, court fees, and unnecessary roadblocks for your film. From the screenwriter to the editor, from the composer to the talent, all creative contributors must sign away their intellectual property rights to their contributions. A single entity, that which owns your project, must be the sole owner of every piece of intellectual property connected to the work.
Take a lesson from the legal saga of Kevin McClory and the James Bond character to see the potential pitfalls of ignoring title chains.
The Script That Started the Battle
The court case sprung from an abandoned script.
As The Independent recounts, author Ian Fleming and Kevin McClory co-wrote a script that was never produced. However, Fleming later repurposed the discarded script for a James Bond book—and left McClory out of the limelight.
The article explains how McClory sued, coming out of the lawsuit with cinematic rights—rights he would exploit for financial gain as the executive producer of a Bond film.
Furthermore, as this legal statement reveals, McClory was bold enough to say that since “he possessed the rights to both the novel Thunderball and the materials developed during the writing of the initial Thunderball script, he also possessed the rights to certain plot elements that first appeared in those works: namely, the “cinematic James Bond” character, SPECTRE, the villain Ernst Stavro Blofeld, and the theme of nuclear blackmail.”
The Necessity of Solid Documentation
Most filmmakers won’t be dealing with an iconic figure, such as James Bond, for ownership disputes. Nevertheless, this legal battle offers an important takeaway.
Production houses need solid documentation of ownership, resulting in strong title chains.
If you don’t track who has ownership rights to the intellectual property in your film, you’re raising the likelihood of expensive lawsuits.
Here are some situations that spell danger for you:
- You’re borrowing elements from another author’s novel. (Check out this article on the danger of literary adaptations.)
- The composer of your film score is drawing from previous scores he’s penned. Those other scores may involve co-composers who have vested rights.
- You’re borrowing elements from a previous movie you’ve worked on with other screenwriters.
- Your script has contributions from another artist. It doesn’t matter how small that contribution is…it can be an idea or an entire scene.
- You’re working on a film that belongs to a franchise that’s seen numerous disputes over legal ownership.
If you want to protect your cinematic work from costly and unnecessary legal battles, you must be proactive. You need a clearly defined paper trail proving ownership transfer of the intellectual property within your film.
One way you can remove potential dangers is a Chain of Title Opinion. At The Clearance Lab, we’ll review your ownership documents and provide suggestions to correct any gaps. You’ll also gain an attorney’s legal opinion of your title chain.
When you secure a Chain of Title Opinion, you’ll gain a valuable asset to cement your application for E & O Insurance and walk into negotiations for distribution with a powerful tool in your hand.